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Trade up for Sermon cost 49ers chance to fill slot WR need

/ by Matt Maiocco
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Somehow, the 49ers have found a way to have a strong running game over the past four seasons even through a spate of injuries.

The 49ers have had four different leading rushers over the last four years: Carlos Hyde (2017), Matt Breida (2018), Raheem Mosert (2019) and Jeff Wilson Jr. (2020).

The only time they drafted a running back since the arrivals of coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner was when the 49ers traded up in the fourth round to select Joe Williams in 2017. Not only did he never step on the field for the team, he did not attract any attention around the league upon his release.

This all goes to say the 49ers’ most-surprising move during the three-day 2021 NFL Draft was the decision to trade two fourth-round picks to move up for Ohio State running back Trey Sermon.

The 49ers entered the draft with Mostert, Wilson, Wayne Gallman Jr. and JaMycal Hasty already on the roster.

Sermon might end up being the most productive running back in this class. He certainly has the advantage of joining an offense in which Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel are choreographing every intricacy of the running game.

In the sixth round, the 49ers selected running back Elijah Mitchell of Louisiana, who figures to be productive with his one-cut style, impressive breakaway speed and ability to run routes and catch passes out of the backfield.

 

But in trading up for Sermon, the 49ers also missed an opportunity.

If the 49ers had simply retained their picks at Nos. 117 and 121 of the fourth round, they could have gotten a bigger, base down running back while also picking up a speedy, shifty, yards-after-the-catch slot receiver.

From the time the 49ers selected Sermon to when their fourth-round picks would have rolled around, Minnesota and New England selected running backs Kene Nwangwu (Iowa State) and Rhamondre Stevenson (Oklahoma), respectively.

Also, outstanding pass-catching running back Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis would have been available.

If the 49ers were intent on getting a running back, they could have selected one of those players, and then filled another need.

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One of the 49ers' biggest questions is whether they have a slot receiver who can emerge. They could have scooped up one of the more dynamic options in the draft, Jaelon Darden of North Texas.

Darden, instead, joined Tom Brady and the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the No. 129 overall pick.

The 49ers picked a strange time for their streak of selecting a wide receiver in the draft to end after 18 years in a row. Over the course of the three-day affair, the 49ers believe they got better at quarterback, running back, offensive line and defensive backfield.

But they did not get better at receiver, which was one area in which they needed a little help.

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