The 49ers will be looking to rebound from a disappointing season in 2021. Let’s take a look at the five players who will be most important to getting San Francisco back to the winning team they were in 2019.
5. Jason Verrett
When Verrett has been healthy, he has proven himself to be among the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Unfortunately for Verrett, that hasn’t been very often. Since coming into the NFL in 2014, Verrett has played more than six games in a season only twice.
With Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon moving on in free agency, the 49ers need Verrett to stay healthy and match his level of play from 2020 when he stepped in to replace an injured Sherman. Verrett’s ability in man coverage allowed Robert Saleh to be more aggressive with his pressure packages to help make up for the lack of a pass rush.
4. Samson Ebukam
A big reason that Robert Saleh was calling so many pressure packages in 2020 was the lack of pass rush due to Dee Ford being out for all but 46 snaps. The loss of Ford had a ripple effect across the 49ers defensive line.
Without a suitable replacement for Ford, Saleh was forced to keep Arik Armstead outside in passing situations instead of moving him inside like they had done with great success in 2019. Despite having a career high of only three sacks prior to 2019, Armstead was able to thrive playing inside, finishing with 10 sacks. Forced to play outside for most of 2020, the 49ers saw Armstead’s productivity drop back down to only 3.5 sacks.
Despite limited opportunities during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, Ebukam has shown the ability to get to the pass rusher. Ebukam was able to post 4.5 sacks for the Rams in each of the last two seasons while playing only 44 percent of defensive snaps over that time.
3. Nick Bosa
After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, expectations for Bosa were sky high in 2020. Those expectations went up in smoke when Bosa was lost for the year early in a Week 2 victory over the New York Jets. The knee injury was Bosa’s third major injury in six seasons dating back to his senior year in high school when he tore a ligament in his other knee.
The 49ers need Bosa to return to his 2019 form, and history shows that he just might. Bosa’s rookie of the year campaign followed him missing most of his final season at Ohio State due to a core injury. A healthy Bosa should be a big help for new defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, especially early in the year as he settles into his new role.
2. Deebo Samuel
Samuel has been the second most important player for the 49ers’ offense over the last two seasons. With the versatility that Samuel brings, Shanahan is able to fully bring out the creativity of his play design.
Samuel’s ability to line up as a wide receiver, or in the backfield as a running back puts a great deal of strain on opposing defenses, as this forces them to put focus on him which thus opens up opportunities for George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk or Raheem Mostert.
Position flexibility isn’t the only thing that makes Samuel so valuable. Despite weighing only 215 pounds, Samuel is one of the most physical players on the 49ers’ offense, matched only by George Kittle. His ability to run through tackles and pick up yards after the catch is the engine that has made the 49ers passing game go over the last two seasons.
1. The Quarterback
The quarterback position has held back the 49ers for most of Kyle Shanahan’s tenure in San Francisco.
Sure, the 49ers are 22-8 in Jimmy Garoppolo’s 30 regular season starts, however the signal caller’s inability to stay healthy has played a large role in the team finishing with a losing record in three of Shanahan’s first four seasons with the team.
This also led Shanahan and John Lynch to make a trade with the Miami Dolphins to acquire the third pick in the NFL Draft.
Whether it is Garoppolo or a rookie under center, the play of the quarterback will ultimately decide how the 49ers 2021 season turns out.