49ers rookie power rankings as 2021 preseason comes to a close

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Ambry Thomas, San Francisco 49ers, John Hurst, Los Angeles Chargers
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas (20) called for pass interference on Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver John Hurst (80) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers Rookie Power Rankings: Nos. 9-5

42. . . . Justin Hilliard. 9. player

49ers Linebacker Justin Hilliard

Fellow rookie linebacker Justin Hilliard also benefits from Mychal Kendricks being out, and it’s likely Hilliard has been tasked with a lot of the second-half defensive duties in the wake of third-year backer Azeez Al-Shaair dealing with a knee injury.

Over two games, Hilliard has been around the ball much more than Elijah Sullivan, tallying 10 tackles and a quarterback hit.

If the Niners have to choose between Sullivan and Hilliard for a final spot on the 53-man roster, it’s likely the latter who gets it.

. . . Elijah Mitchell. 8. player. 42

49ers Running Back Elijah Mitchell

San Francisco’s final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, sixth-round running back Elijah Mitchell, seemed to be well on his way towards cracking a spot on the back end of the depth chart despite it being a crowded position. His blazing-fast 4.32 40-yard time was going to fit seamlessly into Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

But that was before a hip injury halted Mitchell from displaying his talents this preseason, and it’s likely he won’t be available at all until Week 1 rolls around.

Unfortunately for Mitchell, the 49ers’ running back room could easily end up featuring Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, Wayne Gallman and JaMycal Hasty to kick off the year, potentially pushing Mitchell onto an injury designation or perhaps even the practice squad.

7. player. 42. . . . Jaylon Moore

49ers Offensive Tackle Jaylon Moore

On one hand, the Niners appear comfortable letting one of their three fifth-round rookies compete for the primary swing-tackle role this season. And based on the number of snaps Jaylon Moore has received at left tackle this preseason, it looks as if it’s his job to lose.

This isn’t to say Moore has been exemplary. He’s struggled with speed rushers, and there’s a good deal of technique work he’ll have to hone before being a surefire fill-in for starting tackles Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey.

At least Moore is on his way to solidifying a role for himself, though, which puts him above the other players on this list so far.

. Aaron Banks. 6. player. 42. .

49ers Offensive Guard Aaron Banks

Ideally, you’d want second-round picks to go higher than the No. 6 spot on a rookie power rankings, but that’s the reality offensive guard Aaron Banks faces right now.

Banks struggled in training camp, likely with the adjustment from his power-type scheme fit into Shanahan’s outside-zone system. And while San Francisco gave Banks every opportunity to seize the starting right guard job from Daniel Brunskill, the rookie never appeared close to doing so.

After a brief appearance in preseason Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Banks suffered a shoulder injury that effectively ended his first-year exhibition campaign, and he’ll likely be relegated to backup duties for the foreseeable future.

. . Ambry Thomas. 5. player. 42.

49ers Cornerback Ambry Thomas

Third-round cornerback Ambry Thomas is also likely destined for a backup role in year one, but the 49ers already have a trio of starting corners anyway in Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley.

Thomas, who opted out of his 2020 campaign at Michigan, hadn’t played a game in over a year, so it’s understandable he was going to be a bit rusty.

So far, that’s proven to be the case. Over two preseason games, Thomas has allowed 10 receptions on 13 targets for an opposing passer rating of 103.4, per Pro Football Focus. Tack on some penalties, and you can see why he’ll need a bit more work.

Thomas is looking like a classic example of a young defensive back needing time to develop.