When the San Francisco 49ers selected Aaron Banks in the second round out of Notre Dame, it created expectations among the fanbase to see near-immediate results from the former four-star recruit.
Taking over for Quenton Nelson when he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Banks spent three years starting at guard and was expected to continue that trend right out of the gate as a rookie, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. When asked why Banks effectively had a redshirt year with the team during his Wednesday media availability, Shanahan said it had more to do with the players in front of him than his individual efforts and how it was ultimately the best thing for his career.
“No, we had [New York Jets OL] Laken Tomlinson in the last year of his contract, ended up getting I think like a $14 million deal from the Jets and we had a starting right guard in [OL] Daniel Brunskill who we played with three years in a row and we thought he was doing pretty good and we thought we’d give Banks a little bit more time,” Shanahan said via 49ers WebZone. “I think that goes back to the beginning I answered a question of it’s really nice to be in a place that just worries about their best football decision and not, ‘oh my god, they’re going to think we had a bad draft pick because you’re not playing him right away.’ Sometimes that ruins people.”
“If someone would had got hurt we would’ve been pumped to play him right away. We had a thought we had a pretty good guard, but it’s really hard to come in as a first-round pick, second-round pick and just beat out solid NFL players who’ve been doing it for a while. And if you don’t have to do that and you have to watch some guys and not get thrown into the fire and struggle for a few games and not get your confidence killed, I think that can be a benefit to a lot of people, but not everyone has that luxury and I’m glad that we had the talent to do that and I’m very happy I’m in a building that allows us to think that way.”
Fortunately, Banks has stepped into the role formerly filled by Tomlin fantastically, earning an AV of 7 from Pro Football Reference for his efforts. While it’s impossible to know if Banks would have reached those heights as a rookie, it’s clear no one is going to be calling the Notre Dame product a bust anytime soon, much to the joy of Shanahan.
Kyle Shanahan Believed Aaron Banks had the Mentality to be an NFL Success
Asked to further expand on what John Lynch and the 49ers liked about Banks coming out of Notre Dame, Shanahan complemented his left guard not only for his physical build but for his mentality, which is “critical” to playing the position at the game’s top level.
“We thought he had the right mentality and we know we had the size,” Shanahan said. “O-line is so different because you can look and have the ability, but o-line is about consistency and almost how many times you don’t mess up. It’s cool to have all the highlight tapes and you know if you have a couple bad looks that might be all over social media and that might be embarrassing for you, but bad looks are bad looks, it’s about how you play over a course of 70 plays and you never really know that until a guy gets in there and sometimes they have to get their butts kicked before you even find out if they are a real player because you are going to get that in this league at every position, especially at O-line versus the D-lineman you go against and no one’s going to notice you really until you get your butt kicked.”
“And then it’s how you respond and that’s why we felt like we really believed in the person and believed in the talent, but just like I said about Brock, you have to put them out there and watch how they do and I think it was cool to watch him even in the preseason. He had a couple games where it wasn’t great, but once Week 1 started I thought he was better and Week 2 was better and I think it’s improved that way throughout the whole year.”
Shanahan is correct in this regard, too; after some initial struggles early in the regular season, Banks has really come into his own as a player and proven multiple times over that he’s a top-tier talent worthy of a long-term starting role at left tackle moving forward. Considering players like Nick Bosa are about to become very expensive, getting $14 million production out of Banks on a rookie-scale contract is an incredible value.
Aaron Banks has Long had the San Francisco 49ers Mentality
Though Banks didn’t play much for the 49ers in 2021, he joined the team with an NFL-ready mentality, telling reporters in May of that year that a team’s offensive success runs through their offensive line.
“I know that offensive linemen are at an all-time value,” Banks said. “If you can’t protect your quarterback, you can’t really win games,” Banks said via NBC Sports Bay Area. “I think that — I don’t know where else to go with that. I think that most teams need offensive linemen. We had a saying at Notre Dame, ‘The team goes as we go.’ By we, I mean the offensive line.”
“If you don’t have a good offensive line and can’t protect the quarterback and can’t assert the run game then you’re going to have a tough time.”
Considering the 49ers have largely succeeded because of their ability to run the ball and keep their quarterback upright, it’s safe to say Banks has the exact mindset San Francisco was looking for.