While the release of Trey Sermon is both surprising and disappointing, don’t get it twisted – the 49ers are still very good at drafting players.
To be clear, every team misses on certain picks, and every team misses on high draft picks. Without question, the entire exercise is more of an art than a science. The 49ers, however, continuously get value deeper into the draft than many teams around the league.
Players picked in the first three rounds usually come from big programs that are full of highly ranked high school recruits. So, most of the time, there is more information available on them than all the other guys in the draft. In theory, that should make it easier for the 49ers to evaluate their skills. Surprisingly, however, the Niners have found plenty of key contributors on day three.
In the Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch/Adam Peters era, the 49ers have gotten a starting caliber player in the fifth round or later every year except one.
2022: Spencer Burford (Round 4), Samuel Womack (Round 5)
2021: Elijah Mitchell (Round 6), Talanoa Hufanga (Round 5)
2020: Jauan Jennings (Round 7) – Maybe I’m stretching here, but he was their slot guy at the end of last year
2019: Dr. Greenlaw (Round 5)
2017: George Kittle (Round 5), DJ Jones (Round 6)
That is not normal and should not be taken for granted.
There’s another benefit to plucking great players out of the abyss of Day 3 of the draft – salary cap space. The value that you get from a day three pick that can start vastly outweighs their contract. That allows the team to use their salary cap space to invest in other areas on the roster for multiple years in a row. The more players in these rounds you hit on, the easier it becomes to keep a roster full of stars together for the long term.
That doesn’t make misses like Trey Sermon painless, however. There are always other players available at those spots that could have helped the team. It does help take some of the sting out of the wound, though. Picking guys like Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel in the same draft two years earlier helps, too.