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5 things to know about 49ers sixth-round pick OL Nick Zakelj

Apr 30, 2022 at 2:05 PM--

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After selecting guard/tackle Spencer Burford of UT-San Antonio in Round 4 of the 2022 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers continued to add depth to their offensive line by adding Fordham tackle Nick Zakelj in Round 6 of the draft at pick 187 overall.

Zakelj turned himself from an unknown college prospect coming out of high school to a draftable NFL player after a standout career at Fordham. Now he heads to the 49ers hoping to find a spot somewhere on the offensive line, which may turn out to be at guard.

Here are five things to know about Zakelj as he begins his career with the 49ers.

A no-star recruit-turned-NFL player

Zakelj wasn't highly recruited as a high school player at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Northeast Ohio, but he started from year one at Fordham. He was a multi-year first-team all-conference performer and was able to achieve his academic goals as well as the goal of getting to the NFL.

"I only played O-Line my senior year of high school," Zakelj said after being selected by the 49ers. "I kind of went through a late growth spurt, so it was kind of basically between Fordham and schools like Columbia. As I got to Fordham, obviously you dream of going to the NFL, but kind of not really. That wasn't my purpose of going to Fordham. I went to Fordham to get a great education, to be able to play ball at a D-I level and be able to study. That's a big reason I went to Fordham is the great academics there, so that's something I was able to accomplish -- getting my undergrad and my masters while I was there while also achieving my goals of getting to the NFL."

A big Cleveland Browns fan

Football fans everywhere can relate to the level of devotion Zakelj had to the Cleveland Browns growing up. In 2016, Zakelj and his brother were in church on Christmas Eve, but they still couldn't resist watching on their phones to see if the Browns could avoid a winless season.

The Browns did win that day with a 20-17 victory over the Chargers.

"Back in the pews, we had the phone in our laps watching the game," Zakelj said at the NFL Scouting Combine, per the Akron Beacon-Journal. "My mom definitely wasn't happy about that one."

A shaky Senior Bowl followed by a better NFL Scouting Combine

The predraft process was important for Zakelj given the level of competition he faced in college. He had some ups-and-downs at the Senior Bowl, according to Tony Pauline of the Pro Football Network.

"Nick Zakelj likely wanted more out of his Senior Bowl week," wrote Pauline in January. "The Fordham product came in with an opportunity to prove himself. And while he did have some nice reps on the final two days, showing off his easy athleticism in space, he'll leave Mobile with questions surrounding his play strength, frame, and power-absorption ability. Zakelj's best work came inside, so teams may be keen to move him there in the future."

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Zakelj opened some eyes with a 5.13 time in the 40 while measuring in at 6-6, 316 pounds. Zakelj also put up 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press with a vertical jump of 28.5 inches, a broad jump of 110 inches, a 3-cone drill of 7.75 seconds, and a 20-yard shuttle of 4.71 seconds.

A fan of Trent Williams

Not surprisingly, Zakelj has paid close attention to 49ers left tackle Trent Williams. He'll now get the chance to learn from Williams close-up after watching him on television over the years.

"I'd say I'm very familiar with Trent just because I think he's definitely one of the o-linemen I like to watch the most," Zakelj said. "Obviously I don't try to take much from his game just because I don't think there's many guys who are able to do the things he does on the field -- just how freaky athletic he is and how technically sound he is. Being able to watch him, whether it's in that wide zone scheme getting out in space or the one-handed snatches he does on the field, he's definitely one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NFL -- not even just o-linemen. The stuff he's able to do on the field is great."

A future guard?

It isn't clear where Zakelj will wind up for the 49ers, but it's possible he could start out at guard despite being a college tackle. Zakelj thinks that could be his future path after getting some experience at guard during the Senior Bowl.

"I haven't had exactly a lot of specific talk like that, just kind of going through their general scheme of outside zone," Zakelj said. "But I think while I did play tackle in college and that's obviously where I'm most comfortable at, I think getting those reps at the Senior Bowl at guard and being able to broaden my horizons, I think having that flexibility of being able to play guard or tackle is something that showed value throughout the whole process. So I definitely see myself being more of a guard at the next level."

Wherever he lines up, Zakelj will come to San Francisco with some familiarity in what he'll be expected to do in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

"I'd say it's fairly similar. A lot of zone reads in there too," Zakelj said. "At Fordham, we didn't really go as much wide zone, getting out in space, and a lot of the pin-and-pull stuff that the Niners do as well. We had a lot of tight zone, maybe some counter here and there."

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