Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Draft Grades for the 2021 NFL Draft: Part 2

May 3, 2021 at 5:25 PM

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This is Part 2 of my draft grades. Part 1 can be found here.

The San Francisco 49ers certainly had a very successful start to their 2021 NFL Draft with their selections of Trey Lance, Aaron Banks, Trey Sermon, and Ambry Thomas. However, even with the quality picks in the first half of the draft, the Niners still could improve in certain positions such as their secondary, primarily safety, as well as premium offensive positions like the offensive line and wide receivers.

Rounds 4-7 of the draft are crucial for teams to take players who have outstanding potential but still have notable flaws or injury concerns. Let's jump into the second half of the draft and evaluate just how successful the 49ers were at searching for draft gems to fill their positional voids.

Round 5: Jaylon Moore, OT (Western Michigan)

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The motive behind why San Francisco chose Jaylon Moore is very similar to the reasoning behind drafting Aaron Banks, which I discussed in my evaluation of the Banks pick a few days ago. Long story short, the Niners offensive line was increasingly subpar as last season went on, whether it was through injuries or just underperformance, to the point where the front office needed to invest a significant amount of offseason resources to keep any quarterback afloat and playing well.

The 49ers drafting Jaylon Moore, an offensive tackle from Western Michigan, is an attempt to solve some of these problems in the long term. Though he is listed as a tackle, Moore will most likely shift over to playing guard or interior offensive line positions because of the depletion of talent there. Aaron Banks was a first step to solving the problem, but with Laken Tomlinson's play deteriorating amid the end of his current contract, the Niners needed to find a new replacement for the future.

Moore is a wide-based lineman who has physical, aggressive hands that allow him to maintain a solid grip on oncoming pass rushers. His patience and strong grip often annoy pass rushers, making for a good trait against NFL defenders. Finally, he is a durable offensive lineman as he played in all of his team's games in 3 full seasons, something the 49ers have lacked for a while.

Every second-half draft prospect has some flaw and Moore's flaws include less than ideal length, occasional slip-ups with his hands, and a severe lack of experience playing against elite pass rushers at the college level.

Given that the 49ers used this pick to continue to upgrade the offensive line, a mediocre position on the team, automatically nets the Niners a passing grade, but this pick might have been better used for a wide receiver who could play as the team's WR3 behind Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

Grade: B-

Round 5: Deommodore Lenoir, CB (Oregon)

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San Francisco clearly prioritized quantity over quality in solving its cornerback woes in the draft. By drafting its first CB in the draft in the third round, it lost out on the truly upper echelon positional talent in the draft. Drafting Deommodore Lenoir lends DeMeco Ryans yet another cornerback if injuries continue to plague the team like last year.

Lenoir is patient and has the right amount of physicality and aggression that an ideal NFL-caliber corner would demonstrate. Another one of his crucial strengths is his ability to elevate at the catch point and contest wide receivers, sometimes even creating turnovers through interceptions. He has above-average strength which allows him to pin pass catchers to the sideline and also make consistent tackles. Finally, his durability over the course of his four-year college career likely impressed the 49ers because he presents a consistently healthy option that cornerbacks like Jason Verett can't provide.

His weaknesses include limited athletic gifts with average speed and length. Lenoir also makes a significant amount of mental mistakes such as missing key footwork and giving up on the play, creating free completions for the offense.

Given the fact that the 49ers did address an important hole in their team with a player who has weaknesses that can be fixed, this pick also gets a passing grade from me.

Grade: B-

Round 5: Talanoa Hufanga, SS (USC)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As I mentioned while describing the cornerback position, the reason that the 49ers' secondary has been exceedingly lackluster at times is because of the plethora of injuries that have plagued the position. The same reasoning for needing a cornerback also extends to a need at the safety position. Both starters, Jimmy Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, have missed time due to injury in every season since 2015, causing significant issues with depth at the position. The only other somewhat viable safety San Francisco has is Tarvarius Moore, unfortunately not a starting-caliber safety in the NFL.

Because Round 5 is a draft slot that teams can use to bet on players, the Niners decided to take a flyer in Talanoa Hufanga, a strong safety from USC. Hufanga likely has the most potential out of any of the other players the 49ers took on Day 3. Hufanga is simply an instinctive defender who creates chaos with his awareness and efficiency at determining the quickest routes to the ball, a quality that reminds me of an elite safety like Tyrann Mathieu. He excels in zone coverage, something the Niners would definitely like to include in their new defensive mentality with a new defensive coordinator. Finally, Hufanga is a natural at navigating the line of scrimmage and blitzing past blockers to get to the passer, qualities that have always been invaluable on the NFL level. Hufanga amassed 8.5 tackles a game in addition to 6.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles, elite production for a mostly injured 3-year safety taken this late in the draft.

If I was to nitpick at some of the weaknesses that Hufange has, it would probably include his lack of truly elite speed and average elusiveness to get around screens to the outside run and shut down the play. Most of the concern around the USC safety revolves around his medicals, as similar to other Niners defensive backs, he has a storied history of getting severe injuries.

Personally, I find it easy to find holes in players drafted in the fifth round, but the fact that Hufanga's problems do not relate to his on-the-field play makes him an extremely intriguing player. His pure talent and instinct as a player make me think that this could be the best selection in the draft for the Niners.

Grade: A+

Round 6: Elijah Mitchell, RB (Louisiana)

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Drafting Elijah Mitchell, yet another running back, with the 6th-round pick, was certainly a confusing move to say the least. The Niners already had Trey Sermon, Wayne Gallman, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., and JaMycal Hasty in their running back room before the pick, already a Super Bowl contending rushing attack alongside the new addition Trey Lance. Adding one more running back to this squad without drafting a single pass catcher the entire draft might not have been the best move and can only indicate that San Francisco will be running the ball far more than it will be passing it.

Mitchell himself certainly has some strengths as a runner. He has great speed for the position, running a 4.34 second 40-yard dash. His patience and athleticism compound to make him a very good decision maker who trusts his blockers. Mitchell also has a burst similar to Raheem Mostert, leaving the potential for him to be a good home-run hitter in Kyle Shanahan's scheme.

The Louisiana running back does, however, commit to only one speed on most runs, which detracts from a lot of elusive ability he might have. He also runs upright, narrow, and doesn't seem to have the elite fluidity in his legs that would allow him to make clean cuts in his running lanes. Finally, he didn't provide much pass-blocking assistance in college, limiting him in that sense.

The fact that Mitchell plays special teams slightly covers up the fact that San Francisco absolutely does not need another running back and also makes my grade a bit less harsh than my initial reaction.

Grade: C

Overall, all of my analysis and draft grades are truly just speculation. No one ever knows which players will actually be great as NFL players (besides maybe Trevor Lawrence). These grades are simply my projections as to how much these draft picks will translate to the NFL and help the 49ers based on what I've seen and read about them in college.

However, from what I can see, this 49ers draft class was definitely among the best in years as they addressed a lot of the holes they built up over the years and finally look to be going into the season as a true Super Bowl contender.

Overall Grade: A-
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.


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