Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Five 49ers poised to break out in 2021

Jun 21, 2021 at 2:15 PM--

With organized team activities (OTAs) over, teams are beginning to look forward to training camp, which begins in July.

The 49ers were one of the most injury-riddled teams in 2021, and have had their fair share of bad luck already, as running back Jeff Wilson tore his meniscus, swing tackle Justin Skule tore his ACL, and safety Tarvarius Moore tore his Achilles.

Still, there is much to look forward to, starting with these five players who are poised to breakout in 2021.

1. DT Javon Kinlaw

Perhaps the most obvious pick on the list, Kinlaw seems to be on the verge of breaking out in his sophomore season.

Last season, Kinlaw played in 14 games, starting 12, and had 33 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one interception to go along with 19 pressures.

While the 1.5 sacks may seem underwhelming, especially considering the production of DeForest Buckner, who Kinlaw replaced, the rookie's 19 pressures show that sacks do not tell the full story.

More importantly, Kinlaw was playing without several key contributors on the defensive line in Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, and Solomon Thomas.

In 2019, when the 49ers defense was at its best, the 49ers thrived when all four of their main defensive players, Ford, Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Buckner, were on the field.

With the aforementioned injuries, offensive coordinators were able to shift towards containing Kinlaw and Armstead.

In addition, Kinlaw did not have a normal offseason last year, as COVID-19 protocols limited his opportunity to adapt to the NFL system before being thrust into the game plan.

However, this offseason, new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans singled out Kinlaw, praising his efforts in a media appearance.

"Kinlaw, he's looking awesome," the coach told reporters. "I think it's really vital for him to really have these OTAs, and it's been great that all our guys have showed up, and we've been able to practice.

"Kinlaw is able to really hone in and focus on his techniques, which he missed coming in as a rookie. OTAs are very, very important. For him to miss that time last year, I think he's going to take a huge jump this year."

With a full offseason and a year of experience under his belt, barring any injuries, look for Kinlaw to be a prime breakout candidate in 2021.

2. DT D.J. Jones

Not only is Javon Kinlaw a breakout candidate, but his running mate along the defensive line, D.J. Jones, is as well.

Jones re-signed with the 49ers in the offseason on a one-year, $3.5 million deal and should start as the other defensive tackle, barring injury.

Jones had a career-high in sacks last year, with three on the season, despite the injuries on the defensive line this past season.

With Bosa back and Ryans wanting to install a more aggressive defensive scheme, Jones should be another breakout candidate alongside Kinlaw in that stout 49ers defensive line.

3. WR Jalen Hurd

Yes, I know. Hurd seems to always be a "breakout candidate," but this is the year during which Hurd really has a chance to crack the rotation in that third wideout spot, should he stay healthy.

His teammate, Jimmy Garoppolo, raved about him last month, and can't wait for Hurd to get back on the field.

"Jay's come a long way. He really has in his route running, just developing his body and becoming a pro," Garoppolo said. "I mean, the guy does it the right way. I'm dying to get him out there right now, I really am. He's such a physical freak, just the things he can do in his route running, with the ball in his hands, it's very impressive. So, hopefully, we'll get to put those on display and get him out there as soon as possible."

Hurd tore his ACL in last year's training camp, which was just another setback that has cost the 2018 third-rounder, as he has yet to play in an NFL game.

However, with Kendrick Bourne, last year's slot receiver, now on the New England Patriots, there is an opening for the versatile Hurd, should he prove himself in training camp.

Hurd's physical traits make him a favorable candidate, and the praise he has received makes him another one of San Francisco's breakout candidates.

4. LB Dre Greenlaw

Dre Greenlaw came into the spotlight as a rookie, highlighting himself as a steal after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

In his two seasons in the NFL, Greenlaw has been a tackle machine, racking up 178 total tackles, while also being a contributor in the passing game, complementing All-Pro Fred Warner as an outside linebacker.

So, why is he on this list?

Well, with Ryans' new adjustments with the defensive scheme, Greenlaw should have more opportunities to showcase his skillset.

Ryans praised Greenlaw's performance in OTAs and was confident that Greenlaw would show growth in the upcoming season.

"Just how he's developed and how he's gotten better throughout these OTAs, I'm fired up to see his growth this year," Ryans said.

The more aggressive defensive scheme should put more focus on the linebackers as offenses will have to adjust, which will give Greenlaw the opportunity to take another step forward and become one of the game's best young linebackers.

Ryans was also the former linebackers coach, and his experience with the linebacker group should make the transition easier for Greenlaw.

Greenlaw's role should increase in 2021 if he remains healthy, as the midseason departure of Kwon Alexander opened up the linebacker room.

Look out for the young linebacker to be another prime breakout candidate this season.

5. CB Emmanuel Moseley

Emmanuel Moseley re-signed with the 49ers this offseason on a two-year, $10 million deal to return as the starting outside cornerback opposite Jason Verrett for the upcoming NFL season.

Moseley has played in 29 games over the past two seasons, starting 17 games, and has been a pleasant surprise after going undrafted.

However, Moseley had been entrenched in a competition with disappointing cornerback Akhello Witherspoon. With Witherspoon now on the Seattle Seahawks, Moseley is set to start in that spot for the season.

Jason Verrett and K'Waun Williams have both been top-level corners when healthy at their respective positions, which will only help Moseley more. While rookie Ambry Thomas may pose a challenge, the job is Moseley's to lose, making him as another breakout candidate with the extended opportunities.

In addition, with a healthy defense on all three levels, less pressure will be put on the cornerback group, which will only benefit Moseley, who is heading into his fourth NFL season.

All five of these 49ers are potential breakout candidates going into the 2021 NFL season and should be given the opportunities to contribute.


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