The Super Bowl hangover is usually reserved for the victor. However, this past season it was the runner-ups in the San Francisco 49ers. The 2020 49ers team was a disappointment and featured one of the most extended lists of injuries in the National Football League. Unfortunately, this time the injury bug took out several big-name players, including tight end George Kittle and edge rusher Nick Bosa to name a couple.
After starting the season 4-4, head coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers were in the range of potentially sneaking into the NFC playoffs. However, the wheels fell off the wagon as the 49ers went 2-6 to finish the year. They fell to the last place in the NFC West and a 6-10 record.
What Went Right
Unfortunately, there weren’t too many things that went right for this team in 2020. However, some things that did was how some of their rookies performed this season. Wideout Brandon Aiyuk was shoved into a prominent role early on in the offense, with Deebo Samuel sitting out most of the season. Aiyuk finished the year with 96 targets, 60 receptions, 748 yards, and five touchdowns in 12 games, all of which he led the team in. Meanwhile, Javon Kinlaw didn’t have the breakout season that some might of thought. But he still showed enough flashes with his 33 tackles and even an interception that he could be in store for a breakout season next year.
The other positive from 2020 was some of the new additions to the team. Veteran, All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams held down the blindside for Jimmy Garappolo and Nick Mullens and also was a dominant force in the run game. Williams was PFF’s highest-graded tackle of 2020 with a 91.9 grade. Defensively, defensive lineman Kerry Hyder came out of nowhere due to injuries and led the team in sacks with 8.5. Cornerback Jason Verrett also got the call with Richard Sherman out of duty and was a lockdown corner throughout the season, grabbing two interceptions and seven passes defended. While not a new addition to the defense, linebacker Fred Warner also had himself a season. He racked up 125 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defended, and five tackles for loss.
What Went Wrong
Finishing last in your division after making it to the Super Bowl in the previous season certainly is not what the 49ers were expecting this season. However, injuries plagued this team, with several big names including Kittle, Bosa, and Garapppolo missing the second half of the season. The defense especially was hammered with injuries as edge rusher Dee Ford missed the majority of the season. Free-agent signing Ezekiel Ansah also missed all but the first four weeks. Cornerback Richard Sherman missed 12 weeks, and defensive lineman Soloman Thomas got injured in Week 3 and was sent to the Injured Reserve for the rest of the season. Offensively, it was the same story. Kittle missed nine weeks throughout the season, wideout Samuel missed 12 weeks, and free-agent signing Jordan Reed also missed six weeks. Running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman missed significant time as well.
After that laundry list of injuries, you can expect that this was not a great season. The offense was a turnover machine averaging just under two a game and had the 2nd most turnovers in the NFL. Nick Mullens, who filled in for Garappolo in the second half of the season, threw 12 interceptions and also lost four fumbles accounting for over half of the team’s 31 turnovers. Mullens finished the season with just 12 touchdown passes, a 64 percent completion percentage, and an 84.1 passer rating.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Fred Warner
Warner has solidified himself as one of the best young linebackers in the NFL. The now three-year veteran earned both his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods after a 125 tackle season. Warner wrapped up the 2020 season with potentially two of his best games of the year, featuring a 14-tackle performance in Week 16, followed by a 10-tackle performance in Week 17. The All-Pro also grabbed his only sack of the season in the latter. Warner was one of the few bright spots on this team and the 49ers should leave his name out of potential trade talks this offseason.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Brandon Aiyuk
Aiyuk looked to serve as a role player in a loaded 49ers skill position room and wound up being the center of attention due to a laundry list of injuries to the 49ers’ offense. The rookie wideout led the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Aiyuk only played in 12 games himself, but he still caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns. The former Arizona State Sun Devil was one of five rookie wideouts with those numbers and was the only one who didn’t play in all 16 games.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Javon Kinlaw
Seeing that Kinlaw was the only defensive rookie to receive significant playing time this season, he finds himself with this award. All was not bad for Kinlaw’s season, but he certainly did not live up to the hype he was receiving in the offseason and preseason. The former South Carolina Gamecock was finally facing players who were his size, so he could no longer just bully his way to the quarterback. However, suppose he refines his pass-rushing moves and learns how to attack opposing guards this offseason. In that case, he could turn into the beast of a defensive tackle that people thought he would be.
Biggest Surprise – Kerry Hyder
The 49ers brought in Hyder as a free agent this past offseason and he likely didn’t expect significant playing time. However, due to Bosa, Thomas, and Ford’s injuries, Hyder got a chance to prove himself, and he did just that. The journeyman defensive end set career highs in sacks with 8.5 and tackles with 49. Hyder nearly doubled his career sack total having just 10 in the four seasons before 2020.
The only issue is that Hyder is a free agent this offseason once again. If the 49ers want to go with production over potential, they should cut ties with Ford and let Hyder roll out full time again for the 2021 season.
Biggest Disappointment – Jimmy Garappolo
Whatever plans the 49ers had for Garappolo have gone by the wayside in his time with the team. Unfortunately, Garappolo has struggled to stay healthy in his time with the 49ers and has only played one full season in 2019. However, after an ankle injury and poor play when he was healthy this season and turning 30, Garappolo has turned into a massive disappointment. He will likely find himself suiting up for a new team next season.
One Burning Question
Who is the quarterback for 2021?
The Garappolo experiment has not gone as planned for the 49ers. After starting his career in the Bay 5-0, Garappolo has dealt with several injuries and hasn’t been a significant player in the offense when he’s healthy. Garappolo led his team to a 3-3 record before going down with another season-ending injury and threw seven touchdowns to five interceptions. Rumors have spread that Deshaun Watson would be a potential trade option for the team. They have the proven talent to sway the Houston Texans into doing so potentially. Or do they go after a quarterback in the draft and trade up? However, one thing is sure. Garappolo has not lived up to the contract they gave him. Plus, the team would free up $20 million or more by trading or cutting him.