Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Maiocco names 49ers players who are facing a make-or-break season in 2020

May 26, 2020 at 9:53 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers already have a championship-caliber roster. That means team decision-makers can be more particular about roster decisions. It also means that 2020 may be a make-or-break season for several Niners.

That was one of the topics of discussion between Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt of NBC Sports Bay Area on the latest 49ers Insider Podcast. The 49ers beat writer named two players who he believes are entering a make-or-break season and have a lot to prove to remain on the roster beyond 2020 — or even during the upcoming season.

Two players facing a make-or-break year from this past season may have been Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward. Both were playing in the final years of their contracts, and both answered the call with impressive 2019 campaigns. The 49ers re-signed both to multi-year deals this offseason.

Who are the make-or-break candidates this year?

Dante Pettis

Wide receiver Dante Pettis had a strong finish to the end of his rookie campaign in 2018, finishing with 27 receptions for 467 yards with five touchdowns. Several analysts felt he could be a breakout receiver to pick up for your fantasy football team in 2019.

If you did, you were probably left disappointed.

Pettis finished his sophomore season with just 11 catches for 109 yards. He didn't have a reception after Week 9, nor was he targeted after Week 10. Pettis was inactive during Super Bowl LIV, the most crucial game of the Kyle Shanahan era and the most important 49ers game in recent history.

"With an increased roster or depth chart at wide receiver, Dante Pettis, a second-round draft pick in 2018, faces what I would consider a make-or-break season for him," said Maiocco, "with no guarantee that he's going to be on this roster when the season begins. He has to earn it."

Ahkello Witherspoon

Ahkello Witherspoon struggled to stay on the field after missing six games due to an injury, and it seemingly had nothing to do with the foot sprain suffered during Week 3. The cornerback was simply outplayed by his replacement, Emmanuel Moseley, who started the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIV after replacing an ineffective Witherspoon in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

"Now, entering his fourth year, Ahkello Witherspoon, who was a second-round pick in 2017, this is a make-or-break year for Ahkello Witherspoon," said Maiocco.

What about Solomon Thomas?

Maiocco doesn't feel as though the 49ers are ready to give up on Solomon Thomas, who, should he be re-signed, likely won't require a large contract.

"He should not have been the No. 3 overall pick, as it turns out," said Maiocco. "There were far greater players, but he's been a solid player. And I think if he comes back on a minimum type of contract, that's a very workable thing because I just don't see that either side is eager to just move on from the other.

"He can be a very productive player in a limited role, and I think the 49ers could do a lot worse than bringing him back."

Of course, Maiocco notes that if Thomas does have a breakout season in 2020, it might prevent the 49ers from being able to bring him back.

Update: Others

Maiocco later listed more players facing a make-or-break season in a feature for NBC Sports Bay Area. They include Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Weston Richburg, and even ... Jimmy Garoppolo?

You can listen to the entire podcast discussion below.

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