49ers Prove They Found a Gem Once Labeled a ‘Practice Squad Candidate’

49ers

Getty Greg Dortch gets tackled on the air by Deommodore Lenoir on November 21, 2022 in Mexico City.

It was supposed to be a mismatch at the 8:07 mark of the first quarter the moment the San Francisco 49ers momentarily lost their No. 1 cornerback Charvarius Ward in Mexico City.

Once Ward left with what was believed to be a groin injury, Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury let it be known he was going to attack Ward’s replacement with his best wide receiver De’Andre Hopkins on the next play — in what was a battle between perennial All-Pro and a cornerback once called a “candidate for the bottom of the roster or practice squad” before he entered the league.

But Deommodore Lenoir wasn’t fazed.

The defender who wasn’t considered a first round talent and called practice squad material in his draft evaluation by nfl.com maintained his stance as Hopkins tried to long arm him to create separation. Lenoir, however, stayed in front of the man who has tormented corners over the years…and the football intended for “D-Hop” instead sailed nearly five yards over them.

Lenoir claimed the personal win over Hopkins. In the process, the 49ers proved they discovered another late round gem.


‘Hyena’ Maintaining his Territory


Known as “The Hyena,” the 5-foot-11, 195-pound former Oregon Duck and fifth rounder has proven to be territorial toward his surroundings since the 49ers expanded his playing time.

And, in a position group that lost two defenders to season ending ACL tears, it’s the 173rd overall selection of the 2021 draft who has stepped into the role of being the second lockdown option on the perimeter. Here’s what Lenoir has accomplished when called upon:

Streak of denying six: Lenoir hasn’t surrendered a touchdown his side since the December 5, 2021 road contest against the Seattle Seahawks. That’s a personal streak of 10 straight games when he’s been given five defensive snaps or more. And this season, he’s been on the field between 35 to 74 defensive plays since Week 3 versus the Denver Broncos.

Lowering the catch and yardage count: Per Pro Football Reference Advanced Stats, Lenoir once surrendered nine receptions for 89 yards his side against the Los Angeles Rams then seven grabs for 102 yards in the following week to the Carolina Panthers. But since then? He hasn’t allowed more than three receptions or 50 yards his side according to Pro Football Focus. And against the Cards, Lenoir earned the highest grade in coverage at 77.1.

Proof of versatility: In Eugene, Lenoir lined up in multiple spots including safety. Lenoir first started out as the slot CB replacement for K’Waun Williams (Broncos). But then moved outside and has since held his own opposite of Ward.

Finally, here’s the list of receivers who were challenged by “The Hyena” the last five weeks and the end result:

  • Drake London: Two targets, limited to one catch for 20 yards. The 2022 top 10 draft pick for the Atlanta Falcons London, who played college football against Lenoir at USC, had a six inch height advantage against the 49er.
  • Juju Smith-Schuster: The 2018 Pro Bowler caught just one reception against Lenoir…for five yards.
  • Travis Kelce: Lenoir even took on the perennial Pro Bowl tight end for one play against the Kansas City Chiefs. The end result was one reception for nine yards.
  • Cooper Kupp: Lenoir allowed 43 yards facing the Super Bowl 56 Most Valuable Player for the Rams. But that was only two receptions in the Week 8 romp.
  • Allen Robinson: Lenoir additionally took on the Rams’ towering WR and past Pro Bowler with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Zero catches on one target.
  • Josh Palmer: The Chargers WR entered Levi’s Stadium coming off an eight catch, 106-yard day against the Falcons the previous week. He had zero catches on one target facing Lenoir.

And the Cards had no wide receiver catch a pass against Lenoir.


Praise Includes Injured 49er for Lenoir

Before the forced incompletion facing Hopkins, Lenoir helped set the tone against Arizona with a tackle for a loss on the game’s opening play…one where ‘Zona lost six yards.

The praise began for Lenoir — including from one injured 49er who watched.

The praise continued with Sterling Bennett of 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area.

Marc Grandi, also from 95.7 The Game, tweeted this review of Lenoir.

And before the 49ers game, Akash Anavarathan of Niners Nation on SB Nation labeled Lenoir an “unsung hero” of the 49ers defense. Furthermore, Lenoir has joined the list of former fifth rounders who have risen fast in S.F. — a club that includes George Kittle, Dre Greenlaw and fellow 2021 draft mate Talanoa Hufanga.

Not bad for someone once called a potential practice squad member.

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