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The draft capital running back argument for the 49ers: May the best man win

Once you are drafting, your status no longer matters. Today we discuss whether or not it matters

New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The NFL draft/talent/player evaluation process is fascinating. Scouting departments spend months evaluating college prospects. It’s an imperfect process. Weighing players fit within your franchise’s scheme, and the locker room isn’t an exact science. “Can’t-miss” prospects bust while fifth-round picks become all-pros.

Covering my second Senior Bowl in Mobile this past year gave me my favorite quote of any event. One scout told me: “The hardest part of scouting is scouting the person.” Matt Rhule spoke about an experience with a prospect during Senior Bowl week. One interaction in an elevator with the highly coveted player was enough to take the player off his board.

When front offices identify a player in the draft, they become tied to their success. Fans and pundits grade GMs based on “hit rate.” But is there a time when players are forced into playing time-based on invested draft capital? When is it appropriate to realize sunk cost? Do players with draft capital behind them get more chances?

This past off-season, the 49ers moved on from Trey Sermon, who was a third-round pick. Sermon had struggled in his short time in 2021. His struggles continued in training camp. As a result, Tyrion Davis-Price was drafted in the third round, which effectively made Sermon expendable.

A rookie running back was turning heads during training camp. It was undrafted free agent Jordan Mason. Each day I was present during camp, Mason regularly ripped off runs, even with limited reps. Davis-Price’s camp was up and down. The most consistent back during camp was Mason. Inn Week 13, Davis-Price and Mason will be counted on to help spell Christian McCaffrey with meaningful carries. Mason made the initial 53-man roster. However, special teams' contributions forced Kyle Shanahan’s hand to have Mason active on game day. Davis-Price was a healthy scratch in Week 1.

It’s fair to ask the question, do the 49ers have buyer’s remorse with Davis-Price? Third-round picks generally contribute immediately. An injury contributed to Davis-Price missing time. The weeks in which he was healthy enough to contribute drew healthy scratches. Is it simply due to not contributing to special teams?

What about Mason? If a player flashes when his number is called, shouldn’t that be enough to break into the rotation? Shanahan loves rolling with the “hot hand.” Sunday’s game will be interesting to see the playing time split between the two players.

Will the 49ers give their third-round pick more run? Will it come down to the best player regardless of draft capital? If Davis-Price isn’t effective, is it fair to say the team missed the pick? Again, the draft capital vs. the more effective player will be something to monitor.

May the best player win?