In Week 17, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 34-13, to end the season on a five-game winning streak with an overall record of 6-10 record. While players were cleaning up their lockers, one sentiment was evident, the contributions and performance of the 2017 rookie class played a major factor in the team's late-season success.
“In my eleven years, I haven’t seen a draft class like this,” said Joe Staley, the 49ers longest-tenured and most respected veteran. That praise was echoed by John Lynch as well.
“I have a great deal of belief in that class,” Lynch said in his end of the season press conference on Tuesday. “That’s not just because we chose them but because I saw what they did on the field. When you have 15-16 rookies contributing in a big way that’s encouraging.”
The numbers support the claims of Staley and Lynch. The 49ers had 17 rookies play significant time this season from the first-round picks to the undrafted free agents.
Take a look at some of the top performers from the 49ers rookie class according to Pro Football Focus.
LB Reuben Foster
Foster missed some time due to an injury in the season opener, but that didn’t stop the rookie linebacker from becoming one of the top linebackers in the NFL. The No. 31 overall pick finished the season as the fourth-ranked linebacker in the NFL with an overall grade of 90.7. Foster was 1-of-5 linebackers who finished the year with at least an 89.9 grade in run defense along with a coverage grade of at least 80.0. The other members in that group are Bobby Wagner, Luke Kuechly, LaVonte David and Sean Lee. “Roob” earned a positive grade on a league-leading 19.7 percent of his plays against the run, which is almost double the league average. Foster has a chance to build off of a strong rookie campaign and be the man in the middle of the 49ers defense for years to come. Foster was listed as sixth on the "Pro Football Focus Rookie Rankings" through Week 17.
*CB Ahkello Witherspoon *The 49ers third-round draft pick worked his way into a starting role after beginning the season as a gameday inactive. Witherspoon appeared in 12 games as a rookie (nine starts), recording 32 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Witherspoon earned an overall grade of 81.1, which made him PFF's 43rd-best cornerback in 2017. He was also the sixth-ranked rookie corner according to PFF.
WR Trent Taylor
Taylor proved to be a reliable weapon for the 49ers offense throughout the season. The fifth-round pick hauled in 43 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Taylor’s 43 receptions were third among rookie wide receivers, trailing only Cooper Kupp (62) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (58). Taylor finished the season with an overall grade of 71.6, which ranked 60th among NFL wide receivers. Amongst the rookie wideouts, Taylor ended the year ranked fourth behind Kupp, Schuster and Chris Godwin.
DB Adrian Colbert
Colbert was a major factor in the 49ers secondary. As the team’s final selection in the 2017 NFL draft, he emerged late in the season following injuries to Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward. Colbert ended the season as PFF's sixth-ranked rookie safety in 2017 despite being the 23rd safety to be selected in the draft. With an overall grade of 77.6, the safety out of the University of Miami ranked as the 46th-best safety in the NFL. Colbert notched 32 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and five passes defended in his six starts as a rookie.
*RB Matt Breida *Breida joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent, but earned the backup running back job with strong performances in training camp and preseason. Despite carrying the ball just 105 times (4.4 YPC), Breida ran for 465 yards and two touchdowns. Breida finished the season as PFF's 38th-ranked running back with an overall grade of 73.1.