Is there a player development issue with the 49ers?

Chris Beno
Nov 12, 2021 at 2:10 PM--

One thing has become clear through nine games of the 2021 season; there is something wrong with the 49ers. Without being in the building, it's virtually impossible to point out what that issue is. Still, when injuries derail season after season, and the depth and production just aren't there, it's safe to start with player development. Are these coaches getting the most out of their players? Are they propelling them to reach that top-tier level of play? Are they willing to hold each other accountable, lift each other up and overcome adversity? So far this year, the 49ers haven't shown that they are capable of that.

With a roster that is close enough to the 2019 NFC Championship team to be competitive this season, this current 49ers' team appears to be missing something. Here's a recap of the draft picks under current head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch:


Round 1, Pick 3
QB Trey Lance - Currently a backup on the 49ers

Round 2, Pick 48
OL Aaron Banks - Currently a healthy scratch and buried on the depth chart

Round 3, Pick 88
RB Trey Sermon - Team traded up to select, currently a healthy scratch and buried on the depth chart

Round 3, Pick 102
DB Ambry Thomas - Currently a healthy scratch and buried on the depth chart

Round 5, Pick 155
T Jaylon Moore - Current backup left tackle on the 49ers

Round 5, Pick 172
CB Deommodore Lenoir - Current backup on 49ers, showed flashes with early-season starts

Round 5, Pick 180
S Talanoa Hufanga - Currently starting for injured safety Jaquiski Tartt

Round 6, Pick 194
RB Elijah Mitchell - Currently starting for injured Raheem Mostert


Round 1, Pick 14
DT Javon Kinlaw - Out for season with knee surgery

Round 1, Pick 25
WR Brandon Aiyuk - No. 2 wide receiver on the 49ers

Round 5, Pick 153
T Colton McKivitz - Recently called up from 49ers practice squad

Round 6, Pick 190
TE Charlie Woerner - No. 3 tight end on the 49ers

Round 7, Pick 217
WR Jauan Jennings - Currently buried in the depth chart but could move up this week due to injuries


Round 1, Pick 2
DE Nick Bosa - Starter and one of the best in the league at his position

Round 2, Pick 36
WR Deebo Samuel - No. 1 wide receiver, one of the best in the league at his position

Round 3, Pick 67
WR Jalen Hurd - Just got waived by 49ers, never played a snap in the regular season

Round 4, Pick 110
P Mitch Wishnowsky - Currently having a great year with the 49ers

Round 5, Pick 148
LB Dre Greenlaw - Battling injuries but flashes big-play ability

Round 6, Pick 176
TE Kaden Smith - Waived his rookie year and was signed by the New York Giants

Round 6, Pick 183
T Justin Skule - Out for season with a torn ACL

Round 6, Pick 198
CB Tim Harris - Placed on IR his rookie year, waived in 2020, and is currently a free agent


Round 1, Pick 9
T Mike McGlinchey - Starter, currently out for the season with a torn quad

Round 2, Pick 44
WR Dante Pettis - Flashed his rookie year, waived by the 49ers in 2020. Currently on the New York Giants 53-man roster

Round 3, Pick 70
OLB Fred Warner - Starter and one of the best linebackers in the NFL

Round 3, Pick 95
S Tavarius Moore - Out with an Achilles tear, backup, and special teams player

Round 4, Pick 128
DT Kentavius Street - Battled injuries most of his career, currently a backup

Round 5, Pick 142
CB D.J Reed - Waived by the 49ers in 2020, currently a major part of the defense for the Seattle Seahawks

Round 6, Pick 184
S Marcell Harris - Currently sliding into more of an outside linebacker role for the 49ers.

Round 7, Pick 223
DT Jullian Taylor - Tore his ACL in 2019, waived by the 49ers in 2020. Currently a free agent

Round 7, Pick 240
WR Richie James - Never really stepped up as a wide receiver but showed flashes on special teams. Currently on IR after undergoing knee surgery


Round 1, Pick 3
DE Solomon Thomas - Underperformed most of his career, currently with the Las Vegas Raiders

Round 1, Pick 31
LB Reuben Foster - Battled legal trouble most of his career and was released in 2018. Currently a free agent

Round 3, Pick 66
CB Ahkello Witherspoon - Was a starter who struggled with consistency. Currently with the Pittsburg Steelers

Round 3, Pick 104
QB C.J Beathard - Struggled with consistency, currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars

Round 4, Pick 121
RB Joe Williams - Expected to be the next Frank Gore. Many experts questioned his dedication to football, and was waived by the 49ers in 2018.

