49ers early gaffes in 2021 NFL Draft becoming clearer
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers early efforts in the 2021 NFL Draft, perhaps only outside of selecting Trey Lance, have become readily apparent over the first three weeks of the season.
Yes, it’s OK to admit first-year players need at least a year or two for analysts to truly recognize whether or not their impact can be felt at an adequate level.
Every team, including the San Francisco 49ers, is going to have its share of mistakes in any given draft.
So far in 2021, though, the Niners’ decision-making process and early selections from this year’s NFL Draft class have left a lot to be desired.
And then some.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch can get something of a pass for investing so much to move up to No. 3 overall to grab quarterback Trey Lance. Lance, who had just one full year as a collegiate starter at North Dakota State, was going to be a project. And by some accounts, Lance is actually coming along faster than initially expected. The jury is out on him and likely will be for quite some time.
As for the rest of the picks on day two, however, there’s been awfully little to celebrate or get excited about.
49ers NFL Draft picks from Day 2 have left a lot to be desired
Just to recap, for those who forgot, here are San Francisco’s picks from the first two days of the 2021 draft:
- QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State (No. 3 Overall)
- OL Aaron Banks, Notre Dame (No. 48 Overall)
- RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State (No. 88 Overall)
- CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan (No. 102 Overall)
Lance has made a positive impact despite seeing the field for just seven offensive snaps, already having two touchdowns — one through the air and another on the ground — over three weeks.
As for the rest? Well, Banks has been a weekly inactive ever since struggling in training camp and failing to secure the starting right guard spot. Like everyone else, it’s still early. But second-round selections are generally expected to contribute often in some fashion or another.
Banks hasn’t. That’s troubling.
Related Story: Is Aaron Banks at risk of being 49ers’ next draft bust?
Sermon, meanwhile, was a surprise inactive in Week 1 and has only assumed a bigger role in the wake of injuries to other running backs such as Raheem Mostert (knee), Elijah Mitchell (shoulder) and JaMycal Hasty (ankle).
Over just two games, Sermon is averaging only 3.5 yards on 11 carries. Not too impressive.
And after struggling mightily in Week 1, Thomas has been inactive the last two weeks despite the 49ers having all kinds of shortages at cornerback.
Speaking of that position…
49ers’ lack of attention at cornerback in NFL Draft is coming back to haunt them
True, the Niners have seen some solid play from their fifth-round corner, Deommodore Lenoir, although he’s going to undergo plenty of his own first-year woes and mistakes as he acclimates.
One might argue San Francisco should have started the investment process at cornerback back in 2020, especially knowing it was going to rely heavily on oft-injured corner Jason Verrett, who is now out for the year with a torn ACL. But with only five prospects selected that year, it would have been tough to start the investments.
In more recent hindsight, though, going after corners much earlier this year should have been Lynch and Shanahan’s biggest priority.
Before trading down for Banks, the 49ers could have had their hands on now-Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who just recorded his second interception over his first three weeks. Now-Washington Football Team corner Benjamin St-Juste, perhaps an even better scheme fit, was also available and didn’t go until early in Round 3.
Either player, at least so far, would have provided much more of a thump than Thomas or Banks, and the Niners could have still gone after Lenoir, too, alleviating the concerns they now face at the position.
Now, with veteran corners Josh Norman (chest) and K’Waun Williams (calf) both banged up, San Francisco’s lack of attention at the position is becoming even more troubling.
Again, perhaps players like Banks, Thomas and Sermon wind up catching on and contributing, only taking a little longer than initially hoped.
Based on the early results, though, it’s hard to consider whatever efforts the 49ers made on day two of this year’s draft as being successful.