Among the roster moves the 49ers made on Cut Day was the 49ers’ decision to keep 2022 sixth-round pick Nick Zakelj on the final 53-man roster.
Zakelj has a very interesting set of physical traits that most coaching staff would love to have the opportunity to develop. Zakelj scored above and beyond an impressive relative movement score (he’s RAS for short). His RAS score ranked him 23rd among his over 1200 internal offensive linemen, dating back to 1987.
Despite these eye-popping physical traits, Zacheri faced an uphill battle during preseason to make the final roster with an offensive line room full of veteran players.
The 49ers’ decision to keep Zakelj taught me two things. The first was that Zacheri impressed the coaching staff and front office throughout the offseason, so he didn’t want to risk exposing him to waivers by trying to get him on the practice team.
This includes a very impressive showing against the Houston Texans in the preseason finale. Here are some plays from that game where Zakelj shines.
Here is a very impressive pass pro rep by Nick Zakelj
Zakelj locks down with his left foot and slides his right foot to counteract this spin action by moving inside with #98. pic.twitter.com/hP2qTtwNSN
— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 31, 2022
This is another place where Zacheri does a great job of reading her surroundings and responding to pressure from the right. See how Zakelj turns heads and how quickly Edge reacts to his pressure coming from the B-gap.
Finally, a play that shows Zacheri’s resilience recovering from a bull rush that caused trouble early in the rep. It’s always how you finish your rep, not how you start it.
Second, despite his lack of NFL experience on Green, Zacheri’s versatility and ability to play inside and out will be of great value to the 49ers. .
Combine Zacheri’s athleticism with his positioning flexibility, and it’s easy to see why the 49ers would covet him. The real mystery is where Zacheri hopes to fit into his line offensively in the long run, with young starters already entrenched in his spots at both guards and neither tackle his position. has two former first-round picks.
Current starter Jake Brendel is not only 31 years old, but will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Zacheri played tackle in his final season at Fordham University, but did extensive work at the center position to better prepare him for his move to the NFL. We spoke to Alex Huttel, who coaches Zacheri’s offensive line at Fordham. His coach Huettel gave some great insight into why he thinks Zakelj excels in his NFL interior, explicitly mentioning the center position.
Here’s what Coach Huttel had to say when Zacheri asked him where he thinks he would fit best at the NFL level.
It is tough. Personally, I think you’re an interior lover. Again, I think he’s big enough to keep it down there. He goes one-on-one with three techniques and combos heavy nose guards. He plays low, moves his legs and finishes there I have the ability and technique to tense up.
I think he excels at interior design. I think he is very smart. He proved himself prepared for the questions he asked in the conference room and for being able to come out to the center and identify defenses, call them all and be the voice of the offensive line. . .
Coach Huttel talked about how Zakerzi has done extensive extra work on the interior to help prepare for the move to the NFL level.
He wanted to play center. Because he understood that in the NFL he had to be valuable and he had to be able to do all five.
So he was really serious about doing interior footwork, not just getting on his feet fast. And he looked really good in center. As you know, we even considered moving him there in a few games to further expand the A gap, but he naturally tackled in our league, the FCS.
I think he’s good on the inside. Quick He twitches and reaches out to his opponent. It is bendable and can be played with a lever. You can beat your opponent by straining. inside. But I think Nick is athletic enough and long enough to go out and save the day if needed.
What made it all the more appealing was how coach Huttel said that Zakerzi essentially took it upon himself to put this extra work into the interior. Such an initiative is not impressive.
Nick and I had a conversation heading into his senior year about what you have to be able to snap, so you better start working on it now. He’s a footballer and understands the process that you have to be able to do it all.
We talked about it, but actually during the fall training camp, I was asked, “Coach, can I join the center?” sure. Go ahead. So he wanted to do it. The quarterback’s chest snap was beautiful and I didn’t have to take my eyes off it. It was something special.
The final nugget I think is very noteworthy from our conversation was Coach Huttel’s answer when I asked him what he thought were Zacheri’s best traits as an offensive lineman.
I think he wants to be a great offensive lineman. I know everyone has a desire to play well when they reach this level. But you run into people who think, oh, I’m just an offensive lineman. It was very different to him from the work he put into it.
He’s been hard at work studying offensive line play, but how do you get better? Target acquisition, hand placement, leverage, and everything that comes with it.
Put it all together and you have a very athletic player who takes great pride in his work as an offensive lineman at the highest level. Players who have committed themselves to spending time learning an entirely new position while still performing their duties in another position.
It’s not exactly clear the timetable for when Zakelj will get a chance to claim his claim as a future centerpiece, but one thing is clear. When the opportunity presents itself, Zacheri will benefit from all the work he’s put in long before the 49ers turned in a draft card in his name.