San Francisco 49ers draft former Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bee


With the 187th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Fordham offensive tackle and former Brecksville Bees football star, Nick Zakelj.

Zakelj becomes the third Bee, and the first BBHHS offensive lineman, to be drafted into the NFL. He joins punter Ray Stachowicz, a third-round pick in 1981, and perhaps Brecksville-Broadview Heights football’s most famous alum, 1988 third-round pick Tom Tupa.

Zakelj was a zero-star recruit when he came to Fordham, but swiftly made a name for himself at the college level with his combination of clean footwork, effort and on-field toughness. Listed at 6 feet 6 inches tall and 316 pounds, he played both offensive tackle and offensive guard in college. Zakelj has the size, fluidity and athleticism to succeed at either position at the professional level, but education came first for him.

“Obviously you dream of going to the NFL,” Zakelj told 49ers beat reporters. “But that wasn’t my purpose for going to Fordham. I went to Fordham to be able to get a great education, to be able to… play ball at the [Division I] level, and kinda, to be able to study.”

Zakelj played both offense and defense in high school, but honed his craft as an offensive tackle while at Fordham. With Zakelj as their lead blocker, the 2021 Fordham Rams had one of the most efficient and high-powered offensive attacks in college football. The team averaged nearly 450 yards per game and finished third place in the Patriot League at 6-5.

During his time at Fordham, Zakelj was able to earn both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree from the university. Now in the NFL, he will have the chance to learn from San Francisco’s Trent Williams, one of the best offensive tackles in league history.

“I’m very familiar with Trent [Williams],” Zakelj said. “I think that he’s someone who is definitely one of the O-linemen who I like to watch the most… He’s definitely one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NFL.”

During Zakelj’s time in high school, he played linebacker and tight end, before eventually becoming a force at defensive end and left tackle. While with the Bees, he developed the signature demeanor and aggression that helped him get drafted.

“[Nick] plays through the echo of the whistle, finishes all his blocks, and [looks for] more work as he completes his assignment,” Brecksville football coach Jason Black said. “He’s a humble young man who represents his family and his community perfectly.”

Before the draft, Zakelj was invited to the annual Senior Bowl event, where 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch first noticed his in-game intensity firsthand. The 49ers love drafting players in Zakelj’s mold: sound fundamentals and with extreme potential for success due to size and positive football traits.

“He got better every day [at the Senior Bowl],” Lynch said in a press conference. “We liked his traits and we liked his make-up a lot.”

The 49ers rely on an offensive scheme that Zakelj will excel in. San Francisco employs a run-heavy offense where athletic, quick linemen like Zakelj need to get out into the open field and set blocks, rather than forming a stagnant wall at the line of scrimmage. This “zone blocking” scheme is a perfect environment for an agile blocker like Zakelj.

Draft analysts had rave reviews for Zakelj’s play style, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., the network’s top pundit on NFL Draft weekends. Kiper cited Zakelj’s aggressive play style and potential, and even mentioned his time playing defense with the Bees.

“[He was a] defensive lineman in high school, had 270 tackles back in the day,” Kiper said. “He can pull, he can make solid contact. He’s got tough and nasty written all over him. Not passive, this is an aggressive kid.”

With Shanahan’s coaching, the sky truly is the limit for Zakelj in the NFL. The 49ers have been one of football’s offensive juggernauts since Shanahan took over in 2017. If Zakelj gives the same effort in the pros as he did in college, he can be an elite lineman for San Francisco.

“Six-foot-six and 316 [pounds], and he’s got pretty good feet,” Kiper said. “There’s a future for Nick Zakelj in the league.”

Zakelj is just one of many northeast Ohio natives drafted into the NFL this year. The Seattle Seahawks drafted both Glenville alum Coby Bryant and Cleveland Heights native Tyreke Smith, and the Kansas City Chiefs selected former St. Ignatius Wildcat Darian Kinnard in the fifth round. Zakelj’s former Bees teammate, linebacker Mike Rose, also signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. ∞