Rookie report card; Lenoir makes most of opportunity

The 49ers come away from the 2021 draft with their quarterback for the future, and a new identity. While most of the NFC West spent their picks on speed, the 49ers went with a combination of power and speed throughout. Everything points to this team being extremely physical for years to come.

This draft has the potential to set the 49ers up for years to come, much like the 1986 draft did for the franchise 35 years ago. Heading into the 1986 draft the 49ers were two years removed from winning their second Super Bowl, but had a rough season in 1985 and Bill Walsh realized that the roster was getting old and needed an infusion of youth. Through a number of trades, Walsh was able to add Tom Rathman, Tim McKyer, John Taylor, Charles Haley, Steve Wallace, Kevin Fagan, and Don Griffin. These seven players would rebuild the roster and prove to be the catalysts to a run that nearly brought the 49ers franchise three straight World Championships.

The addition of these eight players to an already solid roster may be just what it takes to set the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan up for another historic run for the storied franchise.

I thought it would be a good idea to track the progress of each selection throughout the preseason. Each week there will be a grade assigned to their performance along with some comments. It will be just like when you used to receive your report card back in school.

Week 1 vs Kansas City

Trey Lance: Grade B-

Lance would complete only five of his fourteen pass attempts for 128 yards and a touchdown. While those numbers don’t look all that impressive, they fail to tell the whole story. Lance had three of his passes dropped, one Brandon Aiyuk, Richie James, and River Cracraft. In addition to the drops, Lance had two completions to Jauan Jennings ruled as laterals.

On the downside, Lance struggled at the end of the first half. With only 1:42 left in the second quarter, Lance threw inaccurately to a wide-open Richie James over the middle. The rookie would then nearly throw an interception on a throw to Charlie Woerner who was running a corner route and then miss Woerner on the next play with another inaccurate throw over the middle.

On the drive following his touchdown throw, Lance would drive the offense down to the Chiefs 15-yard line. Facing second and six, Lance would hold onto the ball instead of throwing quick to a wide-open Wayne Gallman resulting in a sack. This is something that Lance needs to clean up.

While the performance wasn’t flawless by any stretch, head coach Kyle Shanahan liked what he saw from the young signal caller and was happy that he was able to see Lance be put into a number of tough situations. There will definitely be some things to improve on as they review the film.

It needs to be pointed out that Shanahan was open keeping things very vanilla offensively with Lance so as not to give opponents the ability to gameplan for him. For example, Lance wasn’t asked to use his legs other than the touchdown throw and another bootleg play later in the game. When Shanahan finally takes the wraps off the offense with Lance, watch out.

Aaron Banks: Grade C

Banks showed off his run blocking early on, opening holes for Trey Sermon on three running plays that went behind the Notre Dame product. On the first of those runs, Banks would put the defender on his back.

Late in the second quarter the wheels would start to come off a bit for Banks. Known for his stellar pass blocking in college, Banks would surrender a sack when Chiefs defensive tackle Terhsawn Wharton beat him to his outside.

Banks would leave the game with a shoulder injury. Kyle Shanahan said they expect Banks to miss 2-3 weeks. A tough blow for Banks and a 49ers offensive line that was already lacking depth.

Trey Sermon: Grade C+

Sermon would get the start and pick up 16 yards on three touches during the first possession of the game.

The running back would finish the game with 26 yards on nine carries and 14 yards on two receptions. He also had one fumble that the 49ers were able to recover. Sermon never really got going other than one possession late in the first quarter. Sermon would carry the ball three plays in a row gaining 5, 4 and 3 yards. It was on the three-yard run that Sermon would cough up the ball, but Colton McKivitz would land on the ball to maintain possession.

Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir: Grade B

The rookies would show off their man coverage skills. While they both gave up a few short receptions, they were instrumental in limiting the Chiefs to only 121 yards passing while in the game.

Lenoir came away with the lone 49ers turnover when he grabbed a throw from Chad Henne that bounced off the hands of Chiefs receiver Noah Gray.

After a slow start to training camp, Thomas and Lenoir have been coming on strong over the last week. Both of the rookies mentioned how difficult the transition to the NFL was early on, feeling a bit lost at times. They credit each other for helping find their way, and it is beginning to show on the field.

