SANTA CLARA — The main characters of the 49ers’ dramatic, historic turnaround were mostly rookies.
Twelve rookie draft picks, seven undrafted rookie free agents and one sort-of-kind-of rookie quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo isn’t an actual rookie — he has been in the NFL four seasons. But, he has started only seven games. He has less game experience than many of the real rookies on the 49ers.
“Obviously Jimmy came in and was fabulous,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in the 49ers auditorium Tuesday afternoon. “He was great for us and he made people around him better. I think that’s the mark of a player who has an opportunity to be special — do you make people around you better? He did that.
“There was also a confluence of a bunch of young guys that were improving. Around that same time, a couple things happened. We got healthy after enduring a lot of tough injuries, and the experience level of some of these players and the confidence level started to kick in.”
By the end of the season, the 49ers were one of the hottest teams in the NFL — they won six of their final seven games. And they had 15 rookies on their 53-man roster, plus three more rookies on IR.
Here are the rookies’ names:
Solomon Thomas, defensive end, first-round pick. Started 12 games and recorded three sacks.
Reuben Foster, linebacker, first-round pick. Started 10 games and recorded 72 tackles.
Ahkello Witherspoon, cornerback, third-round pick. Started nine games and intercepted two passes.
C.J. Beathard, quarterback, third-round pick. Appeared in seven games, started five games and threw for 1,430 yards.
George Kittle, tight end, fifth-round pick. Appeared in 15 games, started seven games and caught 43 passes.
Trent Taylor, wide receiver, fifth-round pick. Appeared in 15 games, started one game and caught 43 passes.
D.J. Jones, defensive lineman, sixth-round pick. Appeared in nine games and recorded 10 tackles.
Pita Taumoepenu, linebacker, sixth-round pick. Appeared in no games but maintained his spot on the 53-man roster all season.
Adrian Colbert, safety, seventh-round pick. Appeared in 14 games, started six games, recorded 37 tackles, broke up five passes, forced two fumbles, recovered one fumble and won the Thomas Herrion Memorial Award for the rookie who best took advantage of his opportunity with the 49ers.
Jeremy McNichols, running back, fifth-round pick. Got cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Signed with the 49ers on Sept. 4. Appeared in two games.
Elijah Lee, linebacker, seventh-round pick. Got cut by the Minnesota Vikings. Signed with the 49ers on Sept. 13. Appeared in 14 games.
Victor Bolden Jr., wide receiver/kick returner, undrafted free agent. Appeared in nine games and returned 19 kickoffs. Injured his ankle Week 14 and went on IR.
Cole Hikutini, tight end, undrafted free agent. Appeared in four games and caught two passes. Sprained his MCL Week 9 and went on IR.
Erik Magnuson, offensive lineman, undrafted free agent. Appeared in four games and started two games at right tackle. Sprained his foot Week 12 and went on IR.
Darrell Williams Jr., offensive tackle, undrafted free agent. Appeared in seven games.