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For The Record - 49ers RB Trey Sermon

Justin Wong
May 11, 2021 at 5:05 PM0


While NFL Draft pundits and fans alike can give instant reactions to their team's player selections, it's easy to forget that the true value of the picks cannot be fully assessed until after a couple of seasons. Some players become instant starters (Nick Bosa), while others remain works in progress (Javon Kinlaw). Having said that, I want to pull out the receipts on what draft analysts were saying prior to the draft, along with their player comparisons. With the 2021 NFL Draft now in the books, let's review what various scouting outlets were saying about the 49ers' draft picks in this mini-series, "For The Record". The San Francisco 49ers traded the 117th and 121st (via Raiders) picks to the divisional rival Rams in exchange for the 88th pick. To sum it up, the 49ers packaged the Raiders' fourth-round pick in combination with their own fourth-round pick to trade up into the third round to select Ohio State running back, Trey Sermon.


NFL Player Comparison: DeMarco Murray

Dane Brugler of The Athletic thinks Sermon is "skilled at settling his feet" especially for an outside zone scheme in his 2021 NFL Draft Guide:

With his vision and agility, Sermon is skilled at settling his feet, dropping his hips to center his gravity and making coordinated jump cuts — all in a fluid motion to force missed tackles. He tends to be a long-striding, upright runner in space, which will make it tough for him to create chunk plays versus speedy NFL defenders. Overall, Sermon is inconsistent as an inside power runner, but his combination of vision, balance and cutting skills are intriguing traits for an outside zone scheme. He projects as a quality rotational back with third-down value.

NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein sees Sermon as a "three-down backup."

Great-looking running back at a quick glance, but one who suffers from inconsistency in creativity and decisiveness. The regular-season tape at Ohio State was fairly disappointing relative to the talent he showed at Oklahoma, but his monster postseason should quell some concerns. At both schools, the interior vision and decision-making was suspect and would run him into some traffic. He does have potential as an outside-zone back, where he has more time and space to utilize his skills. He has size and open-field speed and will step up and handle his business in pass protection, as well as catch it out of the backfield. So, while Sermon's skill level as a runner is somewhat average, his potential as a three-down backup with upside should create middle-round interest.

ESPN Scout Inc.'s draft profile of Sermon gave him a 75 grade for being "very technically sound."

Sermon has outstanding size but just average top-end speed for the position. His best trait is his contact balance. He has excellent vision and patience as a runner, and he waits for his blocks to develop and then quickly reacts. He has very good stop-start ability for his size, but he has limited elusiveness in space and is not a home run hitter when he catches daylight. He has natural hands and is very reliable underneath. Most of his routes are on swings, screens, option routes and sharp-cutting underneath routes. He will never be a vertical threat. Sermon is very willing in pass pro and shows toughness and awareness. But he needs to improve his technique and do a better job sustaining. Sermon grades out as a rotational running back in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus wasn't thrilled value-wise when the 49ers traded up for a running back but said Sermon "could very well end up being the best running back in this class" during its live analysis of the 2021 NFL Draft:

Sermon could very well end up being the best running back in this class. He doesn't possess elite speed, but he breaks tackles and has tremendous contact balance. Still, trading up for a running back isn't going to be a great value pick. He needs to lower his shoulder pads a bit more on contact, and even though he doesn't have long speed, he does have great agility and elusiveness.

Many 49ers fans were excited with the trade-up but were clamoring for a cornerback at the time. Personally, I wasn't expecting the 49ers to get a running back either; it has a similar feeling to when the 49ers surprised people by drafting fellow Ohio State alumni Carlos Hyde in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. It probably wasn't the best value to trade up for a running back given their other needs but for the 49ers to draft two running backs in the draft merits further discussion. The 49ers dealt with a slew of injuries across the board last season but no other position was tested as heavily as their running backs. The 49ers' current platoon of Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Wayne Gallman already seemed good enough for their outside zone rushing attack. In Sermon, perhaps they can get a true three-down back to help complement the rest of the group.


While most know him from his tenure at Oklahoma, Sermon transferred to Ohio State last season, averaged 7.5 yards per carry, and became the team's playoff MVP leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship. The player comparisons for Sermon range from Le'Veon Bell to DeMarco Murray based on his balance and vision as a runner. Sermon does a little bit of everything well in terms of pass protection and receiving out the backfield while bringing a physical presence after contact.


Sermon isn't the speedy running back the 49ers usually field, but neither are Trey Lance at quarterback nor Aaron Banks at guard in regards to what skill sets 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan typically covet on offense. The cumulative effort shows that the 49ers are planning to beef up their rushing attack while giving opposing defenses some different looks with their incoming draft class. Sermon could be a late riser in 2021 similar to how the Rams slowly brought along running back Cam Akers before unleashing him in the second half of the season. I'm sure fantasy football analysts are already pegging Sermon as a sneaky sleeper for this upcoming season.
  • Justin Wong
  • Written by:
    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.
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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