49ers roster 2021: Deommodore Lenoir has a ways to go
By Peter Panacy
49ers fifth-round cornerback Deommodore Lenoir is feisty, which is good. But his lack of twitch and straight-line speed could hinder his year-one impact.
First-year rookies always generate a ton of excitement and hope, and that’s certainly the case with one of the three fifth-round NFL Draft picks the San Francisco 49ers selected, Oregon cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.
The 5-foot-10, 199-pound defensive back made a name for himself in the offensive-happy Pac-12 Conference, where pro-caliber defenders have to be on par with high-powered offenses.
One of the ways Lenoir did this was to play physical, never backing down from many of the bigger-bodied wide receivers he went up against. And while he was never truly a top-level ballhawk, his efforts resulted in six interceptions and 21 passes broken up over his four-year collegiate career:
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
The Niners needed cornerbacks this offseason despite re-signing Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and inking Emmanuel Moseley to a new two-year deal. Particularly with the former two having some notable injury concerns and being pending free agents in 2022.
But can Lenoir wind up turning into a starting-caliber option sooner than later?
Perhaps. Yet the early indications might be that Lenoir take a back seat as a reserve player his rookie season, honing some of the more detailed aspects to make up for his shortcomings.
Niner Noise’s “Who is?” series takes a deeper look at the No. 172 overall pick from this year’s draft.
Why Deommodore Lenoir begins to thrive with 49ers in 2021
Lenoir wasn’t so much of a zone-coverage cornerback during his four years with Oregon, which initially made San Francisco’s selection of him seem a bit odd at first.
Yet newly minted defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is expected to install more man coverage this season, evidenced by the selection of Lenoir and the 49ers’ other cornerback drafted, Michigan’s Ambry Thomas, who is also more of a man-cover guy.
What Lenoir uses is his physicality, pressing and jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and forcing them off their routes early. While some of the grabbing tendencies could potentially get him into a bit of trouble at the NFL level early, it’s at least good to see Lenoir has the tools to handle receivers above 6-foot with relative ease if he’s able to keep pace with them.
In a shorter sense (pun intended), Lenoir won’t hesitate to back down from anyone regardless if he’s playing on the boundary, over the slot or even as a safety.
Why Deommodore Lenoir struggles early with 49ers in 2021
This report from Sports Illustrated’s Grant Cohn during the Niners’ first week of OTAs wasn’t encouraging:
"Gave up a long catch over the middle to Deebo Samuel who was running an over route. Lenoir isn’t particular big, fast or explosive, which is a problem for an NFL cornerback."
His 4.45 40-yard time at his pro day certainly wasn’t terrible. But he had a sluggish 4.34 20-yard shuttle and 7.02 three-cone drill, which suggests he’s not quite twitchy or reactive enough to play at nickel, thus backing up Williams this season and replacing him down the road.
As such, he might be limited to boundary duty, where he certainly had his ups and downs over the course of his college tenure, including having some difficulty against his now-teammate, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, when the latter was at ASU.
Read More: Deommodore Lenoir says Brandon Aiyuk was his toughest challenge in college
These somewhat negative attributes may prevent Lenoir from making much of an impact right away, and he might need at least a full year’s development time before even being considered a starting-caliber option.
Projected role, impact with 49ers in year one
Fortunately, San Francisco already has its starting cornerback trio in place and an established veteran, Dontae Johnson, as a backup who can play both on the boundary and at nickel.
This should guard against Lenoir being thrust into a role prematurely, thereby leaving him as a deeper reserve and someone who can contribute on special teams right away.
That’ll likely be the expectation from him early on, as Lenoir can at least learn the rigors of tackling and kick coverage while working on the on-field defensive traits during practices and as a pure role player in various dime packages only.
It wouldn’t be a bad thing for Lenoir to develop this way either.
Smaller, slower corners need to use their football IQ and technique to ensure they’re not beaten by stronger, faster receivers. It’s one thing to do so at the college level. But it’ll be a drastically bigger challenge within the NFL, so giving Lenoir some time to hone this craft would be smart from the 49ers’ vantage point.
2022 might be the year in which Lenoir makes a bigger impact. If so, a fifth-round pick certainly isn’t a bad investment in that case.