SANTA CLARA — In part because of the trade last season to draft Trey Lance, the 49ers didn’t have a draft pick until the second round in 2021.
Yet there’s a good chance that 49ers rookies will have more of an immediate impact than they did a year ago.
Three players — guard Spencer Burford, nickel back Samuel Womack III and defensive end Drake Jackson — are expected to play prominent roles. Since coach Kyle Shanahan is tight-lipped on matters of playing time, it remains to be seen which other rookies will have a chance to make an impact Sunday when the 49er visit the Chicago Bears in their regular-season opener.
A year ago, when the 49ers opened with a 41-33 road win over the Detroit Lions, rookie sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell had 104 yards on 19 carries, fifth-round corner Deommodore Lenoir started and played 90 snaps and Lance played four snaps in a cameo role behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Lance even opened the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield in the first quarter.
A look at what to expect from the Class of 2022:
Round 2, 61st overall: DE Drake Jackson, USC
Listed behind Samson Ebukam at left end, but Jackson showed both a strong pass rush and a good closing burst against the run in the preseason and in training camp. In tandem with Nick Bosa, the 49ers could have dual terrors off the edge.
“One of the things I prayed for draft day was landing in a spot with the right role for me, and I landed in it,” Jackson said. “With Nick Bosa and all the guys teaching me, I just landed in the right spot.”
Round 3/93: RB Ty Davis-Price, LSU
It’s a toss-up whether Davis-Price is active or not, with Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr. expected to play. Also available is undrafted rookie find Jordan (J.P.) Mason of Georgia Tech. The rookie that displays the better pass-blocking skills and has some use on special teams will likely suit up.
Round 3/105: WR Danny Gray, SMU
Gray’s speed is expected to be a factor at some point this season, but maybe not in Week 1. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCleod (the No. 1 return specialist) are good to go. It’s conceivable coach Kyle Shanahan will play it conservatively with Lance in his first start, with Gray and his go-routes getting some run as the season goes along.
Round 4/134 RG Spencer Burford, Texas-San Antonio
Burford opened training camp as the starter on the right side. He’s had some rough moments, but it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get the call against Chicago.
“You always wish you had guys who played a bunch of years and been to a bunch of Pro Bowls already, but this is how it starts for guys,” Shanahan said. “Burford has been a real talented guy we brought in as a rookie, who’s done well in camp.”
Round 5/172: Samuel Womack III, Toledo
One of the surprises of training camp, Womack gets first crack at replacing the departed K’Waun Williams. Although a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, Womack has shown a comfort level in the slot as well as some blitzing ability, which was Williams’ strength. Midwest scout Ryan Kessenich was responsible to alerting the personnel department as to Womack’s potential.
“Throughout the process, we noticed his ball skills, his length,” general manager John Lynch said. “Something we really look at is a guy’s length compared to his height. And he measures like a 6-foot guy.”
Round 6/187: G Nick Zakelj, Fordham
Zakelj could find himself inactive for Week 1 depending on the availability of veteran Daniel Brunskill. Depending on how well Burford and 2021 second-round pick Aaron Banks fare, that could change.
Either way, according to Lynch, the 49ers’ long-term plan is to make Zakelj a center. He’s been practicing snapping in practice.
Round 6/220: DL Kalia Davis, Central Florida
Davis was a projection pick and will spend the season on injured reserve rehabbing a torn ACL.
Round 6/221: CB Tariq Castro-Fields, Penn State
The only draft pick not to make the roster, Castro-Fields was claimed to the 53-man roster by the Washington Commodores and is working as a nickelback.
Round 7/262: QB Brock Purdy, Iowa State
The 49ers usually don’t keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. When Garoppolo returned, Purdy, who would have been the backup to Nate Sudfeld had that not materialized, became an exception.
“We like keeping two quarterbacks on the active (roster) because it allows us to do some things elsewhere, but if you have a guy like him, you don’t want to expose him,” Lynch said. “We like that room the way it’s constructed right now.”
Still, if Purdy plays this season, something has gone very wrong.
Contributed by local news sources