49ers training camp Week 1 rookie recap: Trey Lance era begins

San Francisco 49ers, Trey Lance #5 (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers, Trey Lance #5 (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /

Day three rookies impress on 49ers

Heading into the draft, the 49ers didn’t seem to have any glaring holes after addressing franchise quarterback. Many draft pundits expected the 49ers to move more of their picks, but John Lynch and Shanahan had other ideas, ultimately drafting eight players. After four days of camp, I believe all eight players will make the final 53, which would be a feat given the overall quality and depth of the team’s veterans.

While Aaron Banks and Trey Sermon were expected to compete to start immediately, and Ambry Thomas likely seeing plenty of opportunities as a returner while he gets seasoning behind Emmanuel Moseley, it was the day three picks for the 49ers that impressed me the most this week.

Jaylon Moore, OL, Western Michigan

Jaylon Moore, like many of the day three picks for the 49ers, was drafted with versatility in mind. While many thought he could slide inside, he has almost exclusively seen reps as a tackle this week at 49ers training camp.

Moore exhibited excellent footwork in 11-on-11 simulations and more than held his own on one-on-ones. In 2019, the 49ers leaned heavily on Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule to fill as injuries piled up along the line. Injuries are inevitable, and if Moore keeps up his inspired play, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him beat out veterans like Shon Coleman and Colton McKivitz to have his number called as a swing tackle or interior plug-in.

Deommodore Lenoir, CB, Oregon

Highly touted and recruited as a Los Angeles prep star, Lenoir’s profile quieted a bit during his tenure at Oregon based on the fact that he projected primarily as a slot corner. But in 2021, slot corner is on the field more often than not. Lenoir wasn’t drafted to necessarily play right away due to the fact that K’Waun Williams (one of THE most impressive players at 49ers training camp) is holding down the slot for at least one more year.

But with Williams only signed for one more year, the 49ers are hoping that they have another Day Three gem in Lenoir to take his place. After the first week of camp, I really think they struck gold. Lenoir looked polished in drills and in 11-on-11 scrimmages.

He nearly made the play of the day on Friday, coming close to intercepting a long pass from Jimmy Garoppolo while staying in the receiver’s hip throughout the route. Lenoir’s movement skills jump out in drills, and his fluid hips in drills have translated to game simulations. Although not drafted as highly as fellow teammate Ambry Thomas, don’t be surprised if Lenoir sees the field as a contributor in the secondary before Thomas.

Talanoa Hufanga, DB, USC

The first three days of camp this week, Talanoa Hufanga was the first guy on the field for individual drills with a coach and the last guy off of it. While sports cliches don’t win roster spots, Hufanga has been that guy in college and is showing early in his NFL career that he hasn’t changed that ethic.

Hufanga doesn’t possess elite athleticism, but he is very capable as a box safety who the 49ers coaching staff believe can carve out a role near the line of scrimmage in a “positionless” role as a hybrid safety/linebacker.

Hufanga looked sound in special teams drills and showed out several times snuffing out runs for what would’ve been stops in padded practices. It’s early, but I liked what I saw from Hufanga so far. I’m not counting on him being the next Ronnie Lott, but he could be a valuable rotational chess piece that brings sound tackling and ball skills to the table on each rep.

Elijah Mitchell, RB, Louisiana

Last but definitely not least of the “Day Three” 49ers draft picks, Elijah Mitchell turned in one of the most impressive first weeks of training camps of anybody on the roster and was definitely the most impressive running back.

Like Lenoir upstaging Ambry Thomas, don’t be surprised if Mitchell pushes Trey Sermon for touches early in the season. That’s no knock on Sermon, but rather a testament to Mitchell’s special blend of toughness, decisiveness, explosiveness, and speed that he brings to the backfield.

After the draft, Mitchell was labeled as the “lightning” to Sermon’s “thunder.” While Mitchell has plenty of lightning to his game, he’s not shy about running through you but has a knack for absorbing and evading contact.

After the 49ers traded up for Sermon, Mitchell seemed like a redundant selection at the time, but the first week of camp showed why Shanahan clearly viewed Mitchell as the best player available when he was selected.

Although it’s difficult to gauge a running back’s success on each play in a padless practice, Mitchell was clearly the most explosive back of the two rookies, and several times I had to check his jersey number to make sure he wasn’t Raheem Mostert.

Like Sermon, Mitchell is an ideal one cut back for Shanahan’s outside zone scheme, and he showed hit by quickly hitting holes and bursting through narrow windows routinely this week. I won’t make any guarantee, but I believe Mitchell could prove to be the better of the two backs this year, and at the very least give the 49ers a ridiculously talented three-headed monster at running back along with Mostert and Sermon.