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49ers training camp: Which rookie will you watch most? – Niner Noise

(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
49ers training camp kicks off this week, and rookies are always fun to watch, but which one should draw the most attention?
San Francisco 49ers training camp is finally upon us, and it sure does feel like too long a time since we’ve had actual on-field news surrounding the team as the upcoming 2022 season draws closer.
And while the bulk of Niners-related storylines have centered around All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel, quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, and the bulk of star power on the roster, one shouldn’t forget rookies are always fun to chat about.
Of course, San Francisco doesn’t have a high-profile first-round NFL Draft pick to monitor closely in camp, thanks to last year’s trade-up for Lance.
Yet there are still some noteworthy first-year pros who should command your attention.
With 49ers training camp beginning on Tuesday and actual on-field practices commencing the following day, which rookie are you wanting to watch the most?
Any team’s first pick in the draft will draw intrigue no matter where he was drafted, so that’ll automatically put former USC EDGE Drake Jackson, whom the Niners grabbed towards the end of Round 2, into the spotlight.
Camp will be the first time Jackson can don pads at the NFL level, and it’ll be interesting to see if the raw-but-promising pass-rusher can thrive in more competitive settings under the tutelage of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
While San Francisco likely doesn’t peg Jackson to be an every-down defender right away, his use as a situational pass-rusher opposite Pro Bowl EDGE Nick Bosa should be interesting to watch.
The 49ers may have reached on former LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price towards the end of Round 3. Still, with the desire to lessen the rushing workload on Samuel and to help guard against a notable injury reputation with second-year pro Elijah Mitchell, Davis-Price’s addition makes some sense.
According to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco (h/t 49ers Webzone), the Niners are expected to use more of a “running back by committee” approach this season, which factors into what head coach Kyle Shanahan has done in years like 2019 and 2020.
It’ll sure be worth monitoring how the former Tiger winds up factoring into the ground game in year one. And in a similar situation, albeit with far less attention, undrafted rookie runner Jordan Mason could seriously shake up the team’s depth chart if he’s able to impress during camp and make the 53-man roster.
One could argue San Francisco’s wide receiver room is as complete as it’s ever been under Shanahan this year, rounded out by the third-round NFL Draft pickup of former SMU wideout Danny Gray.
Gray’s 4.33 40-yard time gives Shanahan a legitimate deep threat, and even if he’s not receiving regular targets from Lance, Gray’s ability to stretch the field should open up more chances for players like Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
Two points of concern during 49ers training camp, though.
For starters, Gray’s hands weren’t exactly the most reputable during his collegiate days, and he also spent mandatory minicamp rehabilitating from a hamstring injury.
Still, the thought of Gray being electrifying is enticing enough.
With the Niners having lost their starting nickel cornerback, K’Waun Williams, to free agency this offseason, the hope will be for fifth-round rookie Samuel Womack to automatically assume this crucial role right out of the gate.
He’s not alone in the competition, though, as veteran defensive backs like Darqueze Dennard and Dontae Johnson could spoil Womack’s prospects to start as a rookie.
Read More: Samuel Womack has best shot at starting right away for San Francisco
However, Womack did nothing during offseason workouts thus far to suggest he’s not equal to the task, meaning he’ll want to continue that trend in camp heading towards Week 1 if he wants to stay high on the depth chart.
If San Francisco used a mid-round NFL Draft pick on former Arizona State center Dohnovan West, no one would have complained. Especially with the understanding veteran center Alex Mack was on the verge of retirement this offseason.
Mack ultimately retired, of course, and the 49ers lucked out by grabbing West as an undrafted free agent.
However, the path for West to immediately start in Mack’s wake is arduous. For starters, it appears as if journeyman backup Jake Brendel is the favorite to be the starter in 2022, and Shanahan has typically gone with veterans over rookies in this particular spot.
On top of that, whatever the reasons West slipped on draft day could ultimately point to him needing far more development at the pro level before being thrust into such a prominent role.
West and the remaining Niners rookies report with the veterans on Tuesday, July 26 with practices beginning on Wednesday, July 27.
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