The 49ers kicked off the first session of OTAs today.
This is the first step for the 49ers to get back into the thick of things. It is essentially a warmup for when training camp arrives in a little more than two months.
But OTAs also act as the first step for a handful of players with a chip on their shoulder. Every player has something to prove going into the season, but there are some who are more emphasized than others.
Here are five 49ers with the most to prove in 2021.
The elephant in the room of players with the most to prove is Jimmy Garoppolo. There is no other player on the 49ers who needs a strong 2021 season more than him. 2020 was abysmal for Garoppolo. He cemented himself as an injury-prone player, and the limited action he was featured in was average at best. Garoppolo has to bounce back stronger than ever. Not only does he need to maintain his health through a stroke of luck, but he needs to be able to perform well and prove to be an adequate mentor to Trey Lance.
This is assuredly Garoppolo's last season with the 49ers. If he wants other teams to acquire his service at the salary he is used to, then he needs to prove he is healthy, he is a solid quarterback, and a valiant teammate/mentor to Lance. Doing all of this will raise his stock, which means he will have suitors willing to pay the salary he is accustomed to. Otherwise, if he fails any of these objectives, then he will miss out on the best-case scenario for himself in 2022.
The 49ers rolled out a turnstile at right tackle, and his name is Mike McGlinchey. That turnstile needs to make like a Pokemon and evolve into something stronger. 2020 was just atrocious for McGlinchey. It wasn't that he was terrible on every snap. He actually was solid as a run blocker and sub-par at best in pass blocking. However, most of his whiffs came in critical moments of games. And for an offense that was missing so many star players, he was the guy that the 49ers needed to lean on.
Instead, McGlinchey refuted criticism and alienated those critics. 2021 needs to be a huge bounce-back season for him. He needs to stop pointing the finger and have some accountability. As much as I slander McGlinchey, I believe he will step into 2021 superbly. The guy just needed to hit the reset button this offseason because 2020 clearly was a mess for him and the 49ers. McGlinchey still needs to prove that he is worthy of a top-10 draft pick and needs to start working toward that next contract extension.
2020 revealed a lot about the 49ers. One of those things was that Arik Armstead is not an elite player. If he was, he would not need to rely solely upon a supporting cast to make an impact. Armstead needs Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, basically any sweet edge talent, surrounding him so that he can excel. In 2019, Armstead stormed onto the scene so suddenly. That is because of who was around him. In 2020, when that was taken away and more was asked of him, he failed.
Now that Bosa, and maybe Ford, are returning along with an ideally improved Javon Kinlaw, Armstead has to prove that 2019 was not an outlier. He needs to show that he is still a strong talent with the right teammates. Armstead not being able to make a major impact in 2020 is not a slight against him. There are only a handful of defensive lineman in the league capable of it. But Armstead cannot be failing when reinforcements do arrive in 2021, or his extension will start to look like a bust.
Including Deebo Samuel in this list may appear to be the most eyebrow raising to you. However, Samuel is on the fence as an injury-prone player and is viewed as a gadget player. Right now, Brandon Aiyuk is the better wide receiver. Samuel has to be able, like Garoppolo, to find that stroke of luck when it comes to his health. He cannot be a damaged goods player because when is healthy he is a sight to see.
But he must also start to be seen more as a receiver. Everything about him right now is jet sweeps and the short game, while Aiyuk feasts on intermediate and deep routes. Perhaps if Lance were to start seeing snaps later in the season, or whenever he is implemented, then Samuel will start to look like a stud.
The 49ers drafted two running backs. That is a clear indication of what Kyle Shanahan thinks of the running back room. I believe Raheem Mostert is the most in danger because of those rookies. Every season with the 49ers he has sustained injury after injury, which has been the common theme here for all of these players needing to prove more in 2021. Mostert, as phenomenal as he is in the offense when healthy, is not capable of being that bell cow running back.
I sincerely doubt Shanahan will ever give him 15 or more carries ever in a game in 2021. Jeff Wilson Jr. is behind him along with the two rookies who can step in. Then there is also JaMycal Hasty who could be mustering a strong return himself. This upcoming season is likely the last for Mostert. Health has to be on his side and he needs to remind everyone that he is a force to be reckoned with when he is running the rock. If he can do that, he will find himself opportunities in 2022.