San Francisco 49ers 2021 Team Previewby Kamran Nia August 2, 2021 0 comments
The 2020 season was injury-ridden for the San Francisco 49ers. After making a super bowl appearance the previous years, the 49ers were only good enough to muster up a 6-10 record which placed them last in the NFC West. The season gave 49ers fans the strange opportunity to watch players such as River Cracraft throughout the year.
Although it was a gloomy season, there were some positives. Rookie receiver, Brandon Aiyuk, shined. Aiyuk displayed his athleticism and versatility the whole year. In the 12 games he played, Aiyuk racked up 748 yards and one touchdown. Deebo Samuel and Aiyuk created one of the most dynamic receiving cores in the NFL when they were healthy.
With injuries to Richard Sherman and Dee Ford, Kerry Hyder Jr. and Jason Verrett were thrust into starting roles and both shined. Hyder led the team and sacks and made a solid effort to fill a void created by Nick Bosa and Ford’s injuries. Verrett took over for Sherman and was able to be an above-average cornerback. He posted a PFF grade of 77.6.
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.
The 49ers’ offseason was mostly successful. They were able to bring back a majority of their key contributors and addressed some needs in the draft. They traded a hefty sum of picks in the draft in the draft to move from the 12th pick to the third overall pick. With the third pick, they selected Trey Lance. He is a mobile quarterback from North Dakota State who should fit the 49ers system well due to his outstanding skill in play-action plays. The 49ers spent the rest of the draft addressing positional needs.
The 49ers were able to re-sign many of their important pieces during the offseason. They brought back Kyle Juszczyk, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Trent Williams, Emmanuel Moseley, and others. Bringing back Verrett and Moseley was key to solidifying the 49ers’ secondary, their biggest need. There is still a lot of work to be done to improve the 49ers secondary, but with health and the skill of the linebacker core and defensive line, the secondary that the 49ers have built should be able to hold up. The 49ers did not lose many important players during the offseason, but Hyder Jr. departed and went to the 49ers division rival, Seattle Seahawks.
Two important players were added to the 49ers roster during the offseason during free agency: Alex Mack and Ebukam. Mack is a star center who will take over Weston Richburg‘s role as he retired during the previous offseason. Ekubaum will bring his versatility as an edge rusher to fill in gaps created by injuries. Ford has a history of injuries, so Ekubaum can take over his spot in the depth chart if he is unable to play during a portion of the season.
The 49ers’ offense was average last season, ranking 15th in total yards. However, the biggest problem for the 49ers was their turnovers. They ranked 31st in the league in turnover differential, but most of it was due to injury with backup, Mullens, seeing a majority of the playtime at quarterback. This season, if the 49ers can stay healthy, their offense could be significantly better.
George Kittle, Samuel, and Aiyuk are all physical players that will make the 49ers pass catchers stand out from others. The offensive line is improved with the addition of Mack and Banks as well. Jimmy Garoppolo and Lance are not reportedly having a competition for the starting quarterback position. Therefore, it is likely Garoppolo will start Week 1, but considering his injury history and inconsistency, there is a strong chance Lance sees the field in 2021. If the 49ers’ offense stays healthy, there is a chance it could be one of the top 10 in the league this season.
The 49ers’ defense is tough to project for the 2021 season. With star defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, accepting a head coaching position with the New York Jets and the injury-filled season in 2020, the 49ers’ defense has not been seen much together on the field. DeMeco Ryans is the new defensive coordinator for the 49ers and will hope to return their defense back to their elite status from the 2019 season.
The defensive line and linebacker core are the strongest parts of the defense. With Bosa returning from an ACL injury, and the addition of Ebukam, the defensive line could be destined for greatness again. The linebacker core is just as elite as the defensive line. All-Pro, Fred Warner, leads the crew at the position with Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair next to him. The front seven can make up for mistakes made by the average secondary.
The 49ers’ secondary is likely going to be average or below-average. Verrett and Moseley will probably be the two starting outside corners. Jimmie Ward and Tartt will probably be the two starting safeties. The secondary has not been elite over the last few years, but the defensive line and linebacker core should make it easier for them this year.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
There is no reported quarterback competition between Garoppolo and Lance, so it is likely Garoppolo starts the year as the starter. However, considering Garoppolo’s injury history, there is a chance 49ers fans see Lance this season. Rosen is given another chance with the 49ers and he will likely end up as the third or fourth quarterback depending on how he performs in camp. Sudfeld, the former Philadelphia Eagles backup, is also competing for the third quarterback spot.
Mostert and Sermon are slotted to be taking a majority of the carries for the 49ers. Mostert, who has spent five years with the team, can put up strong numbers if he is healthy. In the 2019 season, Mostert rushed for 772 yards on just 137 rushing attempts. He will lead the 49ers backfield, at least to start the season.
In the draft, the 49ers drafted Sermon and Mitchell. Sermon is a great three-down back that can handle tough hits and pick up extra yards. He is set to play as the No. 2 back but there is a chance he could take over the lead guy during the season. Mitchell is a back that excels at getting to the second level quickly. If there is open space, he does a good job of accelerating through it. Mitchell could move up the depth chart with strong play. Gallman was added this offseason and is expected to provide depth. Throughout his career, Gallman has seen playtime when his team’s No. 1 running goes down due to injury. Last season he rushed for 682 yards on 147 carries in place of Saquon Barkley.