Jaylon Moore: Grade C

Moore made the start at left tackle in place of Trent Williams. As could be expected, it was a bit of an up and down performance for the fifth-round draft pick. Playing with the starting unit, Moore got off to a strong start. Late in the first half with only 1:10 left to play and the offense facing third and ten, Moore would get beat around the edge by Tim Ward for a sack. Not a bad performance overall for the former Western Michigan Bronco.

Talanoa Hufanga: Grade B-

With Jimmy Ward having the night off, Hufanga was moved into the starting lineup and he would finish the night with four tackles. Hufanga showed his ability to tackle in the open field when he brought down former 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon short of the first down on a long third down catch and run.

Hufanga was called for pass interference during Kansas City’s second possession of the game on a pass from Henne to Tyreek Hill.

Elijah Mitchell: Did not play due to an abductor strain that was discovered on Friday. Mitchell is expected to miss at least the next two weeks.

This article has 24 Comments

  1. Nice Jack.

    On Jaylon Moore, I think people have been a little harsh on how he played this game (not you). I thought he was fine for the most part. In fact, as you noted, I thought he held up pretty well in the early going. He obviously got beat for speed on that sack, and he’ll need to get better there. But also worth pointing out that the depth of Lance’s drop back didn’t help him out any. Overall I thought for a guy they initially thought would be competing inside he showed some promise as a swing OT type.

    1. Thank you, Scooter. The plan was originally for Moore to be inside but the injury to Justin Skule is giving him more looks on the outside right now. It’s a good problem to have. He should be even better inside.

  2. Jack,
    I was watching a youtube interview with Shanahan a couple of minutes ago, he said a RB had broken his foot and would be out for 8 weeks but I didn’t hear the players name. Was it Gallman. As far as how the rookies looked I think Lenior and Thomas looked very good. One thing that concerned me is Lenior didn’t get his head around on at least 2 passes. I hope we don’t have another Chris Culliver on our hands.

  3. Jack,

    Thanks for your thoughts about the game. My reason for commenting is to help you, so please don’t take offense.

    Your articles are extremely difficult to read; You should run your pieces by an editor before posting them online. When you continuously switch between present and past tense and passive and active voice, it’s tough to follow or take your analysis seriously. The grammatical, punctuation and formatting errors are also troublesome, as is your usage of identical phrases, like, “For years to come,” in neighboring sentences.

    Overall, your article reads like it was written for a middle school newspaper with no oversight. I don’t know your age, so perhaps you are a young man, but you should still check your entire article for errors before posting it publicly. A good trick is to read the entire article out loud, note whether each sentence makes sense, and make the appropriate changes. Regardless, I strongly advise you find an editor who will thoroughly review and rewrite each sentence, and then take the time to explain why he/she made each edit.

    Don’t give up though. It’s obvious you have a passion for the team!

    1. Jason, Jack is giving snippets of thoughts in order to give us as much info as possible rather than providing perfect prose.
      His ‘just the facts’ style is vastly different from the English Major before him BUT it is devoid of nefarious conjecture!
      What a nice breath of fresh air!

    2. You must be old…

      No one cares about grammar, this is 2021, where have you been the last year?

      Jack has superior passion for what he does which is what I as a reader care most about.

    3. I have to agree with Jason. Maybe not go so harsh on Jack, but an editor is needed. It is a difficult piece to read. But let’s give him some time to react and get better at this.

      Hey this is the Press Democrat blog, not a national publication like SI. Have you all seen the writing of José Luis Sanchez III on ? If you truly want to witness pathetic writing skills, go there.

  4. Jack, Lance as a prospect looks promising as a starter, he does not.
    The downside, he displayed, is what will make him lose games. The upside will make the highlights but nothing more.
    Your B- is awfully generous. A starter should make the simple down the middle or sideway throws easily when the players are open. A lateral is a lateral. He’s inconsistent like you mentioned in TC.
    I agree that KS is holding back on his schemes and that he doesn’t want to show all of his plays in pre season.
    What worried me the most is the way Lance looked on the sideline.
    Bewildered or ill at ease is what comes to mind.

  5. Hi-Jack, congrats are in order. I have to agree with Dee, I thought your grade on Lance was a bit high. Some things change (QB) but other things don’t like:

    1. O-line is still porous, JG, CJ and Mullin struggled with it, now its Lance turn.
    2. Dropitis is contagious it has been around for many years now.
    3. Drive killing penalties still haunt the team.

    First pre season game nothing at all to worry about quite yet except for maybe Banks.

