Though the 49ers beat the Lions 41-33 Week 1, the final minutes left a sour taste for fans. On the flip side, here are four pleasant surprises from the game.The San Francisco 49ers probably would have liked their Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions to be a bit more of the dominant variety instead of what ultimately led to a 41-33 win, which had a desperate fourth-quarter comeback threaten the Niners’ lead.
Even worse, San Francisco likely lost cornerback Jason Verrett to what would be a season-ending ACL tear, putting even more pressure on what’s already a questionable depth chart at the position.
That said, the frustrating elements from Week 1 can be offset by some of the 49ers’ more-pleasant developments.
49ers late-round rookies in the spotlight
While there is cause for concern the Niners’ two third-round picks, running back Trey Sermon and Ambry Thomas, were respectively inactive and ineffective, this is about pleasant surprises, and for the 49ers, their late-round selections at those same positions proved to showcase their abilities quite well.
Sermon, who had been the second-string running back for the entire training camp, was a mysterious healthy scratch. Head coach Kyle Shanahan after the game said Sermon had simply been out-played by Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty, so he didn’t think Sermon was one of the three best backs for the game. Couple that with Raheem Mostert dealing with a knee injury early, and there was major cause for concern… until Mitchell stepped in.
Mitchell carried the ball 19 times for 105 yards and a touchdown, and amazingly, his 5.5 yards per carry was probably diminished by late-game runs against a defense that knew what was happening. When drafted, I said Mitchell’s aggressive north-south running style coupled with speed and a frame large enough to break tackles gave him a chance to be the unsung hero for San Francisco.
But this Week 1 performance should have people singing his praises for the entire year.
On the other side of the ball, many hoped Thomas would showcase his coverage ability even after a year-long absence, but his transition to the NFL has been less than stellar. But following an injury to Emmanuel Moseley that left a hole in the secondary, the Niners went to fellow rookie fifth-round pick Deommodore Lenoir to start, and he did not disappoint.
Per Next Gen stats, in 55 coverage snaps, Lenoir gave up one catch for 3 yards on four targets, with a pass interference mixed in as well.
While plenty of times, rookie cornerbacks for the 49ers have looked better than usual because they play opposite Dontae Johnson, whom quarterbacks love to pick on, Lenoir kept this performance up even with Verrett on the other side.
Despite being the “weak link” on defense, he played extremely well.
With injuries already piling on, the 49ers should be extremely pleased that their late-round picks can more than hold their own in the NFL.