The Future is Now for Rookie-led 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers' win over the New York Giants not only served as their first of the season, but also as richly deserved reward for a team that has established an unheralded but extremely promising young core.

Anyone who has watched the 49ers closely this season should have recognized that amid all the heart-breaking defeats early in the season and the injuries that have afflicted the team in recent times, there have been a plethora of extremely impressive performances from the younger members of the roster.

Indeed, the longer this season has gone on, the more it has become apparent that general manager John Lynch did a very nice job with his first draft.

As Rob Lowder of The Niners Wire points out, seven of the 49ers' 10 draft picks are currently starting.

That is partially down to injuries and it is also an indicator of just how bare the 49ers' roster was prior to Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan taking over, but it is also a testament to the quality of play produced by these rookies.

Third overall pick Solomon Thomas has missed the last two games because of an MCL sprain but was already flashing talent as a pass rusher, with his combination of power and quickness also allowing him to excel significantly in defending the run.

Injuries prevented first-round linebacker Reuben Foster from finishing a full game until the Week 9 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but his showings in that game and last Sunday's victory have been an exhibition of the instincts and athleticism Foster displayed consistently in college.

Foster is already ninth on the team in total tackles and three of the players above him are either no longer with the team or on injured reserve. Providing he stays healthy, he could well end the season top of that list.

Ahkello Witherspoon has given up some big plays, but the third-rounder's play in coverage has been excellent, and he has started to allay concerns over his tackling with some fine plays in the run game. His intelligent and composed showings have been in marked contrast to the man he replaced, Rashard Robinson, who is now with the New York Jets.

Durability is a concern with Foster, but it is not an issue for quarterback C.J. Beathard, whose toughness has been widely lauded as he has taken a beating behind a shaky offensive line.

Beathard produced the best performance of his career against the Giants and did so without two emerging weapons in the passing game, fifth-rounders George Kittle and Trent Taylor, who have carved out starting roles at tight end and slot receiver respectively and proved reliable options on key downs, though the former has had issues with drops.

Potentially the biggest find of the 49ers' draft class is seventh-rounder Adrian Colbert, who has been promoted to starting free safety because of injuries and showcased range and physicality to suggest he can make that role his own long term.

Undrafted free agent Matt Breida has complemented Carlos Hyde extremely well in the running game while undrafted receiver Kendrick Bourne and return man Victor Bolden have each made contributions.

It is not just rookies who have caught the eye this year, though, 2016 first-round pick DeForest Buckner has generated amounts of pressure that should have yielded much more than his 1.5 sacks and 2015 second-rounder Jaquiski Tartt was enjoying a breakout season at safety prior to suffering a broken arm against the Cardinals.

Another member of the 2015 class to impress is right tackle Trent Brown, who has again excelled in pass protection and hardly missed a step when forced to switch to left tackle versus Arizona.

The big question going forward surrounds who Brown will be protecting for down the stretch following the trade for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo figures to receive time under center at some point this season as the Niners try to evaluate him before the offseason, when he will be a free agent.

The former New England Patriot is seen as the Niners' quarterback of the future and, should the 26-year-old perform well if and when he sees the field, then San Francisco will have a starter and backup both with time on their side and experience in the system under their belts.

All the praise for the younger players on the 49ers' roster comes with the caveat that this team still has plenty of weaknesses, with the interior of the offensive line, the pass rush and the secondary particular issues.

But the way in which their recent draft picks and undrafted free agent signings have played has given the 49ers a young base to build from. These players are the future of the team and, with so many rookies and young guys assuming significant roles, the future is now for San Francisco.

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