FB (1) – Kyle Juszczyk
Juszczyk is a fullback, but the 49ers consider him to be an offensive weapon. He will do many different things for the 49ers next year. Juszczyk can be a passer catcher or block for the running backs. Regardless of his role, Kyle Shanahan always finds a way to put him to good use.
The top two wide receivers are Samuel and Aiyuk, there are no questions there. Samuel’s size and Aiyuk’s elusiveness create one of the most dynamic and versatile receiving cores in the NFL. The third spot and beyond is where things get interesting.
With reports that Hurd is healthy again, he is likely the early favorite to take on the third role. After being selected in the early third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Hurd has been unable to showcase his talent due to injuries. This year he will finally get his shot in a ‘make or break’ year and if he can stay healthy, he could wind up as the 49ers’ missing piece.
Sanu has impressed during camp and could also be a candidate for the third receiver spot. His veteran experience will be useful for the 49ers regardless of how much he sees the field, but there is a good chance he sees a lot of it this year. To close out the depth chart at the wide receiver position are James and Sherfield. James will see playtime as the kick and punt returner and former Arizona Cardinal, Sherfield, will have a chance to see the field if players go down due to injury.
Kittle will be the top tight end as long as he is healthy. In 2018 and 2019 when he was healthy, Kittle put up two 1,000 plus yard seasons and proved to be one of the best tight ends due to his versatility as an elite run-blocker. Dwelley and Woerner will be the last two tight ends for the 49ers. Dwelley is a reliable tight end that can take the lead role if Kittle goes down. Woerner primarily serves as a blocker, so fans may not hear about him much on the broadcast, but he will be down in the trenches doing the dirty work.
The 49ers’ starters on the line are set in stone. With the addition of Mack and Banks, the 49ers line has a chance to be above average this year. However, if McGlinchey does not perform well again this season, there could be trouble. Brunskill, Moore, and Coleman provide depth to a 49ers line that is currently average compared to others in the league.
Kinlaw and Armstead will lead the middle of the 49ers line. Armstead has the versatility to move to the end which is why the 49ers could carry six ‘defensive tackles’ this season. The defensive line is one of the 49ers’ strongest positions. If it can stay healthy, it is one of the better ones in the league.
The 49ers’ edge rushers are some of the best in the NFL. If Bosa can return to form after missing most of the 2020 season due to an ACL injury, the 49ers’ defensive line could be special. Ekubaum provides versatility to the 49ers’ front seven. Additionally, he has good injury history; Ekubam has never missed a game due to injury in the NFL. If Ford can stay healthy, he could be one of the two starting ends, but Ekubaum has the chance to edge him out and take the starting spot. Key adds depth to a strong defensive line that the 49ers have.
Warner and Greenlaw are the stars of the 49ers linebacker core. Warner was recently named to an all-pro team and Greenlaw has made countless high-level plays after breaking out at the end of the 2019 season. After Warner and Green are where things get tricky. Justin Hilliard, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Al-Shaair, James Burgess, and Nathan Gerry all have chances to make the final roster. It is still unclear who will make it but a solid bet would be Al-Shaair and Flannigan-Fowles.
Verrett returned as a starter in 2019 after Sherman went down to injury. He shined and the 49ers were able to retain him this offseason. He is slotted to be the 49ers’ top cornerback this season. Moseley could have another shot as a starter this season, but if he is unable to perform well he will be replaced. The 49ers drafted Thomas in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft and if he plays well, he could take the starter role from Moseley.
Williams will be the starting slot cornerback and he is one of the best at that position. Lenoir is better suited in the slot rather than the outside, but it is unlikely he sees meaningful playing time this year unless Williams goes down to injury. Johnson rounds out the 49ers depth chart at the cornerback position as a depth piece.
Ward and Tartt will likely be the starters heading into the season. The duo gives the 49ers a competent safety group, but not one that is above average. With reports that Hufanga is working hard in camp, he could take the backup role at strong safety. Hufanga has been the first player in the field and the last one to leave for the 49ers during camp, a positive sign for the young safety/linebacker. Jefferson rounds out the safety group as the backup free safety.
Gould, Wishnowsky, and Pepper are probably going to be the starting kicker, punter, and long snapper’s during the next season. All three have been solid in their roles and there is little reason to move on from any of them right now.
One Player to Add
Xavien Howard would be a great addition for the 49ers. Howard recently requested a trade publicly from the Miami Dolphins. If the 49ers can trade for him, it could put them over the top. A trade like this would require the 49ers to give up lots of draft capital. Howard will likely want an extension if he is traded and the 49ers have the ability to create cap room and make it possible. Adding an elite cornerback would fix many of the 49ers’ issues on defense.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The 49ers are going to have high expectations from their fans. A team that went to the super bowl just two years ago will have a chance to make it back again this season. The 49ers are the favorites to win the NFC West right now with an over/under win total of 10.5 games. If the 49ers’ defense performs well under Ryans, they could be back in the hunt to win the super bowl.
Season Prediction: 12-5 and Win the NFC West
Follow Kamran Nia on Twitter @kamran_nia
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images