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49ers in Five: Kyle Shanahan explains why top draft picks aren’t playing

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Everything you need to know in about five minutes

One of the chief complaints among 49ers fans, especially after nine weeks of the season, is why almost all of the team’s 2021 draft class has been MIA this season. It’s one thing for Trey Lance not to see the field much as the backup quarterback (although that’s a whole different argument). It’s another for players taken in rounds two and three to be inactive on game days. In today’s 49ers in Five Podcast, we listened to Kyle Shanahan addressing that in a lengthy answer during his conference call yesterday.

“We had a feeling with our quarterback. We knew we drafted a guard in the second round thinking he’d have a chance to push [Daniel] Brunskill and Laken [Tomlinson]. Our biggest thing with all those positions, whether it was running back, third, corner in the third and the fifth, and guard in the second, those are all positions we were very thin at. Now, we had guys there that were starters. We weren’t drafted a hole to replace the starter, whether it was at guard or whether it was that corner or whether it was that back.

I felt good with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson as our starting backs, but we knew we needed some depth. I felt very good about [Jason] Verrett, [Emmanuel] Moseley and K’Waun [Williams] as our starting three corners. But we also knew we needed some depth behind them for injury and for going into next year, especially with the one-year deal those guys are on. And we had to start getting some youth in here.

[Aaron] Banks, we thought had the best chance to compete to maybe win one of those jobs over the off season, but he didn’t get that. He wasn’t there in training camp, started getting his work in Week 1 and has been behind the eight ball. I think he’s had a couple good weeks here. His best two weeks lately and he’s starting to push him a little bit, but when that time is right for him and our team, we’ll make that move.

When you look at the running back, yeah, Trey Sermon. We didn’t bring him here to come and start at running back. We needed to add some depths and unfortunately, we lost our two starting running backs within two plays of the first play of the year. And after that, I wouldn’t say it’s anything against Trey Sermon, but we felt better with Elijah [Mitchell]. Elijah had a strong camp, ended up beating Trey out and that’s why he got that role. Trey got some opportunities when other people got injured. But right now, Jeff Wilson’s back healthy and Elijah is healthy and those are our two starting backs right now with Trey being third and unfortunately, Hasty’s been our third down back and done the stuff in the pass game. So, he’s kind of been the odd man out with that, which is tough on him. It doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in him. He’s just not ahead of those other guys right now in terms of running the ball on first and second down.

And when you look at our corners, the third-round pick, the fifth-round pick, we weren’t bringing any of them here to, we felt, start. We were hoping that they could add some depth and be guys who could play on our team and possibly do that next year. Unfortunately, having some injuries that we had early, we needed them earlier than we thought we would. And unfortunately, they weren’t fully ready for it. And yeah, I wish they were. But the third-round pick and the fifth-round pick, they weren’t, and that’s why we’ve gone with veterans instead of them. Trying to get them some time to get to where they need to be.”

There’s a lot there to unpack, for sure. But, first, it seems like Kyle gets a plan in his head and sticks with it no matter how the circumstances change around him. This is especially evident at cornerback, where at least Deommodore Lenoir has flashed in limited playing time.

Apparently, that’s not enough. The 49ers didn’t draft him to be a starter, so they aren’t going to start him no matter how badly Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick play. Think of how bad Ambry Thomas must be that he can’t even be active for this team, with all their issues at cornerback.

Daniel Brunskill has been about as bad as you can be as a guard in this league for quite some time, and yet Aaron Banks can’t even sniff the field. He’s one of just three second-round picks in the entire league that hasn’t taken a snap.

It has already been a long and frustrating season for 49ers fans. I’m not sure this explanation from Kyle Shanahan actually holds any water, but at least he gave us some insight into how the club thinks about its draft picks. I just wish there was better news.