The NFL draft is the best way to inject talent into your roster, and the best teams make sure to find immediate contributors in the early rounds.
In the eyes of many general managers and head coaches, an early-round pick that doesn't help the team right out of the gate is tantamount to a wasted selection. So far this season, the 49ers have received close to zero production from their first-, second-, third- and fifth-round picks.
At 3-5, the 49ers could use some help from the players they envisioned would be key pieces of their future. So, outside of Trey Lance, who was not expected to start this season, why haven't the 49ers received help from the rest of the top picks from the 2021 draft class?
According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers did not select Lance, guard Aaron Banks, running back Trey Sermon or cornerback Ambry Thomas with 2021 in mind, although the hope was that Banks could push for a starting role.
“We had a feeling with our quarterback," Shanahan said Monday when asked about the lack of contributions from the draft class. "We knew we drafted a guard in the second round thinking he’d have a chance to push [Daniel] Brunskill and Laken [Tomlinson]. Our biggest thing with all those positions, whether it was running back, third, corner in the third and the fifth, and guard in the second, those are all positions we were very thin at. Now, we had guys there that were starters. They weren't drafted to replace the starter, whether it was at guard or whether it was that corner or whether it was that back.
"I felt good with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson [Jr.] as our starting backs, but we knew we needed some depth. I felt very good about [Jason] Verrett, [Emmanuel] Moseley and K’Waun [Williams] as our starting three corners. But we also knew we needed some depth behind them for injury and for going into next year, especially with the one-year deal those guys are on. And we had to start getting some youth in here. Banks, we thought had the best chance to compete to maybe win one of those jobs over the offseason, but he didn't get that. He wasn't there in training camp, started getting his work in Week 1 and has been behind the eight ball. I think he's had a couple good weeks here. His best two weeks lately and he's starting to push him a little bit, but when that time is right for him and our team, we’ll make that move.
"When you look at the running back, yeah, Trey Sermon. We didn't bring him here to come and start at running back. We needed to add some depths and unfortunately, we lost our two starting running backs within two plays of the first play of the year. And after that, I wouldn't say it's anything against Trey Sermon, but we felt better with Elijah [Mitchell]. Elijah had a strong camp, ended up beating Trey out and that's why he got that role. Trey got some opportunities when other people got injured. But right now, Jeff Wilson's back healthy and Elijah is healthy and those are our two starting backs right now with Trey being third and unfortunately, Hasty’s been our third-down back and done the stuff in the pass game. So, he's kind of been the odd man out with that, which is tough on him. It doesn't mean that we don't believe in him. He's just not ahead of those other guys right now in terms of running the ball on first and second down.
"And when you look at our corners, the third-round pick, the fifth-round pick, we weren’t bringing any of them here to, we felt, start. We were hoping that they could add some depth and be guys who could play on our team and possibly do that next year. Unfortunately, having some injuries that we had early, we needed them earlier than we thought we would. And unfortunately, they weren't fully ready for it. And yeah, I wish they were. But the third-round pick and the fifth-round pick, they weren't, and that's why we've gone with veterans instead of them. Trying to get them some time to get to where they need to be.”
While the 49ers have received little to no contributions from Lance, Banks, Sermon and Thomas, they have gotten a good boost from sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell, who has filled in admirably as the 49ers' lead back following the injury to Raheem Mostert.
Still, it's tough to buy the idea that the 49ers basically went through an entire draft without seeing one of the selections as an immediate contributor. The more likely explanation is that, aside from Lance and Mitchell, the 49ers' rookies didn't live up to their draft slot, putting the 49ers behind the eight-ball.
The 49ers might soon get a draft class contribution from Jaylon Moore, who could take over at right tackle after the injury to Mike McGlinchey.
While Mitchell and Moore could play vital roles in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Rams, it's unlikely the 49ers will get help from the rest of their class in what is a must-win game at Levi's Stadium.