If 2019 was the perfect summer day at the beach for 49ers, 2020 turned out to be a tsunami. "The Revenge Tour" was a horror movie. While injuries contributed to the fall down from Everest, we need to study whether the 49ers have advanced moving into the 2021 season.
1) Special Teams
Special teams were the Achilles' heel in 2020. In the Week 1 game against Arizona Cardinals, Mitch Wishnowsky's punt was blocked when the 49ers led 10-0. In the subsequent play, the Cardinals scored a touchdown to cut the lead by 7 points. Throughout the season 49ers had costly fumbles and turnovers on special teams. We do not know how much the coaching staff has prepared to fix it. A reliable kick/punt returner and enhanced punting production from Wishnowsky is a necessity for 49ers in 2021. Robbie Gould needs to sustain his fame to propel the 49ers.
Improved - Too early to predict
What damaged the 49ers most last season was not the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo, it was the quality of the backups that were ready to fill in. This has formed the legend that Kyle Shanahan cannot win without Garoppolo, which is embarrassing for one of the most gifted play-callers. The 49ers corrected their previous mistakes by letting Nick Mullens and C. J. Beathard walk and adding Josh Rosen to the crew. The only question mark remains what will be the role of Nate Sudfeld.
Improved - Yes
3) Offensive Line
In 2020, Mike McGlinchey made headlines for all the wrong causes. Under heavy media scrutiny over his pass protection and physical condition, the 26-year-old offensive tackle went through a difficult time. With the signing of Alex Mack and the rookies drafted, the 49ers expect to turn the tables in 2021.
Improved - Yes
Robert Saleh left the organization while DeMeco Ryans took over as the first-time defensive coordinator. Ryans will have to learn fast and acclimate, and the return of Nick Bosa should raise the team. But even Saleh struggled against mobile quarterbacks such as Josh Allen in 2020. That struggle could continue for Ryans. But most importantly, the schedule consists of 5 teams that finished last in their division last year. That will give breathing space to Ryans.
Improved - Same
5) Running Backs
The run game is the signature of the 49ers. With the golden boy Raheem Mostert unable to stay healthy, the team struggled to find suitable replacements to execute the trademark run game. Even with the injury to Jeff Wilson Jr. during this offseason, the running back group looks promising with free-agent signing Wayne Gallman and the rookies. The overhaul of running backs will allow Shanahan to dominate the defenses by his ground game while using Mostert as an impact player with fewer carries per game.
Improved - Yes
Anyone related to the 49ers does not want to hear the word "injuries." The epidemic already started in 2021 with injuries to Jeff Wilson, Justin Skule and Tarvarius Moore. It is shocking to see that Shanahan has yet to crack the secret behind what makes the 49ers one of the most injury-prone teams in the entire league after four seasons at the helm. Until a proper fix is done, injuries will frequent the team in the future as well.
Improved - No
7) Kyle Shanahan
Adding Shanahan to this list might be unexpected. With an under .500 winning record, he needs to mature as a coach going into 2021. During media interviews, Shanahan was not able to justify the reasoning behind injuries. Finally, the quarterback room seems stable for the first time in his tenure, an encouraging sign that Shanahan realizes the need for a more dynamic quarterback to enhance his offense and quality backup.
But he needs to avoid ambitious play-calling, which hurt 49ers. In 2020 with his backup quarterbacks operating, Shanahan made some calls that resulted in turnovers. Those are execution blunders by the backup quarterbacks, but adjusting to the limitations of his players is a must. This is a make-or-break season for the coach who has only one winning season under his belt so far.
Improved - Maybe