Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Haberman and Middlekauff rank the injuries the 49ers must avoid in 2021

Jun 9, 2021 at 10:08 AM--

Injuries are unavoidable in the NFL. No team is going to make it through a now-17-game season without injuries. That's why having good depth is so important. However, there remain some players who, if they leave the lineup, could dramatically impact a team's production.

We saw a lot of that with the San Francisco 49ers last season. Injuries plagued the roster as the team limped its way through a six-win season. You knew the loss of pass rusher Nick Bosa to a torn ACL in Week 2 would impact the season. On the offensive side of the football, the team lost Jimmy Garoppolo, and the quarterback went on to miss 10 of the last 14 games.

The miserable injury luck continued this week. San Francisco lost two players to significant injuries during Monday's practice. Offensive lineman Justin Skule suffered a torn ACL, and safety Tarvarius Moore suffered a torn Achilles. The team was already without running back Jeff Wilson Jr., who may not return until November.

The latest injuries prompted the 49ers to cancel Tuesday's practice, and rumors are cycling that the team may forego its remaining offseason program practices and just reconvene on the practice field for training camp at the end of July.

On their latest podcast, Guy Haberman and John Middlekauff decided to rank the players the 49ers can least afford to lose. This isn't necessarily a ranking of the best players on the roster. The duo noted that San Francisco was able to manage without All-Pro tight end George Kittle for much of last season. That's not to say that he isn't an important part of the offense. It's just that they believe head coach Kyle Shanahan can scheme around his absence.

First on Haberman and Middlekauff's list is Bosa.

"I think we saw last year, with Nick Bosa, it dramatically alters everything," Middlekauff said, "because he is a superstar pass rusher. ... He's a guy that last year, a lot of people thought that (he'd have a) 15-sack (season) coming off his baller rookie year. And then he disappeared, and it just wasn't the same. He is a difference-maker, right?"

Middlekauff argues that Trent Williams could be 1B on the list after Haberman notes that the offensive tackle is vital in both pass protection and the rushing attack.

Next up are linebacker Fred Warner and Kittle. Middlekauff notes that Kittle, like Warner and Williams, is a dual-threat. The tight end is elite as a receiver and a run-blocker.

"[Warner] is the guy covering tight ends and running backs, and he's making all the tackles in the run game," Middlekauff said.

Haberman would put second-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk on his list. However, Middlekauff isn't ready to add the young wideout to his list based on his 12-game resume but later noted that he could be convinced to back the selection.

"I would put Aiyuk there, based on what I think he can become," Haberman said. "... But he's got to be healthy. But I think if he is, I think he's a ... like for them ... a Tier 1 kind of playmaker."

Adds Middlekauff: "What he showed last year, [Aiyuk] has a better opportunity, probably, than Deebo (Samuel) to become like a top-15 wide receiver in his time. Deebo is just more of a unique outlier, really good player. But I don't think anybody's ever going to be talking about him like a top-5 wide receiver in the NFL. And I'd say, so far, through two years, you couldn't put him on a list of guys not going to get hurt. He gets hurt."

There are others for whom they make a case. You can watch the entire conversation below.

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