49ers rookie CB Deommodore Lenoir should start in 2022

Deommodore Lenoir #6 of the Oregon Ducks (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Deommodore Lenoir #6 of the Oregon Ducks (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The 49ers’ fifth-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, Oregon cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, should probably wait until 2022 to start.

The San Francisco 49ers needed to reinforce their depth within the secondary during the 2021 NFL Draft.

And for the most part, they did so. Except the majority of prospects selected to bolster the defensive backfield were brought aboard on day three of the draft, specifically in Round 5 with USC safety Talanoa Hufanga and Oregon cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Lenoir, selected at No. 172 overall, has a lot of upside and could eventually work his way into the starting lineup.

But probably not right away.

Lenoir, 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds, projects as a nickel cornerback. And the Niners do have a long-term need there, specifically with the starting nickel, K’Waun Williams, back solely on a one-year deal and also turning 30 years old before the start of the regular season.

Williams’ field savvy is top notch for a player at his position. And while Lenoir was always around the ball during his four-year tenure with the Ducks — 158 total tackles, 21 passes broken up and six interceptions — it’s probably best for San Francisco to take the longer approach with Lenoir with the hopes of inserting him as a starter in 2022.

49ers will use Deommodore Lenoir but must give him time to develop

Young defensive backs often struggle with the transition from the college ranks to the NFL. Opposing pass-catchers are bigger, stronger, faster and have better route-running skills. Coverage schemes are more complex, too.

If there’s a plus side for now, Lenoir can contribute on special teams and is pretty versatile as a backup, which is something he told our friends over at The Jet Press before the draft:

"I just want to be on the field. Whatever team drafts me, I’m going to make sure to work hard and get on the field."

Lenoir was used all over the field at Oregon, which could help increase his value as a backup safety or even boundary cornerback. But given his frame and ideal fit as a zone-style corner, the 49ers likely tab him as an eventual replacement for Williams, much like they hoped now-Seattle Seahawks defensive back D.J. Reed was intended to be.

The thing, though, is Lenoir doesn’t have quick-twitch reaction speed. His 4.34 20-yard shuttle time suggests he might have trouble with slot receivers who are adept at being shifty with their route running, meaning there will be far less room for mistakes.

One way to make up for those mistakes is with positioning and anticipation, and that’ll come with time and experience.

It’ll be best for Lenoir to see those reps during training camp and eventual practices during the regular season. Perhaps only then, once Lenoir has gotten a better grasp on anticipating receiving routes, should the rookie defensive back be considered a potential starter.

Fortunately, he flashed a lot of the skills necessary to succeed here against the high-flying offenses of the Pac-12, and one should consider his stock value on the rise in the meantime.

Next. 49ers 53-man roster predictions following 2021 NFL Draft. dark