The San Francisco 49ers beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday with their top three picks from the 2021 NFL Draft combining to play four snaps. That speaks to the depth of the team, but it also should cause some reason for concern.
On the one hand, the 49ers are getting contributions from plenty of young players, including rookies, on the roster. On the other, you want your premium picks to give you something on the field.
Let’s recap how the Niners rookies performed during Week 1.
Here’s what PFF had to say about Lance?
Overall Rookie Grade: 47.7 (Rank: 4/5)
Week 1 Grade: 47.7
The question heading into the 49ers’ Week 1 contest was how much game time Lance would see as part of a two-quarterback rotation. The answer was just four snaps, three of which were designed run plays. The 49ers let him pass one time, down in the red zone, and he completed a quick throw on a whip route to Trent Sherfield for a touchdown.
It was cool to say Lance rotated in on the first drive, but it never felt like there was a plan. Kyle Shanahan said as much after the game when he said he didn’t intentionally mean to throw Lance in the gam during the first series.
Lance hit Trent Sherfield for an easy touchdown toss, but his other three snaps were designed runs that went nowhere.
Lance carried the ball three times for two yards, and neither play stood a chance. It’s going to drive everyone insane if this is the plan for Lance. You want to give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt as Jimmy Garoppolo was rolling, and it’s tough to take him off the field.
The issue is you’re doing Lance zero favors by running him into the teeth of the defense and exposing him to unnecessary hits. One of those runs came on a third and forever, which caused most of us to cringe. I imagine the next time we see Lance; it’ll involve more throws.
Banks and Sermon were both healthy scratches the first week of the season. For Banks, he hasn’t given the team any reason to put him on the field. If you remember how he played during his first preseason game, then you remember a handful of blown blocks and a player who looked out of his depth.
You’re not going to give up on Banks after a month. But, knowing who was on the board (Asante Samuel Jr., a cornerback who can play inside and out) and how the depth at cornerback was at the time and how everything has shaped out since, you can’t help but wonder what San Francisco was thinking.
The Banks selection surprised everyone, even Notre Dame homers. The scheme fit was questionable at the time, and it showed up during the preseason. Let’s hope the learning curve isn’t too steep for Banks, and he adjusts sooner than later.
As for Sermon, he’ll be the third-down back on Sunday. That’s my guess. I don’t think it’s a big deal if Elijah Mitchell ends up better than Sermon. The same applies to Demmodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas. As long as you’re getting contributions from either one, then the 49ers are fine.
Now, if Sermon is a healthy scratch for multiple weeks, then that’s an issue. With Raheem Mostert undergoing surgery, the 49ers don’t have much of a choice to activate Sermon. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as the team’s leading rusher by the end of the season. A part of me believes this was the coaching staff challenging Sermon.
Ambry Thomas looks like a player who doesn’t have any confidence. He’s playing passive and struggled to play the ball on Sunday. The 49ers put him in the game with the thought that the game was out of hand.
Then, they had to play him once Jason Verrett went down, and the Lions took advantage. I think it’s as simple as Thomas making one play to realize he belongs. Sometimes, that’s all it takes at cornerback.
If the 49ers do end up trading or adding another cornerback, that will be an indictment on how the team feels about Thomas.
If Moore never plays a snap this year, then that’s perfect as it would mean one of Trent Williams or Mike McGlinchey went down with an injury. Moore’s development will come in practice as he goes against the 49ers starting defensive line every day.
Hufanga played 20 snaps once the game was out of reach. He played fast, was aggressive, and didn’t make any mistakes.
Lenoir is the ultimate wildcard in the secondary. Has he shown enough to keep him on the field over veterans like Dre Kirkpatrick and Josh Norman? Is he a better player? I wonder if the 49ers will rotate cornerbacks and let them play it out during the game to see who outperforms who.
The slate of receivers coming up won’t be easy. The Eagles have speed, which might be a bad matchup for Norman and Kirkpatrick. On the other hand, Lenoir looks comfortable, and he doesn’t get down after making mistakes. So I’d let the rookie play.
What can you say about Mitchell that already hasn’t been said. 36% of Mitchell’s carries came with eight defenders in the box. That was the sixth-highest during Week 1, per Next Gen Stats. However, that didn’t stop Mitchell from being second in the NFL among running backs with 37 yards rushing over expectation.
Mitchell ran for four first downs, broke three tackles, and averaged two yards after contact. I will say that there were a few carries Where Mitchell struggled to get to the backside on cutback runs, and there were some vision questions, but his initial burst and ability to run through tackles will make it tough to take him off the field.