Round 5, Pick 146
TE George Kittle - Starter, although he battles injuries, Kittle is the backbone of this offense. When healthy, he is considered one of the best tight ends in the league.

Round 5, Pick 177
WR Trent Taylor - Battled injuries most of his career, currently with the Cincinnati Bengals

Round 6, Pick 198
DT D.J Jones - A solid player who continues to be a bright spot on the defensive line

Round 6, Pick 202
OL Pita Taumoepenu - Waived by the 49ers in 2019, currently with the Denver Broncos

Round 7, Pick 229
DB Adrian Colbert - Started a few games and flashed some big-play ability. Currently a free agent.

There's no question that there have been quite a few draft misses during the Shanahan and Lynch regime. It seems the only players allowed to make an impact are those who hit the ground running and needed little to no development, such as George Kittle, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel, and Nick Bosa. All of those players were huge draft hits by this front office.

However, the majority of 49ers rookies are given an extremely short leash. A prime example is rookie Deommodore Lenoir, who started a few games early this season and played very well. But after giving up a big play against the Philadelphia Eagles, he has primarily been on the bench. Shanahan opted to bring in veteran corners Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick to play in place of the rookies and they have been a flat-out liability to the defense since their arrival.

The impact that the short leash might have on these rookie players is slowly showing its ugly head this season. As listed by the draft selections above, most players are given a year or so to show something before they are removed from the team. The space between talent evaluation and development is especially important, particularly when there isn't a single player that we can point to and say that this regime helped in that player's development.

At the end of October, Shanahan was on a conference call with reporters and was asked about playing the rookies, particularly rookie QB Trey Lance.

"I get all the questions," Shanahan said. "But it's way too early to start thinking about just getting guys experience and giving up the year that way. I'm trying to do what's best for our team — and also what's best for those players. Not just Trey but other guys. Getting experience just to get it isn't always beneficial."

Suppose playing your rookies is the equivalent of giving up on the season, and as a player, you are afraid of making mistakes because you're already on a short leash. Is anyone surprised that these draft picks only last a couple of years with this team and never end up in a position to be successful?

Wide receiver Dante Pettis had a good rookie year but struggled to build on that the rest of his time with the 49ers. The talent was there, but the development aspect from the coaching staff let him down. Shanahan is known to have an old-school, tough-love approach towards players. Being an Army vet myself, I get that. I've seen and experienced that. But just like in today's military, today's young NFL players don't respond the same way. As coaches and leaders, it is their duty to adapt their teaching methods to get through and build these young men up to become the players they saw in their initial talent evaluation. Failure to bring that talent out isn't always on the player. The coach has to be able to consistently get higher levels of production out of its young talent.

In military basic training, drill instructors break down their soldiers and build them back up to be the soldier the US government wants to see. Shanahan is remarkably similar, except there's no building people back up. Instead, he simply puts them down, and it's up to them to get themselves out of it.

This isn't all on Shanahan. He's a good coach, but not a leader of men. He is not alone in building this team but takes on all of the responsibility and criticisms. Until he can admit that he needs help, he'll be the captain going down with the ship. Until he can show people that he's capable of player development without utterly destroying that player, fans should be concerned about quarterback prospect Trey Lance, who the team paid a king's ransom for.

Only time will tell if this coaching staff is capable of shortening that gap between evaluation and development, but let's hope they figure it out sooner rather than later, or this franchise will dig itself into a hole that will take years to get out of.
  • Chris Beno
  • Written by:
    Coming from Elk Grove, California I grew up a Bay Area sports fan. I've been cheering for the 49ers for as long as I can remember. In 2005 I joined the Army when I was 18 and got stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I just kind of hung around here. I've always enjoyed writing and have typically focused on writing music. I am truly blessed to get to cover the 49ers, and have my articles published on the 49ers Webzone. I didn't realize it was something I wanted to pursue as a career, but am now focused on doing just that. I appreciate all of the Faithful that take the time to read the articles people put out there.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • jt
    Anyone notice the year Mac Jones is having ? Shanahan and lynch need be fired These two are clueless,,dumb dumber
    Nov 14, 2021 at 12:43 PM


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