Once drafted, rookies have an uphill battle to become a starter. Usually first and second round picks are a lock to start with, but with the San Francisco 49ers that hasn’t necessarily been the case unless your name is Nick Bosa (first round pick, 2019) or Deebo Samuel (second-round pick, 2019).

In 2020, the 49ers selected two first-round picks, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and their time as rookies was limited. Aiyuk became a starter due to injuries in the wide receiver room, and in 2021 his role was diminished. Aiyuk started the 2021 season in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse, and he could barely break into the starting lineup. Kinlaw was considered Deforest Buckner’s replacement, but he was unable to stay on the field during his rookie and sophomore seasons due to injuries. Both players in this draft had flashes of being great for the 49ers in limited roles.

In 2021, the 49ers drafted quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick in the draft, and offensive lineman Aaron Banks was drafted in the second round. Lance was limited to two starts as he developed behind then-starter Jimmy Garoppolo, and Banks scored his rookie season. Therefore, he never participated in any action on the ground. When Shanahan drafts players, it usually takes them a season or two to get used to the 49ers way.

Throughout the 2022 training camp, two rookies made upward progress and stood out. This year, the 49ers drafted Spencer Burford from UTSA in the fourth round. Burford played with the first unit at the right guard position during training camp. He started at right guard in the preseason game against the Packers.

“You only notice when someone is wrong, otherwise you look down,” Shanahan said. “So I know he made a few mistakes today, like they all did. But it was good to have him there, to have that playing time for three quarters and you can’t not doing it enough with rookies, especially the rookie O lineman.”

With Daniel Brunskill getting snaps at center and Burford’s upward progression, Burford can be a lock as a starting right guard for the 49ers.

In the fifth round of the 2022 draft, the 49ers selected cornerback Samuel Womack III from Toledo. Throughout camp, Womack ran with the second unit as the nickel until the last two practices. Although Womack didn’t start at the nickel position in the preseason game against the Packers, he was the most impressive. Womack intercepted Packers quarterback Jordan Love twice in the game. When asked at the presser, Womack III was asked if he felt he had raised his level of play when the lights were on.

“Most definitely,” Womack replied. “I feel like I had a great game tonight. I still have things to learn and improve, but I feel like I took advantage of my opportunities.”

Will fourth- and fifth-round picks Spencer Burford and Samuel Womack III start in the first week of 2022? If they continue to improve in pre-season, my answer is yes. Impressing Shanahan isn’t easy. He pays attention to all the details. During his presser, Shanahan was asked about Womack.

“I’d like to watch the tape,” the coach said. “I know when you get two picks it’s a big deal. You come up with those picks, that’s a hell of a start, but we’ll see what he’s done on the other 40 games.”

According to Shanahan, it’s difficult for rookies to get into any position. Although rookies seem unlikely to start for the 49ers, the sky is the limit for these two first-year players.

  • Written by:

    Wayne Breezie is a 49ers content creator. He made his first appearance on Ronbosports in 2012. He started writing for a Facebook group called the 49ers League. Then he started writing for Nothing But Niners in 2017. In 2018, Wayne Breezie made his debut on YouTube’s Nothing But Niners show. In 2019, he launched his podcast titled Nitty Gritty Niners. After putting the pen down for several years, Breezie saw an opportunity to write for 49erscap.com. His first published article was in January 2022 with 49ersCap, and he currently writes and produces weekly podcasts.