Among the roster moves the 49 players made on cut-off day was the 49ers’ decision to keep 2022 sixth-round pick Nick Zakel on the final 53-player roster.
Zackel has a very interesting set of physical traits that most coaching staff would love to have a chance to develop. Zackel scored an astounding Relative Mathematical Score, or RAS for short. The RAS score has been ranked 23rd out of more than 1,200 inland offensive navigators dating back to 1987.
Despite those striking physical traits, Zackel faced an uphill battle during pre-season to make the final roster in an attacking line room full of veteran players.
The 49ers’ decision to keep Zackel told me two things. Number one is that Zackel impressed the coaching staff and front office throughout the holiday period, so much so that they didn’t want to risk exposing Zkielj to exemptions in an effort to hide him in the coaching staff.
That includes a very impressive display against the Houston Texans in the season finale. Here are some plays from that game where Zackelj starred.
A very impressive back pass by Nick Zackelj is here
Zackel does a great job pinning with his left foot before moving his right foot to counter this inward rotation by #98 pic.twitter.com/hP2qTtwNSN
– Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 31, 2022
Here’s another where Zackel does a great job of reading his immediate surroundings and responding to pressure from his right. Watch how Zackel turns his head and how quickly he responds to the edge pressure coming through Gap B.
Finally, a play that shows Zackel’s resilience as he recovers from the bull run that got him into trouble early on as the actor. It’s not always about how you start a rep but how you end it.
Number two is that despite being environmentally friendly and lacking in NFL experience, Zaquil’s versatility and ability to play inside and out are extremely valuable to the 49ers, as they now have two pieces deep on the offensive line they can play Any of the five positions are in a pinch. .
When you combine Zackel’s athletic spirit with positional flexibility, it’s easy to imagine why the 49-year-old would want it. The real mystery lies in where they expect Zackel to fit into the offensive line over the long haul, as there are already junior Novices in each of the point guards and two former first-round picks in either of the two tackle modes.
That leaves the center position as the most obvious option, with current starter Jake Brindle not only turning 31 but also set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Zackelj played during his final season at Fordham University, but he got extensive work in the center position to better prepare himself for his transition to the NFL. I spoke with Zackelj’s offensive line coach at Fordham, Alex Hoytel. Coach Huettel has given some great insight into why he thinks Zakel will excel indoors in the NFL, explicitly referring to the center position.
That’s what coach Huettel said when I asked him where he thought Zaquil would be a better fit at the NFL level.
That’s hard. Personally, I think he could be my inner man. Again, I think it’s big enough to carry in there, go one-on-one with three techniques, and list heavy nose guards. He has the ability and technique to play low, drive on his feet, and strain to finish there.
I think he will excel on the inside. I think he’s very clever, and he’s proven that in the conference room with the questions he asks and the way he prepares himself, he can get out into the position, define his defenses and call up everything to be the voice of the offensive line.
Next, coach Huettel went deep, and talked about how Zackel was going to such a great effort at home to help prepare for his transition to the NFL level, all while maintaining the workload that comes with being the first team to leave the interference.
He wanted to play center, he’d been working on his off-season snaps leading up to his senior year only because he realized you have to be valuable in the NFL, you have to be able to do all five.
So he took it upon himself to work the internal movements, even if it was faster. And he looked really good in the center. You know, we thought we’d take him there in a few games just to expand A Gap even more, but it was natural to get in the way for us in our league, in FCS.
I think he’ll excel inside, he’s quick to shiver, he’ll put his hands on people, he can bend over, he can play with leverage, and he’ll strain to finish players because it’s a phone booth game inside. But I think Nick is athletic enough and tall enough to get outside and save the situation if necessary.
What made it even more exciting was how coach Huettel mentioned that Zackell had essentially taken it upon himself to do that extra work indoors. This kind of initiative is not impressive.
We had conversations between Nick and me in his senior year about that you should be able to take pictures, so you can start working on it now. He understands that Nick is very smart, he’s a footballer, and he understands that process that you have to be able to do all of it.
We had the conversation, but to tell you the truth, when it came to fall camp, he was like, “Can I go to the center as a coach?” And I was like yeah, go ahead. So he wanted to do it, and he wanted to get some reps in it, and again he looked really good. The shots were beautiful, in the box of the midfielder, he didn’t have to take his eyes off that, it was something special.
One of the last hard points from our conversation that I think was noteworthy was coach Huettel’s answer when I asked him what he thought Zaquil’s best traits were as an offensive lineman.
I would say it was his desire to be a great offensive lineman. I know when you get to that level everyone has a desire to be cool at playing. But you do come across some guys who think, Oh, I’m just an offensive line guy. But for Nick, it was something to be proud of, like I’m an offensive line guy. It was much different from him, the work he did.
He really immersed himself in the study of offensive linear play, how to become better? Get your target, hand laying, leverage, whatever it takes.
When you put it all together, you get a very athletic player who takes a lot of pride in the work that comes with being an offensive lineman at the highest level. A player who has taken it upon himself to take the time to learn an entirely new position while still taking on his duties elsewhere.
While the timeline isn’t entirely clear as to when Zackel will get his chance to make his claim as future centerpiece, one thing is clear. When that opportunity arises, Zackell will cash in on all the work he was doing long before the 49ers handed him a draft card with his name on it.
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