08 May Breakout and Flop Candidates
Every year in the NFL, players impress people around the league, and others disappoint their teams. In the case of the 49ers, there were two notable players that took it to the next level: Fred Warner, and Jeff Wilson. In the same way they shocked football fans, two other players completely performed below the standards: Arik Armstead, and Mike McGlinchey. These impactful changes affect the direction of the team throughout the year, as they could be the reason they reach the playoffs or not.
Last year, Fred Warner became widely regarded as the best linebacker in the league, as he played a big role in an injury-riddled defense. He led the team in tackles and was always the best player on the field. The first kickoff of the year is coming closer every day, and there are some clear players that might be set up for success or falter into failure.
The 49ers filled their backfield during the offseason as the ground production in the 2020 season was pretty disappointing. The leading rusher in the team, Jeff Wilson, only had 600 yards. With Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert each on the last year of their contracts, the 49ers drafted two talented running backs, and added veteran Wayne Gallman for more competition. Trey Sermon was not the fastest running back in his time with the Oklahoma Sooners or the Ohio State Buckeyes, but he was very productive and carved out a role utilizing his physical tools. Presumptive starting running back Raheem Mostert, who was injured for most of last season, is coming into the last year of his contract. It could very likely be his last year as a 49er. He is 29 years old — which is normally when running backs start to regress, and his elusive style of play is only going to wear off as time goes through. Mostert has not proved he is capable of remaining healthy for 16 (now 17) games straight as the lead back. If Mostert gets injured, Trey Sermon would most likely win the starting running back job and hopefully hit the ground running.
Some would describe Javon Kinlaw’s rookie season as disappointing, and consider him being selected with the 14th pick as a mistake. During his rookie season, Kinlaw had 1.5 sacks and a total of 33 tackles, showing to have a mediocre season. Although the stats demonstrate he was nothing impressive, if you look beyond the stat sheet, he did show some sparks with some big plays, including a pick-6 against the Los Angeles Rams. Defensive tackles normally take a year or two to develop properly, and the 49ers are trying to rebuild their spectacular 2019 defensive line, which was crucial for them to reach the Super Bowl. With stud edge rusher, Nick Bosa, and newly added, Samson Ebukam, Kinlaw might receive enough support to be more consistent and have a massive season, proving his worth.
The 49ers struggled a lot in the cornerback position in the 2020 season with many players getting injured. One of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season was Jason Verrett. He would later take the starting job at the cornerback position, shutting down some of the best receivers in the NFL. Verrett is known in the NFL to be an injury-prone player, beginning unfortunately with a torn Achilles, making him miss the entire 2018 season. After that he joined the 49ers where he hurt his knee in his first season, and eventually missed the rest of the season. Jason is near 30, and with a concerning injury history, this upcoming year might not treat him as nicely as the 2020 season.
Jaquiski Tartt only played 7 games in the 2020 season, leaving a gap at safety that was often a liability. Although Tartt is good when he plays, injuries have been concerning for him. The 49ers opted to give him another shot and at his 29 years old, it might be the last opportunity he receives as a 49er. With that in mind, the 49ers drafted Talanoa Hufanga, a hard-hitting safety who might replace Tartt if he becomes injured or if he underperforms. There are also a lot of rumors circulating that Tony Jefferson II could be joining the 49ers, as he already visited the team but left without a contract. This clearly highlights Kyle Shanahan’s and John Lynch’s concerns with Tartt and are preparing for the worst case scenario.