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49ers’ front office gave 2 incoming rookies ‘gold helmet’ rating

Matt Barrows of The Athletic caught up with Niners assistant general manager Adam Peters to discuss the 2021 draft class.

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The San Francisco 49ers will welcome 13 prospects for the team’s rookie minicamp this weekend. The Niners selected eight players at the 2021 NFL Draft and signed five more undrafted free agents.

Here are the eight players who were selected at the draft:

  • Round 1, Pick 3: North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
  • Round 2, Pick 48: Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks
  • Round 3, Pick 88 (via Rams): Ohio State RB Trey Sermon
  • Round 3, Pick 102 (Comp pick): Michigan CB Ambry Thomas
  • Round 5, Pick 155: Western Michigan OL Jaylon Moore
  • Round 5, Pick 172: Oregon CB Deommodore Lenoir
  • Round 5, Pick 180: USC S Talanoa Hufanga
  • Round 6, Pick 193 Louisiana RB Elijah Mitchell

San Francisco went with five offensive and three defensive players. The centerpiece of their incoming rookies is quarterback Trey Lance. Since January, the North Dakota State product had been on head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch’s radar.

The 6-4, 224-pound Lance only played one full college season. That came at the FCS level back in 2019. Lance had sparkling numbers that year with the Bison. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and no interceptions. Lance also ran for 1,100 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns. The 49ers loved what they saw from Lance and took him third overall to be the QB of the future.

Matt Barrows of The Athletic spoke with Niners assistant GM Adam Peters about the incoming draft class for his most recent piece. Peters explained how the front office evaluates prospects and gives roughly 15-20 players a “gold helmet” who they felt were exemplary in certain areas.

The Niners’ brass gave two of the incoming rookies a gold helmet rating, and one of them was Lance. The 21-year-old only played in a single game in 2020 due to NDSU’s season being wiped out because of the pandemic.

Lance completed just 50 percent of his passes for 149 yards and two scores in the Bison’s win over Central Arkansas. He also did some damage with his legs, running for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

Peters explained to Barrows what made it so hard to evaluate Lance based on the single game he played last season.

It wasn’t his best game,” he said. “And there was probably as much pressure on him in that game as anybody in any game except for maybe the championship game. It was really a one-off. You can’t throw it out, but you can weigh it less, I think.”

San Francisco will give Lance time to develop. It looks like incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo will be around for at least one more season, which will give Lance time to finetune as he prepares for his NFL career.

The second prospect that received the gold helmet rating from the 49ers is USC safety Talanoa Hufanga. Peters told Barrows that the front office was very high on Hufanga.

“He was a favorite of a lot of people,” assistant general manager Adam Peters said. “The coaches loved him, Kyle (Shanahan) loved him, John (Lynch) loved him, I loved him. He’s a hard guy not to love.

“When he was still on the board, that made it an easy pick. But I credit Dom for continuing to push (Hufanga) and having the belief in that kid. And we think we got a really good player at a really good value there.”

Hufanga is an intriguing prospect. He racked up 203 tackles (16.5 for losses), 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and eight passes defended during his three years with the Trojans. Hufanga was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season.

Peters also said the only player from the 2020 class that the organization gave a gold helmet ranking is offensive tackle Colton McKivitz.

We have to wait and see how the incoming rookie class pans out in the coming years, but the Niners were able to get two prospects they were clearly very high on going into the draft.