49ers NFL Draft: Grading rookie class halfway through 2021
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers have been largely reluctant to use their 2021 rookie NFL Draft class, which makes the midterm report-card grades a bit tough.
Exactly why San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has been hesitant to rely heavily on his 2021 rookie NFL Draft class is a bit of a mystery.
The Niners’ top four picks from last spring have scantly played this season, which is usually a stark contrast for what most teams do across the league, even those whose rosters are already loaded with talent.
Nevertheless, San Francisco has still rejected the idea of inserting first-year players into prominent roles. Aside from a handful of late-round picks rising to prominence, the overwhelming bulk of the 49ers’ rookie class has yet to deliver.
Of course, the 2021 draft class will be defined by whether or not quarterback Trey Lance can turn into a quality offensive weapon over the next five-plus years. Almost everyone else may be forgotten, should this come to fruition, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
With a 3-5 record halfway through the season, though, let’s try grasping at each draftee’s midterm grades in year one, obviously grading on a curve with regards to the player’s original projected impact and the round in which he was drafted.
49ers Round 1 Pick: Quarterback Trey Lance
Lance has had his moments, including recording the Niners’ first touchdown of the season way back in Week 1, only to see his play grow sparser with seemingly every passing week.
The lone exception, of course, was his start in relief of an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 5 where the rookie went 15-of-29 passing for 192 yards with an interception in the 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, although Lance showed off his rushing prowess by adding 89 yards on the ground.
Subsequently suffering a sprained knee in the process, too. Lance hasn’t seen the field since.
The flashes of talent are undeniable. But so are the signs he’s awfully raw and needs a lot of work, yet the commitment to Garoppolo for the rest of the year doesn’t seem to be going away.
Shanahan has continuously reinforced San Francisco’s original plan was to sit Lance behind Jimmy G for all of 2021, eventually letting Lance take over next year. Yet the state of affairs with the 49ers right now might hasten the transition.
The context makes this grade tough, but it’s hard to present this as anything other than a middling grade.