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Can 49ers rookie Spencer Burford break into the starting lineup?

Looking at Burford’s strengths and weaknesses

NFL: Scouting Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers can potentially be a top-ten offense in the NFL this season. They are equipped with a balanced play-caller in Kyle Shanahan and a young phenom with maneuverability, considerable arm talent, and a plethora of weapons.

On the other hand, Niners offensive line coach Chris Foerster has some things to figure out. The left guard position is a known vacancy with the departure of Laken Tomlinson. And the buzz of Alex Mack’s retirement was silenced when the 13-year veteran made it official in early June.

It almost feels like every position along the offensive line is up for grabs outside of Trent William’s left tackle position. Spencer Burford out of The University of Texas at San Antonio was the Niners’ fourth-round-draft selection. Burford predominately played left tackle in his 46 games at UTSA, with game experience at right tackle and both guard positions.

Burford’s strengths in the run game

Burford excels at run blocking more than pass blocking. He’s comfortable down-blocking, knows when to come off combo blocks, and is always in front of defenders during a run play.

Pulling Ability

Burford often pulled in UTSA’s offense at guard and tackle. Buford’s poor Relative Athletic Score does not reflect his athletic ability. His lateral movement is on par with NFL guards. Shanahan has gotten the most out of his offensive line by having strong run blockers.

Shanahan has also made strides to throw several run concepts in one game. Burford’s familiarity with different positions can reinforce that if he continues to pull with force at the next level.

Finding Work

Burford specializes in finding work. There will be less pressure on him as a guard in the passing game. Breaking into the starting lineup as a late-rounder will not be easy, but he very well could make a name for himself if he can gravitate to defenders. During training camp, San Francisco’s defensive line will not make that easy for him.

Shanahan demands his offensive line to be sharp with combo blocks. In addition, Burford continuously looks for defenders instead of standing around on film.

Pass Blocking Upside

The three clips above display Burford’s struggles in his passing set. He shows he can anchor, have a strong kick slide, and stay with defenders. However, Burford would often struggle with these three and be a liability against players lined up in a nine-technique.

Burford will be featured inside, so his weaknesses will be on display less in the passing game. On the bright side, he has solid footwork and a knack for getting in front of defenders. His potential as an interior pass blocker is rooted in his near 34-inch arms.

The Not So Good

Burford’s pass sets' inconsistencies are likely why San Francisco’s front office wants to move him inside. His kick slide needs attention. He struggles to anchor against the bull rush, relies on upper body strength at times, and speed/nine-technique rushers tend to get the best of him,

Lack of Physicality Could Be Worrisome

One thing that worried me about Burford was his inability to finish blocks. He doesn’t pack much of a punch in his pass set and relies on his wingspan instead of his feet. Whether it was from him not driving his feet or not being physical enough. His effort to anchor and or drive blockers off the line may be another reason for the move inside. You don’t have to be a mauler in today’s NFL, but you do have to impose your will.

Liability Against Speed and 9-tech Rushers

Speed and 9-techniques gave Burford problems when he lined up at tackle. A 9-technique is where the defensive end or outside linebacker is lined up wide outside the tackle or tight end. He won’t have to worry about this as a guard, but interior defenders with sudden quickness could be a problem for him. Burford has to mesh his length and footwork together to become a better pass blocker.

Outlook

I think Spencer Burford has the potential to break into the starting lineup. Several positions are up for grabs, and he can squeeze in if he dials in on his struggles. His 82-inch wingspan comes in handy, but he has to move away from relying on his upper body strength and bring his feet with him every block.

Aaron Banks is poised for the left guard spot, but I think Burford can give him a run for his money. In addition, Burford's experience at different positions will give him an edge in adjusting to Shanahan’s offense. San Francisco’s offensive line isn’t my biggest concern, but I’d love for them to start the season as a tighter unit with new faces as starters.