49ers Rookies Who Will Make Instant Impact in 2021 Season
The San Francisco 49ers seemingly held the keys to the 2021 NFL draft. While the first two picks were long assumed to be Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, no one was quite sure which quarterback San Francisco would take at No. 3 overall. The drama lasted all the way up until North Dakota State product Trey Lance was announced as the pick.
The selection of Lance puts incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on a clock. While he may be the starter in Week 1, Garoppolo is no longer the quarterback of the future in San Francisco. That honor now belongs to the dynamic but unpolished Lance.
Will Lace be able to be an early contributor in 2021? What other draft picks might instantly impact the 49ers' 2021 campaign? Let's take a look.
QB Trey Lance
While Lance is oozing with physical potential, he might not be ready to start right away. He didn't face the highest level of competition at North Dakota State, and he has a limited resume. According to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, Lance will have a difficult time beating out the more seasoned Garoppolo for the starting gig.
"It's going to be very hard for a rookie to come in and beat Jimmy Garoppolo out. He's a very good player," Shanahan said on ESPN (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk).
Yet it would be foolish to assume that Lance won't have an immediate impact. He'll push Garoppolo in camp and could get on the playing field sooner than later.
Garoppolo has a history of missing time because of injury. Should he get injured or struggle, San Francisco could turn to Lance.
There's also a chance that Shanahan will use Lance in subpackages similar to how the Baltimore Ravens used Lamar Jackson as a rookie before he claimed the starting role. Lance is a dynamic dual-threat signal-caller who can keep opposing defenses off-balance. San Francisco hasn't hinted at this game plan, but it would make a lot of sense.
Lance can be an offensive weapon and a difference-maker. It would behoove the 49ers to utilize him.
RB Trey Sermon
While Lance's impact may not be felt on the field right away, the presence of running back Trey Sermon will be felt immediately. The Ohio State product and third-round pick has the potential to be a future star and should crack the rotation during the preseason.
Sermon, who rushed for 870 yards and 7.5 yards per carry last season, is a big (6'1", 215 pounds) physical runner with enough open-space speed to churn out big gains.
Sermon has also proved his ability to produce in big games. Against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, he racked up 193 rushing yards, 61 receiving yards and a touchdown.
While the 49ers already have running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson on the roster, this shouldn't keep Sermon out of the lineup. Shanahan has a history of utilizing multiple backs and will love having another talented ball-carrier on his roster.
Expect Sermon to be a frequent contributor on Sundays this season.
CB Ambry Thomas
Like Sermon, former Michigan cornerback Ambry Thomas was a third-round pick by San Francisco. Also like Sermon, Thomas is likely to see a rotational role right away.
A long (6'0", 191 pounds), physical press corner, Thomas is a perfect fit for San Francisco's aggressive style of defensive play.
"Feisty press-man cornerback who plays the role of nuisance underneath. Plays with good patience and feel for mirroring the release and gets hands on his target within the first five yards," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Thomas.
With Richard Sherman still floating on the free-agent market, San Francisco has an opening in the defensive-back rotation that Thomas can fill. He should immediately contribute in subpackages while providing insurance for starting corner Jason Verrett, who has a lengthy injury history.
With his size and physicality, Thomas should also be an early asset on special teams.