Why two 49ers rookies earned rare draft praise from front office

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These two 49ers rookies earned rare praise from front office originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

49ers rookies have arrived in Santa Clara for their first taste of the NFL.

A three-day minicamp begins Friday and 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters spoke to Matt Barrows of The Athletic to share his impressions of the team’s 2021 draft class.

Every year, the 49ers front office singles out 15-20 draft eligible players and labels them “gold helmet” players, which means they show top-notch leadership and intelligence. Peters told Barrows that quarterback Trey Lance and safety Talanoa Hufanga were the only two 49ers rookies to earn the elite pre-draft designation. 

Once the 49ers drafted Lance, reports surfaced of his “off the charts” psychological test scores. His 28-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio is also evidence of his sharp decision making, even if it was against FCS competition.

Peters said the 49ers were able to send two scouts to Lance’s lone 2020 game, which ended up being mediocre by his standards. Lance went 15-for-30 for 149 yards and two touchdowns while throwing the only interception of his career. He also rushed for 143 yards and two scores to lead North Dakota State to a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas.

“When it came to crunch time and he had to take the game into his own hands, that’s what he did,” Peters told Barrows. "And he ended up making some big plays in the fourth quarter.”

On Day 3 of the draft, West region scout Dominic DeCicco and college scouting director Ethan Waugh touted Hufanga as a target.

“He was a favorite of a lot of people,” Peters said. “The coaches loved him, Kyle [Shanahan] loved him, John [Lynch] loved him, I loved him. He’s a hard guy not to love.

“When he was still on the board, that made it an easy pick. But I credit Dom for continuing to push [Hufanga] and having the belief in that kid. And we think we got a really good player at a really good value there.”

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The 49ers used the No. 180 overall pick on Hufanga in the fifth round, with some considering it a steal. The USC product was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 62 tackles and four interceptions in six games for the Trojans in 2020.

While it’s no surprise to hear Lance get a gold helmet from the 49ers front office, the team’s assessment of Hufanga is enlightening. Clearly, the franchise is excited about the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hufanga, who played strong safety as a junior in 2020.

Hufanga has already inked a four-year rookie deal, while Lance is unsigned but can participate in team activities. Starting Friday, gold helmets and gold stars won’t matter anymore. The in-house competition starts soon and the 2021 season will be here before we know it.

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