These two 49ers rookies earned rare ‘gold helmet’ during pre-draft evaluations

May 13, 2021 at 10:16 AM--

According to assistant general manager Adam Peters, the San Francisco 49ers award a "gold helmet" designation to draft prospects who are "exemplary" in several areas, including leadership and intelligence. He told Matt Barrows of The Athletic that last year's fifth-round pick, offensive lineman Colton McKivitz, received the designation.

Heading into a draft, only 15-20 prospects earn the "gold helmet." This year, the 49ers ended up drafting two players who earned the designation — quarterback Trey Lance, selected No. 3 overall, and safety Talanoa Hufanga, the last of three fifth-round picks.

Lance made 17 starts at North Dakota State (NDSU). There wasn't a ton of film to review, but the tape the quarterback did have showed that he had the potential to be very special. Peters notes that evaluating Lance would have been a challenge during a typical offseason because you don't go to many NDSU games, to begin with. The pandemic made things more challenging.

There was also the issue that Lance's only full season came during the 2019 season. He did play one non-conference game on October 3, 2020, but it was his only appearance last season. The Bison football program postponed the rest of its season to the spring.

The lone outing against Central Arkansas wasn't his best showing, but it was a win. Lance finished the game 15-of-30 passing for 149 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He also added 15 carries for 143 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground.

"It wasn't his best game," Peters told Barrows. "And there was probably as much pressure on him in that game as anybody in any game except for maybe the championship game. It was really a one-off. You can't throw it out, but you can weigh it less, I think."

Head coach Kyle Shanahan, general manager John Lynch, and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello got to see Lance in person on April 19, during the quarterback's second pro day in Fargo, North Dakota.

Hufanga was a favorite inside the 49ers building.

"The coaches loved him, Kyle loved him, John loved him, I loved him," Peters said. "He's a hard guy not to love. When he was still on the board, that made it an easy pick. But I credit [West region scout Dominic DeCicco] for continuing to push and having the belief in that kid. And we think we got a really good player at a really good value there."

Hufanga spoke with reporters after receiving a call from Lynch and Shanahan on the third day of the draft. He came off as incredibly likable and expressed how thankful he was to be given the opportunity to play in the NFL.

Hufanga, along with the rest of the rookies, arrived in the Bay Area on Wednesday. He spoke with reporters again after spending some time at the facility.

"I'm blessed," the former USC safety told us with a smile on his face. "I just want to thank God for this opportunity. Being able to step here, and land at the airport, I'm just trying to take in everything. Driving up and being able to see the facility is an incredible process. I'm really just enjoying it, so I cannot complain."

Said Peters of Hufanga's play: "I think you could see his passion. You could feel it on the silent tape, just how hard he plays, with how much energy he plays with."

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