Skip to main content

It was the Spring of 2021 and then-rookie Deommodore Lenoir thought his short time with the San Francisco 49ers was over after he accidentally posted a video to Instagram that got Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers in a little bit of trouble.

“I was like, ‘They about to cut me…Well, had a good run.'”

The video showed Lenoir making contact with a wide receiver in practice, and with that being a rookie minicamp no-no, the team was docketed a week of rookie development.

“He’s the one in rookie camp who got me fined right away for jamming someone too hard and putting it on the internet,” Shanahan said this week. “So it took me a little bit of time to get over that.”

Narrator: Shanahan got over it and Lenoir did not get cut, which is good news for the 49ers’ secondary.

“DMo’s always been a bulldog,” Shanahan said. “I think that’s why he plays at such a high level.”

Embed from Getty Images

In Saturday’s Divisional Round win over the Packers, Pro Football Focus had Lenoir as San Francisco’s highest-graded defensive back with an overall grade of 76.5.

“DMo plays at a level that I think that’s higher than most guys, just from a mentality standpoint,” Shanahan said. “He doesn’t hesitate, he shoots his guns all the time, doesn’t blink, plays extremely physical, is on guys. He’s mentally aggressive and he’s physically aggressive, which allows you to make plays and allows you to get away with things sometimes when you’re a little off. So, Demo was huge. He’s been huge all year. I love the style of how he plays.”

Lenoir was targeted four times, giving up two receptions for eight yards. He had five tackles and finished just behind Fred Warner with four stops. Warner had six.

“He was turning me up,” said wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. “He had the whole entire team turned up on Saturday, so we just need him to stay on it.”

The 49ers have needed a lot out of Lenoir this season. Due to various issues in the secondary, the third-year vet lines up at nickel and on the outside, and he has excelled at both, which is not the norm.

“He’s playing two positions right now,” said 49ers defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks. “…[T]hat’s asking a lot from a player. He’s our starting nickel and also he’s our starting corner on the outside…I have coached a few players like that, but he’s one of the few.”

Putting in the extra work is big part of it, but Lenoir also exudes a confidence that can’t necessarily be taught.

“He’s just a confident individual and I think it just goes with preparation,” said 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. “I think he has put a lot of time and effort into his craft this offseason. You can see his technique has improved, which allows him to be able to go out and perform at a high level. We have a lot of confidence in him. That’s the reason why we can move him around and do the things that we do with him.”

But again, it’s the confidence.

“He was definitely born with,” said 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward. “It just had to come out of him a little bit…He plays with that aggression. He always want to hit somebody. He looking for the contact. He always trying to get him to the play and make his presence felt, make his presence known in the pass game and the run game. It just like the intensity he plays with, he jump off the film sometimes.”

Lenoir is tough, scrappy and physical. His nickname is the Hyena, and well, they are known for having the strongest bite of any mammal. Lenoir was the ninth in a line of 12 kids in his house, with a total of 21 siblings in the family overall. So, a big bite was necessary.

Embed from Getty Images

“I think it was from having so many siblings because at a point of time, I was one of the youngest, so everybody else was bigger than me,” Lenoir said. “I had to, not fight, but not let them push me over and let them get what they want, just because I was young and small. That played a part in being tough, I would say.”

So tough that linebacker Dre Greenlaw sometimes thinks Lenoir is contributing at a third position.

“He’s just all over the field and sometimes you think that’s our third linebacker out there just the way that he be laying guys out,” Greenlaw said. “We just got confidence in him, just all around, just the way that he cover, the way he moves. And we know he’s going to come in and tackle somebody in the box. DMo is one of my favorite players on team.”

The toughness and the scrappiness is part of who he is, but Lenoir’s game was elevated when he learned how to harness and fine tune those qualities.

“Talking about that dog, he’s always had that in him,” Warner said. “It was a matter of figuring it out, being more consistent. Being on top of his stuff, day in and day out, understanding how much practice can make him a better player. And I think he’s obviously developed and grown into one of the best players on our team, regardless of the position.”

Lenoir reminds wide receiver Jauan Jenning of a former 49ers cornerback, one who took his talents to Denver.

“I feel like DMo is definitely scrappy,” Jenning said. “I always think about K’Waun Williams [in that nickel] role and DMo is that guy. He’s a little bit different from K’Waun Williams, because I think he can go intercept the ball with ease…He’s just not scared of anything…He plays with no hesitation and a lot of players don’t do that. To me, that’s special.”