    1. Here I side w/ Jack.
      Context is important here. Were he a vet, or a 4 year starter coming out, I would be more disappointed. That said, he showed solid accuracy (more so on the outs and deeper throws), kept plays alive with his feet and continued to look to throw. He also showed patience and was going through his progressions.
      Was he little bit slower on his reads? Yes. Was he likely, partially responsible for some of the sacks? Yes. But he’s also had minimal live reps in 2 years.
      I think fans often misunderstand knowing an offense. Players can know it schematically without fully understanding it in live action. There is a rhythm and feel, you only get though live action, and there is no way that Trey has developed that at this point.
      Jack (and correct me if I am wrong Jack), graded him according to what he believed were realistic expectations for his development at this point.

      1. Lance’s overall Pro Football Focus grade of 48.8 was the lowest among all rookie quarterbacks. That includes players selected after the first round, like Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond.

        I didn’t need PFF to tell me his performance was sub par. I have high expectations for the young man after all the Niners traded 3 first round picks for the guy.

      2. On the plus sides of those sacks. Too often QBs with running skills will bail at the first whiff of pressure. Lance didn’t which tells me he was still trying to go downfield with the ball and not turn these into broken running plays.

  6. Jack, keep up the good work!

    I need to ask you about Travis Benjamin though. I cannot figure out how in the world Benjamin has managed to make it through the first preseason game without being cut. My sources tell me he’s been awful through training camp, and he looked completely out of his depth last night! I understand they need a certain number of WR’s to make it through the preseason, but there have to be plenty of guys out there who offer more than Benjamin does at this stage of his career!

    By the way, I thought your grade on Lance was fair, but I have no doubt he could have played much better if Kyle gave a flying fu_k about utilizing every opportunity during the preseason to properly develop his young, franchise QB. I worry that Kyle is more concerned about making Jimmy look good, in order to pump up his stock, than he is about protecting his young QB’s confidence, and I am frankly a bit angry about it!

    1. BTW Jack, I thought your grade for Trey Lance was fair, but I have no doubt he could have graded out better and gotten more out of the first preseason game, if Kyle had done more to set him up for success. Did we really need to see Jimmy take first string snaps away from Trey last night? Jimmy didn’t need to play last night, and he certainly didn’t need to work on his quick game (or should I call it was it is – dink & dunk), because he didn’t really do much with his opportunities anyways. It seems as if Kyle is more concerned about doing what he can to pump up Jimmy’s trade value, than he is about protecting his young franchise QB, and setting him up for success.

      I watched the game film. It was obvious that Spagnolo quickly caught on to the fact that Kyle wasn’t interested in utilizing Trey’s strengths in order to keep his young QB out of harms way behind a sub-par OL, as Spags was dialing up pressure on nearly every play. I don’t think anyone can argue that, by the time Trey was done for the night, his confidence had taken a hit. That’s not the way I want Kyle to develop this talented prospect. He doesn’t need to be Mac Jones, in fact, I don’t want him to be Mac Jones. So why is Kyle seemingly making life tough on his young QB when the kid has hardly played real football in 2 years. Was Kyle trying to make a point? Sure seemed like it. Nobody can convince me that showing some basic zone/reads, basic play action, and such, is somehow going to tip the scales against the Niners offense early in the regular season. Kyle is the master of disguise. He can use multiple formations, and multiple personnel groupings, in order to run just about every offensive play in his playbook. It’s far more important to build up Trey’s confidence as he gets his sea legs under him after a long stretch of time off of any real11 on 11 football in front of live audiences. And I’m not even talking about the inherent risk of injury (KNOCK ON WOOD) playing against a defense that is going after him with reckless abandon, because it was obvious that Kyle wasn’t allowing Trey to be Trey, and using his athletic gifts in order to get out from behind such a porous offensive line! It’s not as if Trey is a run first QB who needs to learn how to win from inside the pocket. Trey is already that guy. What he needs to do is get comfortable in the huddle, at at the LOS pre-snap. He absolutely doesn’t need to sit behind a bad OL while slow developing plays get him killed in the pocket, early in his rookie season!

