The 49ers kicked off the preseason against the Packers on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium. Which Niner rookies took full advantage of their first opportunity to showcase their talent to the 49ers Faithful?
The 2022 NFL preseason has officially begun for the San Francisco 49ers, after what has been a long offseason for the team. Given the hype surrounding this year’s roster, it was important for the Niners to get out to a fast start in front of their home crowd. On Friday night, the 49ers did just that, as San Francisco defeated the Green Bay Packers 28-21 in a game filled with enthusiasm and potential for the present and future.
The NFL’s recent removal of the fourth exhibition game has only raised the excitement level of Week 1 of the preseason. After months of talk and speculation, last night was the first opportunity for fans and analysts to see the team’s draft picks and free-agent acquisitions compete against another NFL opponent in real game-action. Still, the preseason isn’t about wins or losses; it’s about player development and assessment, while remaining healthy.
The San Francisco 49ers have high hopes for this year’s crop of newcomers. On Friday night, these four rookies demonstrated why the Niners have such high hopes for their 2022 freshman class:
Danny Gray, Wide Receiver
Former SMU wideout Danny Gray brings a different level of explosiveness to an already impressive San Francisco wide receiver room. In the first quarter, Gray blew past a helpless Packers defensive back on a slot-fade route and cruised into the end zone for a 76-yard touchdown on his first NFL reception. His track-star speed immediately stands out.
The 49ers’ wide receivers are already known for their ability to run after the catch. Last season, the NFL quickly learned what happens when wideout Deebo Samuel has the ball in his hands and green grass in front of him. However, Gray — armed with 4.33-second 40-yard-dash speed — is different, and can effortlessly take the top off opposing defenses. With quarterback Trey Lance under center, pushing the ball downfield, look for Gray to be on the receiving end of some big plays this season.
Samuel Womack, Cornerback
Samuel Womack was the best defensive player on the field Friday night. He played great in coverage and intercepted two passes thrown by Packers quarterback Jordan Love. He also showed no fear when defending running plays.
With the loss of cornerback K’Waun Williams this past offseason, the 49ers have an opening at the important nickel corner position. With CB Ambry Thomas struggling with penalties, Womack began to make his case for the starting job with an excellent debut performance.
In the 49ers’ first exhibition game, the fifth-round pick out of Toldeo looked like a faster version of Williams. If Womack can maintain his level of play throughout the preseason, he will have a great shot at starting for the team when the regular season begins.
Tyrion Davis-Price, Running Back
Former LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price looks to be the real deal. With starting RB Elijah Mitchell likely out for the entire preseason due to a hamstring injury. Davis-Price and sophomore running back Trey Sermon should receive ample playing time in the Niners’ backfield over the next two weeks.
Based on Friday’s performance, Davis-Price appears to be the faster and more-decisive option. Davis-Price is an incredibly hard runner. He also demonstrated good vision, balance, and agility — qualities Sermon has yet to consistently show during his short 49ers tenure.
San Francisco’s front office — to the surprise of many — selected the hard-nosed runner in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft because he fits the specific mold of running back head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to add to the team’s roster. Davis-Price is the thunder to Mitchell’s lighting, and the duo could form an effective pairing in the 49ers’ backfield in 2022 and for years to come.
Drake Jackson, Defensive End
Defensive end Drake Jackson was everywhere on Friday night, including — unfortunately — the injury tent. During his time on the field, he forced multiple quarterback pressures and came close to a strip-sack. Jackson then showed high football intelligence and elite athleticism by containing Love in space before tipping the QB’s pass attempt.
Jackson has all the tools needed to become an NFL-caliber DE capable of tallying double-digit sacks over the course of a season. Given the amount of attention fellow EDGE Nick Bosa receives, Jackson will face one-on-one matchups on a regular basis, and could reach similar numbers if he continues to develop this year. The second-round pick out of USC should be an immediate upgrade for the 49ers’ defense in 2022.
Jackson did not return to the game after sustaining a shoulder injury later described as a stinger by Shanahan. Hopefully, his injury is truly minor, allowing the young pass-rusher to return in time for the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 showdown against the Minnesota Vikings next Saturday.