2021 NFL Draft
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

That draft. That one.

Every year around draft time we like to look at the ghosts of drafts past with the San Francisco 49ers and reflect on the players allocated from the draft. We luckily have video of each draft thanks to YouTube poster and 49ers fan Marvin49. We’ll be looking at every year during the Kyle Shanahan era up to 2023. Today it’s 2021 (video linked).

Say “2021 NFL Draft” and you immediately know where this is going: Trey Lance.

The 2021 draft was all about the San Francisco 49ers. Everyone knew the Jacksonville Jaguars were going for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. That left the third pick, which the Miami Dolphins had.

Shortly after the 2020 season’s conclusion, the 49ers made a massive trade to the Dolphins for said pick. Giving the 2021, 2022, and 2023 first rounders along with their third-round pick in 2022. If there ever was a reimagining of the movie Draft Day, this was about as close as it got. It was obvious such a deal was for a signal caller.

Speculation was the trade was for Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. As time went on, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance entered the picture and an exhausting war began of Mac Jones/Trey Lance arguments took over. Those who thought Mac Jones was the reason for the trade steadfastly stood by it, some even criticizing Kyle Shanahan for taking Trey Lance after the fact because it made them wrong.

Regardless of who the 49ers took, once the trade was announced, the secret was out; the 49ers were selecting a quarterback. They went and scouted all of them, including Jones (who was seen by Kyle Shanahan firsthand), Lance, and even got a look at Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. The arguments brewed and brewed about the “one guy” they made the trade for. The whole thing became exhausting.

If you want to think of a more believable way of how this might have went, rather than “They went for Mac Jones, idiot”, it’s not far fetched to think the 49ers heard and saw good things about Mac Jones, but that wasn’t the reason they moved up. They also were planning on moving off of Jimmy Garoppolo due to his price and availability. After they heard about this North Dakota State Trey Lance kid, and knew the quarterbacks in the 2022 draft were not as impressive, as well as the option was there to get to No. 3, and pick one of those two, plus weigh Justin Fields in as well for good measure, maybe it made sense to go to No. 3 to do their research on all of them? Perhaps it never was a trade just for Mac Jones where Trey Lance flew in under the radar. Maybe they liked Jones and Lance and wanted to scout them along with other quarterbacks without being disappointed by the guy they did all the research on being sniped.

Or maybe it was all for Kyle Pitts and they changed their minds. Who knows.

Anyways, we’ve spent enough time discussing all of what led up to the 3rd overall pick. There’s plenty now suggesting Mac Jones was the guy in any case. When draft time came, everyone watched the predictable Jacksonville Jaguars pick of Lawrence and the New York Jets pick of Wilson. Then, the 49ers hit the clock and selected Trey Lance. Even if you knew what would happen much later, this video still gives me the feels.

You all know how the story ended. Trey Lance showed up big in training camp for a brief moment, had a couple starts, then when handed the keys a year later, he broke his foot in the second game of the season. That led to the 49ers re-inserting Jimmy Garoppolo, who originally returned on a re-tooled deal to be the backup. After Garoppolo went down later in the season, Brock Purdy came in.

Simply put, Trey Lance didn’t work out. The speed he showed at NDSU didn’t translate well to an NFL field and he couldn’t get around the perimeter. Or maybe it was his accuracy. Or it could have been the injuries.

I’ve gone over 700 words just talking about the lead-up and 3rd overall pick. Yeah, it’s a lot of blah, blah, blah, but we also know just how rich this entire ordeal was.

exhale OK. Let’s continue in what actually was a pretty good draft even if the first selection didn’t work out. With the second selection, the 49ers selected Aaron Banks, a guard out of Notre Dame. Like Lance, Banks didn’t do much his rookie season on the field. Unlike Lance, Banks showed massive improvement in practice to the point Laken Tomlinson was expendable in free agency. Banks has been solid as a guard. So solid he may have priced himself out of the 49ers when his inevitable extension arrives. For some reason, the 49ers don’t prioritize the guard position and they have a lot of mouths to feed.

