When you start looking at the 49ers roster on paper, there are very few questions that remained unanswered. A well-balanced team loaded with experienced veterans on both sides of the ball has left little room for guessing when it comes to what you can expect from this group in 2023.
The most glaring question is probably who starts at quarterback, which is fair and understandable. However, just behind that is what exactly is a reasonable expectation for Colton McKivitz as he is tasked with filling the void that has been left by the recently departed Mike McGlinchey following his five seasons with the team.
The 49ers will have a different week one starter at right tackle for the first time since 2017, a reality that the team has been preparing for well in advance, given John Lynch’s recent remarks about their willingness to move off McGlinchey as early as last offseason.
It’s important to remember that given the options they had on the roster at the time these trade talks would have occurred, it is more than likely that McKivitz was the contingency plan then just as he is now.
While McGlinchey was not always appreciated during his time with the 49ers, he was at minimum someone who gave the 49ers a floor of a solid and dependable player at the tackle position, which is extremely scarce in today’s NFL as evidenced by the deal he ultimately signed with the Denver Broncos.
If the 49ers were comfortable enough to move off McGlinchey and make that transition to McKivitz, it speaks volumes about where their belief lies in the latter. The problem is that for a curious fan base in search of why such confidence might exist, there is not much in the way of sample size at the NFL level that points to any indication of what kind of performance can be expected from McKivitz.
He has only registered a total of 446 snaps during his three seasons in the league, with nearly 70 percent of those snaps coming during his rookie season, where he played right guard for 296 of his 301 snaps.
For starters, it’s difficult to use a player's first season in the league to accurately gauge future success. While it can be revealing, there are just so many challenges that come with acclimating to playing the game at this level, that it is unfair and irresponsible to put too much weight on a players' first prolonged exposure to NFL football.
Secondly, given the fact that nearly all of McKivitz’s snaps came as a guard, it’s also not realistic to expect that we can properly project how that performance on the interior will translate to an entirely different position outside.
Now, he does have 143 combined snaps at left and right tackle over the last two seasons, where he allowed five total pressures on 69 pass blocking snaps. Once again, it’s not a great sample size to work with, but should be a bit more indicative of what his game will look like while he anchors the right side of the line.
So, without the adequate sample size, what exactly is the reason to remain optimistic about his play as he steps into a pivotal role for the first time in his career? Look no further than last season, when the same questions about the 49ers offensive line permeated many of the offseason discussions surrounding this team.
With three new starters on the interior of the offensive line, including a rookie at the right guard spot, many wondered if that was going to be the downfall of an otherwise dominant roster that was ready to win now. That line of thinking is beyond reasonable given the lack of any tangible samples as a starter in the NFL of any of the three to fall back on, however with the power of hindsight we know that it could not have been farther from the truth.
Jake Brendel was fantastic. Aaron Banks blossomed in his second year in the league, and Spencer Burford performed admirably for a first year player in a tricky spot that essentially had him in a time-share with Daniel Brunskill at the right guard spot.
While doubt persisted, the 49ers stuck by their plan and were rewarded handsomely. For all the criticism they received about piecing together this unknown offensive line, the group responded by being one of the more reliable units in the league during a very successful season for the team.
The number of times the 49ers brass has won after betting on themselves and their ability to develop in house creates a certain amount of equity that is hard to overlook. While we have no idea what a player like McKivitz will look like in a more prominent role, the same eyes that pieced together last year's line have faith that he is the right guy to do it.
And hey, they’ve been wrong on things before, and they undoubtedly will again, it’s just the nature of the business. But when you look at the track record of this team and their ability to plug holes with in house options, it’s hard to not give them the benefit of the doubt that McKivitz can be everything they need him to be as they embark on a path of unfinished business in 2023.