My series of player profiles from the 49ers 2022 draft/UDFA class continues, this time around focusing on Arizona State center Dohnovan West. This is a player who many projected to be selected in the middle rounds but who shockingly ended up going undrafted before signing with San Francisco as a free agent.
West is a player who appears to be tailor-made for the 49ers' offensive scheme. He enters a situation where they may be a vacancy sooner rather than later, given the uncertainty surrounding the future of incumbent center Alex Mack.
To gather some more insight on West and the kind of player and person the 49ers can expect from him, I spoke with Arizona State Head Coach Herm Edwards. Coach Edwards not only has firsthand knowledge of what West brings to the table, but he also has decades' worth of experience in the NFL, which all but assuredly helps him know what it’s going to take for a guy like West to excel at the next level.
To start things out, I asked Coach Edwards how West was day to day as a teammate and what his overall impression of West was as a player.
Well, he came in as a freshman, he played right away. Was at the guard position, and then our center left, and we moved him to center. He came in, and you know to start on the offensive line as a true freshman says something. There’s only three guys who have done that since I’ve been there.
He was unique in the sense that he picked it up pretty well, very light on his feet, good in space, and wasn’t on the ground. Coming out of high school, it’s different, going from high school to the PAC-12, playing some pretty good opponents, and I just thought every time he started, he got better.
You know he’s really a smart guy. He understands football. He’s one of those kids. I just think the system has a lot to do with a lot of these guys. I think he’s in the perfect system when you think about the 49ers. That system has always had centers that are pretty athletic, that can move and can get up to the second level. He can do that.
West excelled as a center at the collegiate level but also has some history as a guard as well. Given the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the 49ers' interior offensive line, I asked coach Edwards if he thought West profiled strictly as a center in the 49ers scheme or if he felt he had the potential to kick out to either of the guard spots.
He may be able to kick out to the guard spots, but you need a heavier guy in that league, it looks to me, the little time I spent in there was about 30 years. I think he could play there, there’s no doubt, but I think he’d be more suited probably at center. But that’s up to those guys, they’ll determine when he gets to camp, where they want to put him, and how they want to use him.
I really liked when Coach Edwards mentioned his extensive tenure in the NFL, something he did with a chuckle in a very lighthearted manner, displaying tremendous humility while referencing the three-plus decades he spent both coaching and playing in the league.
That experience gives Coach Edward a strong voice when it comes to what it takes to make it at the highest level. He knows firsthand what an NFL offensive lineman looks like, both physically and mentally. I asked Coach Edwards when it became readily apparent to him that West was a player who had a future playing on Sundays.
Well, you could sense that by the second year, he was continuing to improve, and his work ethic was really good. I think the thing that slowed a lot of these guys down was the Covid year when we only played four games. That affected a lot of our guys. Preparing for a season, all of a sudden, you don’t have one.
I think his resilience to bounce back from that was kind of important. This year, he could have come back if he wanted to. But he felt was ready to play pro football. That’s a long college career when you’re playing as a freshman. So he elected to come out, and you’re right, a lot of people had him pegged up a little higher than that.
I know I had talked to John (Lynch) before the draft, and they were interested in him, there’s no doubt. You know he fell into the position of being a free agent, and I think they got themselves a good football player.
Coach Edwards then talked a bit about his long-standing relationship with 49ers general manager John Lynch, which spans back multiple decades to their time spent working together in Tampa Bay.
With John, we go way back. We have a history. His days in Tampa, I was his coach, we are really tight. I just think then, when he’s looking for information on players, he asked about a couple of my other players as well. I’m going to shoot him straight, he knows I’m always going to shoot him straight.
It’s no different when they elected to draft Brandon (Aiyuk). So anybody on my roster, anybody he wants to talk about that we’ve competed against, I’m always going to give him the information he needs.
I followed that up by asking Coach Edwards, when Lynch reached out to him about West, was it something where it was clear he had been on their radar for a while or did that interest not get revealed until recently? Coach Edwards answered that and provided a glimpse of how these conversations go for the majority of the organizations in the NFL leading up to the draft.
It was probably a couple days before the draft when they were going through their list at certain positions. He (Lynch) asked about him, no different than a lot of guys, most organizations do, they start calling you a couple days before the draft when they’re going through positions. If they want a little something on a player that they feel like they need more information on, they can always call me.
The 49ers have made it no secret how much they value that kind of input from trusted individuals at the collegiate as a part of their pre-draft evaluations. Look no further than their relationship with former South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, which aided the 49ers while electing to invest high draft capital in multiple players from his program.
During our discussion, Coach Edwards mentioned how effective West was in space multiple times. Coach echoed that when I asked him what he thought West’s greatest physical trait was.
I just think his ability to play in space. For that system, he is the right fit for them, there’s no doubt about it. Because of all the movement and things their offensive line is required to do. All the pulling and all that stuff.
And that has a lot to do with players, if they’re drafted or signed as free agents, what system are they walking into. Hopefully, it’s a system that will allow them to shine. I do think he is a guy that will have a chance. I know their center is a little older. They have a veteran center there.
You know it’s just one of those things, you’re just going to have to work at it every day. The NFL is a grind, it’s not about what you do today, it’s about what you do every day. It’s availability and being consistent.
West not being drafted was one of the bigger surprises of the draft, so I asked Coach Edwards if he thought West might be coming into the league with a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to being overlooked and ultimately signing as a free agent.
I think any guy that has aspirations of being drafted or wants to play in the league, I always tell them it doesn’t matter how you come in the league, it’s a matter of when you get there, what do you do?
I think he (West) is well aware that he is in a situation where he is in a system that fits what he can do, and he’ll have an opportunity. And that’s all you can ask, is for an opportunity
The main thing I took away from my discussion with Coach Edwards was the fact he repeatedly referenced how good of a match he thinks West is for this 49ers offense. The ability to pull, get out in the space, and move to the second level are all things West does extremely well, and Coach Edwards echoed that he thinks the marriage of skill and scheme is what is ultimately going to put West in a position to succeed with the 49ers.
To wrap things up, I asked Coach Edwards if there was something about West that people may not be aware of, and he immediately mentioned West’s leadership.
He was a pretty good leader on our team with the offensive line. You know, he had a lot of playing time, we had some young players, and he kind of told them what to expect, and that was good to see because he was in their situation two years prior before they came in and started as freshmen.
I think he was the guy that really was the leader with our offensive line because of his experience, and that helped those guys a lot.