The San Francisco 49ers made national headlines with their No. 3 pick, but their 2021 NFL draft might be remembered as a success for other reasons.

Let's look at how the 49ers found value in this NFL draft. Remember that they got George Kittle in the fifth round, once upon a time.

49ers NFL draft chess moves:

3. Talanoa Hufanga at pick No. 180

The 49ers have picked great defensive players from USC in the past. They took Ronnie Lott in 1981, easily the most important defensive draft pick of the Bill Walsh era. Rott was a teammate of linebacker Riki Ellison at USC. When Ellison was on the board in the 1983 NFL draft, Lott convinced Walsh and the Niner braintrust to take Ellison. The pick worked out. Ellison was a starting linebacker for San Francisco's championship teams in the 1984 and 1988 seasons.

Given that USC heritage, the 49ers went back to the well on defense and took Trojan safety Talanoa Hufanga at No. 180, midway through Day 3 on Saturday, May 1. Hufanga has a nose for the ball. He is not especially fast, but he is in the right position. He makes good reads. He has a high football IQ. He is a very coachable player who will not be fooled or outmaneuvered.

Hufanga could suffer in pass coverage, but he will be excellent in run support. He is a fearless and sound tackler. He relishes combat and can hold his own — his physical strength will enable him to be a valuable piece on special teams. He will have a role in running situations for opposing offenses. Though highly unlikely to be a star, Hufanga can stick on the roster and be a steal for the 49ers, relative to his place in the NFL draft.

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2. Trey Sermon at pick No. 88

The 49ers needed support in their running back room. They picked multiple running backs — Elijah Mitchell of Louisiana being the other one, much later in the NFL draft — but Sermon is the one who could become a special player.

Sermon played at two different blue-blood college football programs, Oklahoma and Ohio State. He knows what it means to carry high expectations and play under immense pressure. He knows what it is like to be a target of an opposing defense, a player everyone expects to get the ball on a given play. The 49ers know that Sermon did not have an easy, cushy road in his collegiate career. He is a battle-hardened player who is ready for the ruggedness and the physical challenge posed by the NFL.

Sermon has great body balance. He bounces off the first tackler and is able to lean forward after taking a hit. He has decent speed but exceptional power. He should become a reliable short-yardage back and a core part of what Kyle Shanahan is trying to establish with the 49ers.

1. Not taking Mac Jones at No. 3

The Trey Lance pick at No. 3 can be criticized because it isn't Justin Fields, and that's fair, but the best part of the Lance pick is that it wasn't Mac Jones. The media — nationally and in San Francisco — very definitely felt that Jones was going to be the pick in the week leading up to the draft. The winds did shift very late in the process, but seven to 10 days before the draft, Jones was widely viewed as the likely pick. Shanahan's ability to reconsider his decision and pivot away from Jones saved the 49ers what would have been a disastrous selection. San Francisco fans are breathing a sigh of relief as a result.