That comes with work and preparation and growth, all things Bullocks has seen from Lenoir.

“Taking it from the classroom to the field…you can see all the success that he had this year is dedicated towards his preparation that he puts in on and off the field,” Bullocks said. “I see him mature a lot. He’s communicating more on the field and also in the meeting rooms…[W]hen he first got here he didn’t say much at all unless he was spoken to, but now he’s calling stuff out…”

Aiyuk has seen the growth too, and he’s seen it for awhile.

“There was a moment in time where you could just feel like you just feel his hunger every single day at practice, every single game and he’s built off that since that point,” Aiyuk said. “And he’s balling right now…but from that moment on, he’s been playing great football. He’s been elevating the receivers, the guys that are going up against him and elevating himself into a top player in the league.”

Embed from Getty Images

A top player who still makes mistakes and still learns from them.

In Week 14, a kerfuffle broke out on the field between the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Lenoir got himself into the middle of it and he, along with Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, were ejected from the game. The 49ers won the game, and Lenoir was not suspended further, but that wasn’t a guarantee.

Embed from Getty Images

Shanahan said later that Lenoir reached out and apologized.

“After that whole ejection, after it happened, I was like, ‘That was dumb. I shouldn’t have even did that,'” Lenoir said. “We said in the team meeting that we was going to get them to do all the fussing and fighting and stuff, and then I just played into they part. That’s why I texted them, because I was like, ‘Damn, I shouldn’t have even did that. I feel dumb.’

I didn’t even get to finish the game with my teammates and I didn’t even get to talk to the players after the game. I was just sitting in the locker room already dressed. I ain’t want that feeling no more. So every time I’m on the field and then I’m arguing with somebody or something’s happening or somebody’s mad, I just be like, I ain’t going to never let them get me like that. I know the farthest I can go is what I’m saying.”

That’s maturity and that’s growth.

Lenoir was picked as a Pro Bowl alternate this year, but Ward, who is a Pro Bowl starter and who made second-team All Pro, sees more accolades for his “little bro.”

“He damn near was playing at an All-Pro level at the nickel position this year,” Ward said. “He should have been considered for that. But DMo, that’s little bro. That’s my dog…He might not admit it. I think he kind of look up to me a little bit though. He saw me go All-Pro and Pro Bowl this year. I’m pretty sure that was good ass motivation to him.

I feel like he got just as much as talent as me, so just me doing it right in front of him, right next to him, he know it’s possible for him to do it. We in the same scheme, even though he playing nickel. Sometimes he a corner, but DMo, he a dog, so I’m glad my little bro doing his thing.”

The dog thing keeps coming up, and though they are not in the family, there are similarities to hyenas.

“The mentality he has and carries himself, just a dog mentality, just going and keep persevering and keep just fighting through adversity,” said 49ers corner Samuel Womack. “And even when you fight through the adversity, just keep going and be a dog every single play, every single day. And that’s really how he carries himself.”

That mentality carries over into his personal life, where being a good role model and father to his two-year old son Titan is a priority.

“[I’m] just trying to just teach him to live right and all the stuff that I didn’t get to hear while growing up,” Lenoir said. “My dad, he was there, but we ain’t really had those talks, father-son talks. So I just want to be there for my son and have that talk with him and just be able to just put him in the best position. Because I came from a family, we wasn’t poverty, but we had a little amount of money just to make it. So it was days where I didn’t get stuff that I wanted, so I’m saying I’m going to make it to where my son, he can get whatever he want.”

Throughout his family, Lenoir is the person that’s relied upon and called upon.

“People lean on me,” Lenoir said. “I don’t really get to lean on nobody. In my family, we ain’t got no lawyers, we ain’t got no doctors. So I’m the top of the top in my family so when something go wrong, they call me. I embrace it. God put me in this position and he asked me to do my task and I just handled it the best I can.”

As the 49ers take the field in their third-straight NFC Championship, the 49ers defense will be leaning on Lenoir to make the plays he’s made all season and help get them to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.

“I feel like the best player shows up in the playoffs and we’ve been doing this for three years and I just feel like I owe my teammates just so much, just with us trying to win and trying to get a ring,” Lenoir said. “I’m just laying it all on the line. I’m just shooting my guns, taking my shots and trying to make something happen for us to win.”