The 49ers will try to recover from a disappointing season in 2021. Let’s take a look at the five players who are most important to bringing San Francisco back to the winning team they were in 2019.
5. Jason Verrett
When Verrett was healthy, he has proven to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very often for Verrett. Since joining the NFL in 2014, Verrett has played more than six games in a season, only twice.
With Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon continuing to work independently, the 49ers need Verrett to stay healthy and reach his 2020 level of play when he replaced an injured Sherman. Verrett’s ability to report on men enabled Robert Saleh to be more aggressive with his pressure packages to make up for the lack of a pass rush.
4. Samson Ebukam
A big reason Robert Saleh called so many print packages in 2020 was the lack of a pass rush as Dee Ford was down for 46 snapshots. The loss of Ford had a ripple effect over the 49ers’ defensive line.
Without a suitable replacement for Ford, Saleh was forced to keep Arik Armstead outside in temporary situations rather than bringing him inside, as they had done with great success in 2019. Despite a career high of just three sacks before 2019, Armstead was able to thrive inside playing and finishing with 10 sacks. The 49ers had to play outside for most of 2020 and saw Armstead’s productivity drop to just 3.5 sacks.
Despite limited options during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, Ebukam has demonstrated the ability to get to the Pass Rusher. Ebukam was able to book 4.5 bags for the Rams in the last two seasons, while he only played 44 percent of the defensive snaps during this time.
3. Nick Bosa
After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, expectations for Bosa in 2020 were sky high. Those expectations went up in smoke when Bosa was lost over the New York Jets for the year at the start of a Week 2 victory. The knee injury was Bosa’s third serious 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 get back to his 2019 form and history shows that maybe he could. Bosa’s rookie of the year campaign followed when he missed most of his final season in Ohio with a core injury. A healthy Bosa should be of great help to new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, especially at the beginning of the year when he fits into his new role.
2. Deebo Samuel
Samuel has been the second most important player in the 49ers’ offensive for the past two seasons. With the versatility that Samuel brings, Shanahan can bring out the creativity of his game design to the full.
Samuel’s ability to position himself as a wide receiver or as a running back in the backfield puts a heavy strain on the opposing defenses as they are forced to focus on him, which 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 offensive, only surpassed by George Kittle. His ability to run through tackles and pick up yards after being caught is the engine that has made the 49ers’ passing game a success for the past two seasons.
1. The quarterback
The quarterback position held the 49ers back in San Francisco for most of Kyle Shanahan’s tenure.
Sure, the 49ers are 22-8 in Jimmy Garoppolo’s 30 regular season starts, but the caller’s inability to stay healthy has played a huge role in the team that ended with a record loss in three of Shanahan’s first four seasons.
This also prompted Shanahan and John Lynch to strike a deal with the Miami Dolphins to acquire the third choice in the NFL Draft.
Whether it’s Garoppolo or a rookie at the center, the quarterback’s game will ultimately determine how the 2021 49ers’ season ends.