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Grading the 49ers 2021 draft: The jury is still out on Trey Lance

It’s impossible to grade this draft since we don’t know much about the quarterback yet

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

When you look back at the 49ers previous three drafts, you come away satisfied with the production:

I feel like whatever Javon Kinlaw gives the 49ers from here on out is a bonus. Thankfully, the emergence of Arik Armstead has lessened the loss of the former first-round defensive tackle.

The foundation has been laid for the 49ers roster. The future will be determined by how the 2021 draft class pans out. There’s a giant question mark at the top, but intriguing prospects after that.

Trey Lance: Incomplete

We know nothing about Lance. But there’s no doubt that Lance showed transferrable traits with flashes of high IQ quarterback play in his second start.

Both of Lance’s starts came with a week to prepare. So the next time we see Lance, he’ll have gone through an entire offseason after handling all of the first-team reps with an offense suited around him, not Jimmy Garoppolo.

How the team builds around Lance this offseason via the draft and free agency will give us a hint of how close they feel they are to contending. As long as Lance is on a rookie contract, I’d be over-aggressive when it comes to acquiring talent.

The good news is this organization isn’t afraid to swing big. I’d take the Niners approach as opposed to sitting back and “building through the draft,” hoping that your picks turn out.

Aaron Banks/Trey Sermon: Unsatisfactory

Lance had an excuse. He didn’t play football the season prior and wasn’t expected to come in as a Day 1 starter. I refuse to believe the 49ers believed the Monday the draft was complete and came away thinking each of their first three picks would redshirt.

Both players couldn’t have asked for better opportunities to get onto the field as a rookie. Raheem Mostert lasted two carries into the season. Daniel Brunskill wasn’t exactly a clone of Trent Williams at right guard.

Instead of calling either player a bust, it puts into perspective how difficult it is to excel as a rookie in the NFL and play. It’s evident that Brunskill isn’t the long-term answer at right guard, while Elijah Mitchell was constantly banged up.

The team could still rely on both Banks and Sermon as early as next season. Banks needed time to get into playing shape and accustomed to what the 49ers do on the ground. All eyes will be on Banks during training camp. When we saw him last August, he looked like a player with a ways to go.

Sermon found out the hard way that you don’t have an extra second in the backfield to make a decision. If you’re not decisive — especially in a wide-zone scheme — you can’t play. I’m less confident about Sermon’s future, but all it takes is one breakout game for young players to gain confidence.

Ambry Thomas: C+

Thomas started and ended the season getting picked on by some of the best receivers in the game. There were always going to be hiccups when he stepped onto the field, considering Thomas didn’t play in 2020.

Thomas’s ball skills didn’t improve the way you would have liked to see. Yes, he had an interception and broke up passes, but that was more of a product of Thomas being in position than attacking the ball.

Thomas began to play faster and more aggressively. That’s why he started to turn the corner. Thomas can build off a promising start to his young career, but it’s dangerous to assume his play will take a leap.

That’s why the 49ers should entertain the idea of signing a veteran cornerback in free agency. That puts less pressure on Thomas to perform heading into his second year if he’s not ready.

House money in the fifth round

Between Jaylon Moore, Deommodore Lenoir, and Talanoa Hufanga, the 49ers are playing with house money with their fifth-round picks. Getting starts out of any of those players would be a luxury.

Moore and Lenoir both had opportunities to play as rookies, but mental mistakes prevented them from overtaking the veterans in front of them. Both of their futures might be inside at their respective position. Moore is worth a look at right guard, while Lenoir could be a cheap alternative in the slot if you’re not comfortable with whats’ available on the market.

Hufanga can play at all three levels on defense. He’ll likely continue to play snaps as a dime safety or linebacker on obvious passing downs. Hufanga’s lack of speed and over-aggressiveness were a bad combination as a rookie. The closer to the line of scrimmage, the better.

Lenoir and Hufanga could also serve as vital pieces to a special teams’ unit that could use all of the help they could get after last season.

Elijah Mitchell: A+

The 49ers drafted their starting running back in the sixth round. Kyle Shanahan trusted Mitchell more than any running back I can remember in recent history under Shanahan. Mitchell had over 20 carries in his final five starts. When Mostert went down in Week 1, Mitchell, not Sermon, had 19 carries.

Mitchell is an A+ for his style of running. He’s only going to get better with his vision. The more he runs wide zone, the more comfortable he’ll get with the play, which means we haven’t come close to seeing Mitchell’s ceiling. I also think he has a lot more to offer in the passing game than we saw this season.

Health is the only concern when discussing Mitchell’s future.