Next up is the annual running back pick. This year, it’s in the third round and used on Trey Sermon from Ohio State. Sermon was called upon rather quickly in 2021 after several other running backs went down during a blood bath of a Week 1 game against the Detroit Lions. He didn’t do much to impress and was released a year later. A day after roster cuts for 2022. Disappointing.

Also in the third round was a pick on Ambry Thomas. Thomas had a lot of potential. As the season went on, many were seeing a future starter in the making. Thomas sealed the 49ers playoff hopes in their final game of the regular season by intercepting Matthew Stafford in overtime against the Los Angeles Rams. As it turned out, this was a handful of things Thomas would be thought of for positively in his career. As time went on, Thomas struggled and it was clear the starter everyone hoped may not materialize.

Jaylon Moore came in the fifth round. A solid backup, but not much else. Following Moore came the first steal in Deommodore Lenoir. Lenoir’s few snaps on the field his rookie season showed a lot of promise, in subsequent years he improved and stepped his game up as time went on. The one thing about Lenoir was Kyle Shanahan’s maddening decisions to play veteran players like Josh Norman over him. As long as he wasn’t playing out of position due to injuries, Lenoir was a solid cornerback.

The other steal of the fifth round was USC safety Talanoa Hufanga. While he was seen as “not speedy”, Hufanga put Jaquiski Tartt out of a job and became the starting safety his second year. His rookie season can be defined on special teams in the playoffs where in the NFC Divisional, he picked up a blocked punt and ran it in for a touchdown. A touchdown that sealed the game.

Hufanga was a ballhawk his second season. One who also helped a ton in the running game. Unfortunately, it came with a price and that was Hufanga’s habit of gambling on the play. This led to mixed results; a run stuffed or a sack when right, but a massive gain/touchdown when wrong. In his third season (2023), Hufanga tore his ACL and that has left his status up in question.

Finally, in the sixth round we have Elijah Mitchell. No one thought Mitchell would be taking over as running back as early as he did, but in the first game of the season (that aforementioned Lions injury game) Raheem Mostert went down with a knee injury. Mitchell came in and picked up the slack, very quickly indicating he could be the running back of the future. Until Week 2 when he himself got injured as well. Despite being inactive for six games in 2021 (a year he was desperately needed as a rookie) Mitchell did way more than Sermon did and was seen as the future of the position once Mostert walked in free agency.

Of course a year later, the position suffered injuries again and Christian McCaffrey came along. This gave the 49ers a one-two punch of running backs. As long as he’s healthy, Mitchell is a great change of pace back. It’s just staying on the field.

If you take Trey Lance out of this, the 49ers had quite a decent draft. They found pieces for departing players and have been able to stay competitive. The additions of Lenoir and Hufanga helped what had become a suspect secondary once they got their feet under them after their rookie season as well. The thing is, almost everyone is going to remember the Trey Lance misfire. One has to wonder what would happen with those first round picks the 49ers would now be without.

All things considered, the Trey Lance deal made sense at the time. The 49ers had a lot of salary cap issues and wanted to get it taken care of when they knew Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t the guy (which was proven pretty quickly when he left the 49ers). They just took a big swing and missed. Good on them for admitting the mistake and moving on, but that’s still a backbreaking deal.

As always, the DMCA biscuits are watching this thing in full force, so go here to watch the entire draft reaction.

Pick Breakdown

Round 1 – Pick 3 – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Round 2 – Pick 48 – Aaron Banks, G, Notre Dame
Round 3 – Pick 88 – Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Round 3 – Pick 102- Ambry Thomas, CB, Michigan
Round 5 – Pick 155 – Jaylon Moore, OG, Western Michigan
Round 5 – Pick 172 – Deommodore Lenoir, CB, Oregon
Round 5 Pick 180 – Talanoa Hufanga, S, USC
Round 6 – Pick 194 – Elijah Mitchell, RB, Louisiana-Layfayette

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About the Author: Insidethe49

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