We finally have San Francisco 49ers games to watch again. Sure the preseason can usually be quite dull, especially with the Niners sitting most of their starters on Friday night against the Green Bay Packers. However, with Trey Lance making his first start as the Niners’ top signal-caller, plenty of eyes were on San Francisco. They delivered a solid all-around performance, showcasing the depth of their roster in a 28-21 victory.
Here’s a breakdown of how each position group performed:
More importantly, Lance’s more inaccurate throws did not have a high turnover risk or expose his receivers to big hits. Some of Lance’s shorter throws were slightly off target and probably cost his receivers a few yards after the catch. However, his incompletion to Danny Gray on a deep out on the first drive was a far better throw than he got credit for. The throw probably should have come out a bit earlier, but if Gray had better body control, he should have been able to get both feet down. Even if his throw did lead to the incompletion, it was also in a place where only his receiver could catch it.
Then, of course, there were the big positives. Lance evaded pressure skillfully while keeping his eyes downfield, slid to avoid a hit on a scramble, and delivered a beautiful 76-yard touchdown pass to Gray. Despite pressure bumping his side as he threw, he released a downfield pass from the left hash to the near sideline 42 yards downfield for Gray’s first NFL housecall.
Lance was not the only Niners quarterback who performed well, though. Nate Sudfeld looked comfortable in the pocket and showed off more arm strength than I expected from the former sixth-round pick. Many were scratching their heads when the 49ers guaranteed Sudfeld $3 million this offseason, but his performance on Sunday was easily the best preseason performance of his career. He looked like a far more viable backup than his resume suggested.
Rookie seventh-round pick Brock Purdy was the least impressive of the three quarterbacks but showed off decent decision-making while leading a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Obviously, the 49ers' season will be in disarray if Purdy sees regular-season action this year, but he showcased solid backup potential.
Running backs: C+
While Lance lived up to the hype, most of the other Niners 2021 draft class members were less impressive. Trey Sermon has looked like a different player in training camp and got the starting nod at running back with Elijah Mitchell out but managed just 11 rushing yards on six carries. Still, he looked good in pass protection and hauled in his only target for a five-yard reception.
Rookie Ty Davis-Price was next up and had a bit more statistical success but also seemed to have bigger holes than Sermon from the offensive line and still averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.
JaMycal Hasty and Jordan Mason were the most productive options but did not get consistent reps until later in the game against the bottom of Green Bay’s depth chart.
Wide receivers: B+
With George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings on the sideline, the 49ers speedsters Danny Gray and Ray-Ray McCloud took advantage of their opportunities. Gray did a great job corraling Lance’s deep ball and staying in bounds on the 76-yard touchdown, but he also had another 20+ yard reception over the middle and probably would have had another if not for Lance’s overthrow on the first drive.
McCloud broke a defensive back’s ankles (metaphorically) on a 39-yard touchdown reception and caught all four of his targets for 63 yards. Though fumbles have been a problem throughout McCloud’s career, he put the ball on the ground for the 49ers' lone turnover.
No other 49ers receiver recorded more than one reception. Nobody stood out, but considering the fact that Gray and McCloud are currently the fourth and fifth receivers on the depth chart, that’s not a reason for concern.
Tight ends: B
Tanner Hudson was the star of the tight-end group. He caught both of his targets for 27 receiving yards, including the game-winning touchdown from Purdy. He also received the second-best run blocking grade on the 49ers from PFF (85.8). The 49ers’ other backups, Tyler Kroft and Ross Dwelley were both unexceptional in their performances.
Offensive line: B
Mike McGlinchey was fine on his lone drive. Just seeing him healthy on the field is a win for the 49ers. The 49ers presumptive starters at guard (Aaron Banks and Spencer Burford) alongside Colton McKivitz (who replaced Trent Williams in the starting lineup) held up alright. However, Burford was clearly the star of the night along the line. The rookie produced several impressive highlights and looked like a quality Day 1 starter. He seems like a great find at the end of the fourth round.
Jake Brendel had a well-rounded performance at center and, at least for now, looks like a viable starter. Jason Poe and Jordan Mills were the best performers from the non-starting group of linemen, while Justin Skule had a horrid showing at tackle.
Defensive line: B
The Niners basically started their C-tier defensive line. It did not dominate but more than held its own. Kemoko Turay, Jordan Willis, and rookie Drake Jackson each had some excellent reps from the edge, while Kevin Givens and Robert Nkemdiche were the best performers on the interior.
If there’s anything to be concerned about from Friday’s performance, Javon Kinlaw was fairly invisible in his 14 snaps. Kinlaw will have a much stronger supporting cast around him in the regular season, but he did not have any standout moments this week.
How deep is this 49ers defense? Well, the 49ers did not play their first, second, or third-best linebacker and still had three linebackers turn in solid performances. Veterans Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles showed off fantastic tackling skills at the second level. Neither performed well in coverage, but they looked capable of rotation reps (even though they won’t see them without injuries to Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and/or Azeez Al-Shaair).
Rookie undrafted free agent Marcelino McCrary-Ball was one of the defensive standouts of the night. McCray-Ball showed off solid ball skills, intercepting a tipped pass, and also recorded another pass defended and four tackles in his 18 defensive snaps.
Samuel Womack deserves an A+ for his two-interception performance. Womack was exceptional in 17 coverage snaps, picking off the only passes that targeted him. Deommodore Lenoir was easily San Francisco’s second-best corner on Friday. Otherwise, the rest of the position group struggled.
Packers rookie wide receiver Romeo Doubs made everyone but Womack look silly in coverage. He embarrassed Ka’Dar Hollman on multiple downfield throws, which would have resulted in two touchdowns if not for an errant pass by Jordan Love.
Ambry Thomas got away with committing pass interference after he was beaten downfield but otherwise looked a lot like he did last year. He was usually in solid position but also struggled to take advantage. The most obvious of which came on a pass that tipped up into the air, he missed an attempt to bat it to the ground, and it fell in a Packers’ receiver’s arms.
It was a rough day for Tarvarius Moore, who missed a tackle and was beat by Doubs in the slot on 4th-and-3 for an easy touchdown. Talanoa Hufanga was solid, including a highlight-worthy big hit in his 19 snaps.
George Odum had the best all-around performance from a 49esr safety, although he did so against the weakest competition. He made a couple of good open-field stops and was solid in coverage, but even he had a bad missed tackle.
Special teams: C-
It was not a banner day for a special teams unit. They struggled in kickoff coverage, requiring Robbie Gould to take a hit trying to make a tackle. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky also had a sub-40-yard punt that did not pin the Packers inside their own 15. Hasty also misplayed a kickoff return that should have given the 49ers starting field position at their own 40 but instead pinned them at their own 5. On the positive side, Gould nailed a 50-yard field goal and never missed a kick.