The San Francisco 49ers hit gold on some of their late round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the first week of 2018 suggests optimism on this year’s class. Fred Warner did not play due to a chest injury, while Marcell Harris did not play as he continues his Achilles rehab, and Kentavius Street will spend the season on the NFI list, rehabbing a torn ACL.
The remaining six rookies were all plenty busy on Thursday. Five of the six were in some form of the startling lineup. D.J. Reed and Richie James were not in the traditional base looks, but Reed was the team’s starting nickel back, and James started in the slot with Trent Taylor sidelined. Tarvarius Moore is the only one of the six draft picks to not enter the game until the second half.
I took a look back at the film for all six players, and pondered grading them, but it’s hard to offer a grade in some instances. For example, Tarvarius Moore was rarely challenged, and for the most part, Cooper Rush and Mike White did not seem to be looking him off. But either way, these six were out on the field plenty for the first time in NFL game action. Here’s some of what I saw.
Mike McGlinchey, RT, 1st round pick — 23 O snaps
If you don’t hear an offensive lineman’s name called during a game, usually that’s a good thing. Sure, it probably means he didn’t have a filthy pancake block, but it also means he wasn’t beaten badly on a play. That is what you can say about Mike McGlinchey’s debut.
He was the starting right tackle for three series, lasting a series longer than the rest of the starters. Kyle Shanahan summed it up best:
“Yeah, we planned to leave him in longer. For the most part, if I don’t notice an O-lineman very much in the game especially on pass plays it usually means they did fairly good. So I was happy with him, but again, I wasn’t watching. So, I’ll watch them when I get inside.”
I took a look back at his snaps, and although he had a couple run plays where he over-pursued his man (neither impacted the result of the play), he did solid work. He was involved in one instance of a pass rusher getting pressure in Jimmy Garoppolo’s face, but that was a stunt to the inside, so he would not be dinged for the pressure. But otherwise, it was a perfectly good debut.
Dante Pettis, WR, 2nd round pick — 31 O snaps, 1 ST snap
It looked like Pettis was going to have an entirely disappointing evening in his debut, but it finished big. Pettis and C.J. Beathard struggled to get on the same page much of the second and third quarter. Early on, Pettis cut a route short while Beathard threw long. Later, Beathard hit Pettis right between the numbers and the receiver dropped it.
However, the highlight of his day saw Pettis run a great route to get open for a 53-yard reception. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had him in coverage, with safety Marqueston Huff looking to help over the top. Pettis made a double move to get open from Lewis, and Huff over-pursued on the play. Beathard dropped it in for the big gain. Pettis has some things to clean up, but he got a big positive out of his debut.
Tarvarius Moore, CB, 3rd round pick — 22 D snaps, 12 ST snaps
Moore did not enter on defense until the Cowboys final drive of the 3rd quarter. He played through the close of the game, and had a quiet day. The Cowboys challenged him once, with quarterback Mike White looking deep for wide receiver Lance Lenoir. Moore had excellent coverage, getting a hand on him down the field but avoiding the flag. The ball was overthrown, but it would have taken the most perfect of passes for White to drop it in.
D.J. Reed, DB, 5th round pick — 40 D snaps, 5 ST snaps
Reed has been getting work at slot corner and free safety in training camp, and that continued in the preseason opener. He played the majority of his snaps in the slot, including all of his snaps the first two series. Adrian Colbert played the first series at free safety, and Antone Exum played the second series. Starting in the third series through most of the third quarter, Reed, Exum, and Chanceller James rotated at free safety. When Reed was not playing free safety, he was in the slot.
He was not challenged all that much in the game. On one play where he dropped into short zone coverage, he quickly to Terrance Williams after the veteran receiver caught a short pass at the line of scrimmage. Reed converged and stopped him for no gain. He was challenged in coverage once, on a Michael Gallup fade route in the end zone on a goal to go situation. Reed was on his man, but Gallup had leapt higher than him — not a shocker with Gallup’s 6’1 frame. However, Cooper Rush overthrew Gallup. He also had one blitz from the slot. This is not quite the positive of Mike McGlinchey since the tackle faced a direct challenge almost every snap, but it’s still better than getting burned all day.
Jullian Taylor, DL, 7th round pick — 32 D snaps, 3 ST snaps
It was a great night for Taylor. Even though he only played one full season in college due to a variety of injuries, he looked like he belonged on Thursday. He had some missteps early, particularly on a couple of run pursuits, but improved as the game moved along. That might have been due in part to the competition level decreasing as the Cowboys rolled out more of the depth chart. But I’ll take a strong debut regardless.
Pro Football Focus tallied Taylor with a sack, two quarterback hits and a hurry in 20 pass rush attempts. He also had three run stops, which tied for the team high. He was starting in place of Arik Armstead, who is dealing with a hamstring injury that has him week-to-week. Taylor rotated to both sides, more so once Solomon Thomas suffered a head injury. If Thomas can’t play next week in Houston, Taylor will be in line for another sizable snap-load.
Richie James, WR, 7th round pick — 36 O snaps, 5 ST snaps
The 49ers other seventh round pick a solid day for himself as well. He had four receptions for 46 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds left. Per PFF, 49ers quarterbacks had a 150.4 passer rating on the night when targeting him. He showed an ability to get open down the field, but also an ability to make things happen on shorter passes. My favorite play was the screen pass he caught behind the line of scrimmage in the second quarter and turned into a 24-yard gain. He’s got all sorts of maneuverability that opens up the playbook even further.