After attending the majority of training camp practices and having a chance to review my notes, I’ve broken down the players who I felt did the best job of boosting their stock over the course of camp.
I’ve written a decent amount about Sherfield over the last few weeks, and for a good reason. Sherfield has regularly been a spark plug for the offense, using his plus speed to generate big plays and provide the 49ers with a bonafide deep threat down the field.
In addition, after being signed in a relatively unheralded offseason move, Sherfield has quickly become a favorite target of rookie quarterback Trey Lance, as the two developed quite the connection over the course of camp.
With the pecking order at wide receiver being a little unclear beyond Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, Sherfield has put himself in a fantastic position to account for a large portion of the target share in the upcoming season.
It’s not just the speed as well. Sherfield has looked crisp as a route runner and displayed a reliable set of hands as well. It’s too early to make any definitive declarations. Still, it appears the 49ers hit one out of the park by deciding to take a chance on a player who had been largely relegated to special teams' work throughout his NFL career.
After a rookie year that never really was able to get off the ground due to injuries, Jennings was able to enter Year 2 with some momentum. The 2020 seventh-round pick was regularly utilized throughout camp in the “big slot” role that many have envisioned for Jalen Hurd.
Jennings is a large receiver, standing at 6’3 215 pounds, but he moved much better than you’d expect for a player that size — even being utilized on the occasional end-around.
Jennings was also much better at creating separation than I anticipated, regularly winning over the middle in man coverage. As a result, Jennings went from a fringe roster player to having a firm grasp on that fifth wide receiver spot beyond Aiyuk, Samuel, Sherfield, and Mohamed Sanu.
Moore’s arc over the course of training camp was the most surprising to me, as he went from a Day 3 pick who appeared to be somewhat of a tweener to a bonafide depth piece capable of contributing immediately along the offensive line.
Although Moore played tackle exclusively at the collegiate level, he looked like a player who would profile better as a guard at the NFL level. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan did note that due to the logjam of players on the interior, and the lack of depth at tackle, Moore ended up taking the majority of his reps at left tackle out of necessity rather than true positional fit.
After a couple of shaky practices to start camp, Moore turned on the jets and quickly found himself making the most of meaningful snaps while being tasked with shoring up the 49ers quarterbacks’ blindside for the first team while Trent Williams missed some time with a knee injury.
It will be interesting to see what position Moore ends up at for the long term. For now, it appears he has played his way into a meaningful role on the 53-man roster in a swing tackle role
By far the biggest winner of camp, in my opinion. Street’s meteoric rise from fringe roster player to a near-lock for the final 53 was fascinating to watch. Admittedly I thought Street would be left on the outside looking in due to the depth on the 49ers defensive line, but Street has played at such a high level that he has effectively made a strong case to not only make the team but also get a significant amount of reps moving forward as well.
Street looked strong working the interior from the 3-technique, combining his raw power with jaw-dropping burst off the line of scrimmage, resulting in an explosive final product that wreaked havoc on opposing offensive lines.
Street also had the most dominant one on one rep I witnessed over the course of the camp. During one of the joint practices with the Chargers, Street ripped over center Scott Quessenberry with a swim move before coming back down and violently tossing him to the ground in a breathtaking show of force.
Between his ability to dominate the interior and the flexibility to kick outside to the edge if needed, I think Street has all but ended any discussion that involves him getting cut. The versatility to line up anywhere along the line ultimately could be the deciding factor between him and a player like Zach Kerr when the time comes to cut down to 10 defensive linemen.
I’ve stated a few times that Willis looked like the best defensive lineman on the field during the majority of practices, and that is saying a lot when you account for the talent that populates that position group.
Willis looks like a player whose talents are finally being maximized as a result of being placed in a scheme tailor-made for his skillset. Willis was the only lineman I saw during camp that continuously gave Trent Williams problems in 11 on 11’s, regularly beating the stalwart tackle in both the run game as well as rushing the passer.
Willis will be out for the first six weeks for violating the NFL’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy, but his strong showing in camp has all but assured him he would have a spot on the 53 man roster awaiting him upon his suspension ending.
Willis has the potential to be quite the steal for John Lynch and the front office, as his value as a key cog in defensive line rotation seems infinitely more valuable than the 2022 6th round pick that was parted with to acquire him from the Jets.
An undrafted free agent out of Indiana State, Griffith flew under the radar as a rookie last year after spending the season bouncing back and forth between the 49ers and Colts practice squads, respectively.
A phenomenal athlete, Griffith frequently showcased his physical ability with an extremely impressive string of practices to kickstart camp. The 4.63 speed exhibited during his pro day was on full display as Griffith made plays all over the field again and again.
I was particularly blown away by his footwork and ability to move laterally at high speed, moving sideline to sideline with an explosive amount of burst. While the physical gifts are fantastic, Griffith also showed he possesses a generous amount of football IQ as well, time and time again being in the right spot to blow up a play before it was able to develop.
Between the ability he showed as a linebacker and the physical traits he possesses that can be utilized on special teams, Griffin projects as an immediate contributor on the final 53 man roster.
As a PAC 12 guy, I was ecstatic when this pick was announced, having watched Lenoir star in Oregon’s secondary on many occasions. When the pick was made, my assumption was that Lenoir would profile as a slot corner and likely spend a year as an understudy to the incumbent starter in K’Waun Williams. However, not only has Lenoir showed he is more than capable of operating on the boundary, but he is also proving he can EXCEL there.
Lenoir has consistently flashed his coverage ability, perpetually coming up with big pass breakups and interceptions while displaying an uncanny ability to stick receivers in man coverage.
While I don’t think he is quite ready to overtake Emmanuel Moseley for the second corner spot, Lenoir has at the very least eased any concerns about the 49ers' immediate depth in the secondary should anything happen to any of the starting corners.
Another PAC 12 defensive back whose role I appeared to misdiagnose on the day he was selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft. I projected Hufanga as a box player who might be molded into a converted linebacker, but his usage in camp would indicate the 49ers view him and his future role as a key contributor in the secondary as a traditional safety.
Hufanga’s work ethic is exceptionally noteworthy. He was the first player on the field during almost every practice, regularly getting work in nearly an hour before each team portion officially kicked off. Over the course of the camp, Hufanga went from working with the third-stringers to getting significant reps on the first team, with the added responsibility of playing a prominent role in coverage while being left in single-high looks.
Hufanga’s instincts are off the charts as well, frequently diagnosing plays before they unfolded and putting himself in a spot to wreck would-be first down conversions by making huge plays in front of the sticks. Between these instincts and his improved coverage ability, Hufanga projects as a key member of the secondary moving forward, with potentially a bigger role on the horizon depending on the future status of Jaquiski Tartt, who is not under contract beyond this season.