Player Development Will Determine 49ers’ Fate in 2022

Mar 18, 2022 at 10:04 AM--

Aside from the signing of cornerback Charvarius Ward, the 49ers haven't made any major moves thus far in free agency. It was obvious that addressing the secondary this offseason was likely to be a top priority for the 49ers. When you factor in the type of money that DE Nick Bosa and WR Deebo Samuel will garner in their next deals with the team, it is understandable that the 49ers didn't break the bank to resign some of the team's key ingredients who left in free agency, namely DT DJ Jones, G Laken Tomlinson, and RB Raheem Mostert. If the 2022 49ers are going to be the team that wins the franchise its 6th Lombardi trophy, developing the talent on the roster will be paramount.

While the obvious piece that must develop is Trey Lance, I will focus on other players who could emerge this upcoming season. Let's start with the offensive line. In two of the last four drafts, the 49ers have selected a Notre Dame offensive lineman in either the 1st or 2nd round. In 2018, they used the 9th pick to select RT Mike McGlinchey. Thus far his play has been up and down but the team saw enough to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. McGlinchey, 27, was appearing to turn the corner before suffering a season-ending injury in November. The 49ers are hoping he returns from injury and reaches his full potential.

When the 49ers selected G Aaron Banks in the second round of the 2021 draft, many in the fanbase felt the pick signaled a philosophy change to a more power/gap run scheme. While that wasn't the case, some feel that Banks was struggling behind the scenes because he was a healthy scratch for most of the season. Whatever the reason was for his limited action last season, LG Laken Tomlinson signed with the Jets earlier this week and Banks will be asked to step up in some capacity to fill the void. In addition to Banks, the 49ers selected the versatile lineman Jaylon Moore in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. Moore appeared in seven games during his rookie campaign and garnered three starts along the way. With a strong camp, Moore could look to start at either G spot or serve as the team's utility lineman, a role vacated by the loss of Tom Compton to the Broncos in free agency.

The strongest unit during the Kyle Shanahan era has been the defensive line. Defensive line coaching wizard Kris Kocurek has been instrumental in both the development and play of Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DJ Jones, and DeForest Buckner. All of which are amongst the best defensive lineman in the league thanks to his tutelage and the 49ers are hoping that DT Javon Kinlaw will be the next name to add to that list. Drafted 14th overall in 2020, Kinlaw has shown flashes of his potential dominance on the inside. However, nagging injuries have been the story thus far for the South Carolina product. If Kinlaw can remain healthy, his development could solidify the interior that saw Armstead move inside midway through last season. The 49ers are looking for a player to emerge opposite the ever-dominant Nick Bosa. Edge rushers Charles Omenihu and Samson Ebukam could fit the bill as both ended last season on hot streaks. Omenihu was acquired in a late-season trade, yet he played a key role in the run to the NFC Championship picking up two post-season sacks. Ebukam, who signed during the 2021 off-season, tallied 6.5 sacks (including post-season) all of which were recorded after Week 13 of the season. The development of these three defensive linemen will be pivotal in the team's ability to remain amongst the league's best defenses.

Staying with the defense, the secondary as it is currently constructed is evidence that the 49ers are going to rely on the development in 2022. The choice to sign Charvarius Ward over a more experienced and more decorated Stephon Gilmore was the initial signal of the direction management plans to steer the franchise. The 2022 49ers are set to start Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Mosely both age 25 and the late-emerging Ambry Thomas at the nickel who is only 22 years old. With Jaquiski Tartt's status with the team still up in the air, Talanoa Hufanga, 22, is poised to start opposite the veteran Jimmie Ward. Although the unit is loaded with potential, it is clear that the 49ers are focusing on their ability to coach up a unit with such a lack of experience.

Finally, Trey Lance is set to take the helm as the franchise QB. He inherits one of the game's best TEs in George Kittle and one of the most uniquely skilled offensive players in Deebo Samuel. Both are great starting points for any offense, however, the team is going to need more from 2021 second-round pick Trey Sermon and the 2021 late-round gem Elijah Mitchell to compliment Lance in the backfield. Also, Jauan Jennings will need to continue his steady play as he finished the season very strong making reliable plays on third down as the 49ers clawed their way into the wild card and during their playoff run. In addition, the player that is poised to make the biggest leap offensively is WR Brandon Aiyuk. If he breaks out and becomes a bona fide number one WR, the sky is the limit for this multidimensional offense.

With OTA and training camp right around the corner, the 2022 49ers are built to win or fold based on the overall progression of the young players on the roster.

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