There’s an old saying in the NFL that if a team has two starting quarterbacks, they actually have none, but does the same statement apply to the right guard position? The San Francisco 49ers don’t seem to think so, as, since returning from a preseason hamstring injury, Daniel Brunskill has been rotating in and out of Kyle Shanahan‘s offense alongside 2022 fourth-round pick Spencer Burford. Though Burford has started every single game he’s appeared in, which is all of them, the rookie out of UTSA has only averaged 41.5 snaps per game, with Brunskill averaging 29 from Weeks 4-10 as a change of pace reliever of sorts.
Speaking with Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Brunskill was asked what it felt like to be given opportunities to play despite the team clearly trying to move forward with another player, Burford, at the position. His response not only didn’t disappoint but highlighted why Shanahan and company clearly think so highly of the former undrafted free agent out of San Diego State.
“Can it give you a chip?” Brunskill said. “Yeah. But it’s really about how you play. For them, it’s about what’s the best roster they can put together. That’s what they’re trying to do.”
“And I’ve got to play my best ball and be as good of a player as I can. And I can always improve. So I don’t worry about that other stuff. I worry about what can I do to improve — and what I can do to help this team win.”
Daniel Brunskill Has Graded Better Than Spencer Burford
Though the sample size is obviously lopsided in favor of Burford, Pro Football Focus has graded Brunskill‘s snaps much more favorably than the player he often comes into games in place of, with a higher Overall grade (64.1 vs. 48.6) a higher Pass Blocking grade (71.1 vs. 64.3) and even a higher Run Blocking grade (57.4 vs. 43.6) for their respective efforts.
Exclusively playing right guard, as opposed to Brunskill, who played some left guard, some right guard, and some right tackle, Burford has allowed eight total pressures, two quarterback hits, and, most crucially of all, three penalties. Brunskill, by contrast, has allowed just six total pressures without a hit, sacks, or penalty despite having a more varied offensive workload. Call it the growing pains of a rookie starter, or question the validity of PFF’s grading system, but it seems like it’s not a coincidence that Brunskill is getting some run in Shanahan’s offense, especially when Burford starts to struggle.
Kyle Shanahan Has Praise for the 49ers’ Swingman
Speaking with reporters on the Thursday before the Arizona Cardinals game in Mexico City, Shanahan was asked to elaborate on the role Brunskill has carved out in the NFL, as transcribed by 49ers WebZone.
“It’s been real impressive,” Shanahan said. “I think he was a tight end to start. I think he got moved to O-line, was on Atlanta’s practice squad I believe. I think he got let go. I think he was in that AAF league for a little bit and when that ended I think we signed him to our him to the 90-man roster in OTAs and just coming from the AAF and where he was, it’s not like he jumped out right away, but then halfway through camp, he was just so consistent and kind of was exceeding our expectations and then he ended up making the roster.”
“Then when a few guys went down we had to change his position and everywhere we put him, he’s been able to rise to the occasion and be to play that. If he looks like he can’t do it, just give him a couple days and he finds out a way to do it, so I think he’s one of the perfect examples of a guy who’s got the ability to do it, but what gets him to that part is how smart he is, how he looks at tape, how he can apply that stuff and just give him something to study and give him enough time to do it and the guy usually figures it out.”
Even if the 49ers would like to see Burford win the starting right guard role long-term, it’s pretty incredible to see everything Brunskill has accomplished in his career.