Trey Sermon was 49ers most questionable NFL Draft pick

Trey Sermon #8 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Trey Sermon #8 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The 49ers didn’t need to use an earlier NFL Draft pick on Ohio State running back Trey Sermon, although he’ll hope to prove doubters wrong.

Aside from the first-round selection of quarterback Trey Lance, the San Francisco 49ers had a relatively workmanlike 2021 NFL Draft class, which focused on reinforcing both the secondary and the offensive line while also shaking up the running back depth chart.

As far as the latter category, the Niners added two running backs, Louisiana’s Elijah Mitchell in Round 6 and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon in Round 3, No. 88 overall.

Of all San Francisco’s eight NFL Draft picks selected between April 29 and May 1, Sermon’s selection draws the most question marks. Right out of the gate, it appeared to be something of a luxury pick for a team that, despite not having too many roster needs, still needed to reinforce other areas of the depth chart before targeting a running back.

Plus, head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner have long prioritized late-round or even undrafted running backs instead of using relatively high picks on this position.

Did 49ers reach on Trey Sermon?

Sermon, 6-foot-0 and 215 pounds, has a lot of upside. But the bulk of his success came before his 2020 transfer to Ohio State. Namely, Sermon’s 2018 campaign with Oklahoma is what made him stand out in the first place.

Trey Sermon Rushing & Receiving Table
*2017OklahomaBig 12FRRB131217446.15161398.721378836.47
*2018OklahomaBig 12SORB141649475.8131218115.1017611286.413
*2019OklahomaBig 12JRRB10543857.148718.91624567.45
*2020Ohio StateBig TenSRRB81168707.5412957.901289657.54
Ohio State1168707.5412957.901289657.54

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 5/3/2021.

And aside from his insanely impressive playoff run for the Buckeyes last season, which ended prematurely in the CFB Playoff Championship game, Sermon’s 2020 regular-season numbers were relatively pedestrian.

Sermon is more of a power back than a slippery elusive one, having clocked a 4.58 40-yard time during his pro day, which isn’t overly great. But considering the 49ers’ top running back on the roster, Raheem Mostert, uses speed and elusiveness to create chunk plays, it wouldn’t seem likely Shanahan and turner tabbed Sermon to be a long-term replacement for Mostert, who’s a free agent in 2022.

If anything, Sermon is likely a replacement for Jeff Wilson Jr. on the roster.

There is a bit of a scheme fit, though, as Sermon isn’t someone who’d thrive on runs between the tackles despite his strength and physicality. The vision isn’t quite there for one-read cuts and quick change-of-direction moves. Those two elements may be better served for Mitchell instead, and it’s not hard to argue Mitchell could wind up being the better fit.

That said, getting a player like Sermon into open space where he can match up against leaner cornerbacks, particularly those covering the slot, could open up some advantages and missed tackles.

Perhaps that’s why Sermon was arguably a bit of a reach, especially with the Niners having opportunities to reinforce their secondary earlier while potentially waiting to see if Sermon would slip towards the end of Round 3 instead.

However, if there’s one offense that could potentially put Sermon into a position to succeed best, it’s that of Shanahan. The various motions and movements before the snap already can ease the pressure Sermon would otherwise face, meaning he’ll likely be asked to match up solely against one or two defenders in space rather than having to regularly contest against a stacked box.

And for those worrying about the pick, Shanahan and Turner’s track record in the run game needs little introduction.

Still, it’s fair to wonder if San Francisco could have either slept on Sermon a bit longer or wind up getting better long-term production from someone like Mitchell instead.

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