Brunskill Was One of 49ers' Unexpected Heroes

Offensive lineman was signed as an unheralded free agent last year and proved to be valuable to team’s success

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The 49ers signed some quality veteran free agents in 2019. High-profile free agents such as linebacker Kwon Alexander and running back Tevin Coleman helped San Francisco improve from 4-12 in 2018 to 13-3.

But perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck veteran signing was offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill.

The little-known former San Diego State player had never played a regular-season NFL game, but had spent time with the Atlanta Falcons – off and on – since 2017. Brunskill also took a side trip to the now-extinct American Alliance of Football, starting at tackle for the San Diego Fleet until the league folded.

Niners general manager John Lynch said one of the team’s scouts, R.J. Gillen, who saw Brunskill play for the Fleet, suggested the 49ers sign him.

They did, for a one-year deal worth $495,000, and Brunskill paid off in a huge way. He started several games at both tackle and guard, filling in when injuries sidelined Mike McGlinchey and Mike Person, and played well in the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme.

Brunskill said his experience in the American Alliance of Football gave him the experience and confidence he needed to compete and succeed in the NFL.

Brunskill wound up playing in 14 games in the regular season – including seven starts -- and all three postseason games, and had a significant impact on the offensive success. Even without McGlinchey and Person, the 49ers were consistently able to run the ball and protect quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Jose Luis Sanchez III of Sports Illustrated suggested that considering what an inexpensive, under-the-radar signing he was, Brunskill was "arguably the best free-agent signing" of 2019 for the franchise. And, Brunskill figures to have won himself a spot on the roster for 2020.

When Brunskill was forced into the lineup, he performed very well. Late in the season, Lynch said Brunskill had proven his skill during summer workouts, and he expected him to keep it up as the season progressed.

"He played every position on the offensive line through camp, even center, which he had never done, and he kept showing value and here he is with a great opportunity," said Lynch. "We’re confident that he’s going to go out and perform in a really good way."

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