Is Aaron Banks as ready as Trey Lance?

Trey Lance isn’t the 49ers’ only high draft pick who barely played his rookie season.

The same applies to a guy who’ll block for him this year, presumably at left guard. Presumably, presumably.

Aaron Banks’ rookie season amounted to five offensive snaps. The Notre Dame All-American was an NFL redshirt in 2021.

For all the mystery that surrounds Lance’s transition to starting quarterback, Banks is toiling under a quieter shroud of uncertainty.

They’ve both received glowing reviews this offseason, and while Lance’s transition truly appears on track via pass-oriented practices, Banks’ is harder to judge until the pads come on in training camp in August.

How much praise is too much for a young lineman? Is there overblown optimism, and, if so, why? Is he the next Joshua Garnett or Chilo Rachal, guards who were draft busts?

Or is Banks the next Pro Bowl guard following the likes of Guy McIntyre, Jesse Sapolu, Mike Iupati and Laken Tomlinson, Banks’ immediate predecessor?

Let’s delve deeper for answers that truly won’t come for months and years:


Left tackle Trent Williams gave Banks a hearty endorsement at last week’s mandatory minicamp. But how much does Williams really know? There’s been a significant lack of reps for Banks lining up next to Williams, who didn’t participate in the offseason program and only did some offensive line drills with him in the two minicamp practices. Combo blocks? Not yet.

Meshing with Trent is key to blocking for Trey.

Mind you, Banks couldn’t ask for a better wingman, seeing how Williams is coming off an All-Pro season. “He’s the best left tackle in the NFL,” Banks said last month, “so any chance you get to play next to a guy like that, it’s awesome.”

Williams campaigned for the 49ers to retain Tomlinson before he hit free agency, which isn’t to suggest he won’t support Banks. It’s just that Williams and Tomlinson were a Pro Bowl combo, along with center Alex Mack, who’s retired.

“Banks’ athleticism has always jumped off the board to be the size of a man that he is,” Williams said. “But now, shedding 20 pounds, he definitely looks light on his feet and his footwork looks 10 times better. His balance, his upper body lean, everything is like in place now. I think he’s ready to take that big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. And I’m here to help him.”


Williams and the 49ers’ brass loved how Banks reshaped his 325-pound frame. Banks credited his improved muscle mass and decreased body fat to this offseason’s work at the 49ers facility with their strength coaches.

“I’ve kind of transformed my body,” Banks said.

Physically, great. Mentally? “Most guys, especially in this offense, are a bit more prepared and know what to expect going into the second year, so I’m in a better place this year,” said Banks, an Alameda and El Cerrito High product who’s been soft-spoken in his rare media sessions since being drafted No. 48 overall.

SANTA CLARA, CA. - Aug. 14: San Francisco 49ers guard Aaron Banks hits the turf during a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SANTA CLARA, CA. – Aug. 14: San Francisco 49ers guard Aaron Banks hits the turf during a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 


Banks injured his right shoulder in his pro debut, the preseason opener against the Chiefs. That scuttled any shot at unseating Daniel Brunskill at right guard. Once the 49ers righted their seemingly sinking ship at midseason, the 49ers opted not to insert Banks and stuck with Brunskill.

“At that point, you have to look at the bigger picture,” Banks recalled. “You’ve got guys who’ve played 10, 12 games at that point, three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line. Those guys were rolling. Through the course of the season, the best guys play.”

Banks said it took until midseason until “things started to slow down” and he could comprehend the NFL level. He, Lance and running back Trey Sermon were relegated to learning on the bench as rookies, while Elijah Mitchell excelled as a rookie rusher once Raheem Mostert got hurt in the opener.

As for why Banks couldn’t move from Notre Dame’s left guard slot into the 49ers’, that’s because Tomlinson was entrenched there since 2017, and he was earning Pro Bowl accolades — en route to a free agency payday with the New York Jets.

“Laken was just extremely durable,” Banks said. “He would go through some hard hits and some plays that you look at and say, ‘Is he alright?’ He’d get up and go the next week, the next play, over and over. He worked extremely hard.”


Banks confirmed he is more comfortable at left guard than he was switching last year to right guard. But that is no certainty for success.

Before Banks can even get to the regular season, he will be tested in camp against heavyweights Javon Kinlaw, Maurice Hurst, Hassan Ridgeway and Kevin Givens.

Contingency plans: The 49ers could rely on another homegrown guard, such as Jaylon Moore, Spencer Burford or Nick Zakelj. Colton McKivitz is an option, too, but he could win the swing tackle role behind starters Williams and Mike McGlinchey.

Moore, a fifth-round pick last year, and Burford, a fourth-round pick this year, worked at right guard in offseason workouts while Brunskill sat out with knee tendinitis.


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