      FIGURE IT OUT KYLE! Figure out how to develop your new, young, FRANCHISE QB without making him a sitting duck, taking unnecessary punishment in the pocket (4 sacks and a strip sack, in 2 QTRS), as opposed to playing to his strengths, and letting him use the traits that make him a special professional prospect. Let Trey cook, using the abilities that set him apart from most of his contemporaries. Don’t try to turn him into Mac Jones! The Niners fan base has made it clear, Kyle, they don’t want Trey to be Mac Jones, or Kirk fricken Cousins! They want you to let Trey be Trey, building the kid up in the process, because that’s your job now Kyle. Your career literally depends on the future success of Trey Lance. There will be no more do-overs! Do whatever you have to do in order to protect him, protect his health, protect his confidence, and take every last opportunity to build this kid up, and make him believe in his greatness!

      1. Do you understand that this preseason game was about evaluating how players would react in live action.? It’s not about baby sitting anyone or trying to make someone look good or bad, that’s childish. This is the real world. Not a playground.

        1. It’s not childish Jerry.

          NFL history is littered with QB prospects who entered the league with high-level skills, but never reached their potential because they took a beating early in their development, before they really had an opportunity to gain confidence, and learned to believe in their ability to succeed at the NFL level. Taking a beating early in their careers, behind poor offensive line play, is proven to do more harm than good!

          There is plenty of time for “tough love” when it comes to Trey’s development, if that’s what it takes, but the risks of a young prospect losing confidence in his ability early on, outweighs the potential benefit of limiting Trey’s ability to play to his strengths, early on in his development. Trey Lance may be overflowing with potential, but it’s important to remember that he just turned 21 years old, and played in one organized game over the last 18 months. The last thing he needs now is to be handcuffed by being forced into being a pure pocket passer, especially if the OL cannot protect him. And there were real, genuine concerns going into Saturday night, as to whether the 49ers OL was going to be able to hold up, being down most of the starters. And sure enough, the OL was brutal. What didn’t help was Kyle forcing his young QB to sit in the pocket behind a bad OL, instead of utilizing his young QB exceptional ability to make plays outside the tackle box. On the few occasions that he did allow him to do just that, the results were pretty spectacular!

          Unfortunately though, those plays were few and far between, and by the time the dust settled, not only did Trey Lance take an unnecessary physical beating behind a sub-par OL, he also looked mentally shell-shocked, as if he was forced to play with one hand tied behind his back. That can only damage a young QB’s confidence, and in my book, that’s the worst thing a HC can do early on in a QB’s development. It was entirely unnecessary, and a perfect example of a HC FAILING TO PROTECT HIS YOUNG, FRANCHISE QB, which is why I gave Kyle an F grade!

          It’s only one game, but I’m not particularly happy with the way this is playing out early. Kyle knows how to simplify his playbook in order to get the most out of an in experienced QB, because we’ve seen it before. But does Kyle understand the phycological component, in terms of developing a prospect who is brimming with talent, but who just turned 21, has hardly played actual football in 2 years, and has the weight of the entire organization on his shoulders? After what I saw on Saturday night …. I am starting to have my doubts!

  7. Beyond Lance, Huff looked the best among the rookies. He makes up for his lack of straight-line speed with great football instincts which he uses to take good angles. Also liked how Lenoir played as a boundary corner using the sidelines to his advantage. Once he gains confidence to turn his head to track the ball, he will be more effective in that position.

  8. Lance is the future of this franchise. They do need to protect him. I’m not sure with this current O line that they can protect him. JG is not the future so protecting him is not as important. JG is at his best when he his throwing short passes, getting the ball out of his hand quickly. I believe KS should use Lance carefully until he can put together an O line that can protect him, until then Jimmy G has to be his go to guy. I think KS/JL should trade for a G as soon as possible, using a 2023 2nd or 3rd round pick or one of their WR’s. Maybe by their bye KS can have a decent O line put together. imho

    1. Maybe trade some of the excessive depth on the DL. Would be nice if they could get even 50% of the depth on the OL that they have on the DL. Though, these days, it seems harder to find good interior OL than interior DL.

  9. Jack, thanks for the article. Your comparison of this draft to 1986 is on point, and it’s a fine idea to follow the draftees in the format you’ve presented. As for the grades, these kids are babies when it comes to the NFL so struggles should be expected. Imo your grades were realistic. If there were any Ds or Fs, I’d be concerned about those particular players, but there weren’t. And I take that as a good sign about this draft class. The talent is there, as well as the coaching.

    Btw, with regard to your writing style, it’s quite fine and if it were me I wouldn’t change it.

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