Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

5 breakout candidates for the 49ers in 2023

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 21, 2023 at 6:05 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers experienced some significant change this offseason, as key contributors like Mike McGlinchey, Jimmie Ward, Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, and Azeez Al-Shaair all departed in free agency, amongst others, leaving holes to fill on the roster.

Some areas of need, such as defensive tackle and nickelback, were filled in free agency via the signings of Javon Hargrave and Isaiah Oliver, but several contributors are players on the roster that will have to step up in 2023 with expanded roles.

With the 49ers still amongst the NFL's most competitive rosters in 2023, who could break out for San Francisco this season?


1. DE Drake Jackson

Perhaps the candidate most primed for a breakout on the 49ers is defensive end Drake Jackson, who will look to step up after the team lost both Ebukam and Omenihu in free agency.

Despite being a defensive line-heavy team over the past few seasons, the 49ers waited until the fifth round to select an edge rusher, taking Georgia product Robert Beal Jr., who could be a developmental pass-rusher in Year 1.

Regardless, without a free agent signing at the position for the time being, and given the praise Jackson has received from coaches in the offseason, the former second-round pick appears ready for a bigger role, both as a pass-rusher and as a run-defender, slotting in as a starter currently.

Now, the 49ers could certainly dip into the talented pool of edge rushers still available in free agency, which could put Jackson in more of a situational role, but the team will still likely rely on him and his athleticism to create plays as his teammates along the defensive line face double teams.

2. DT Kalia Davis

One of the more underrated selections from the 2022 NFL Draft for the 49ers, Kalia Davis essentially redshirted his rookie season after suffering a torn UCL during his final year of college.

But, with the departure of rotational piece Hassan Ridgeway, as well as the development of Davis himself, the 2022 sixth-round pick could place himself in a position for additional reps with his unique explosiveness at his size.

Davis could've been a contributor towards the end of last season, but now comes into his first true offseason fully healthy and ready to make an impact in a loaded defensive tackle room.

3. OL Spencer Burford

Spencer Burford was the lone rookie that started consistently for the 49ers in 2022, taking the mantle at right guard after an impressive offseason that led to a lack of competition at the position until he and Daniel Brunskill rotated in midway through the season.

Burford had a solid rookie season, but left several areas to improve on, and will get the chance to do so in 2023 after Brunskill departed in free agency.

With a full year of experience under his belt, despite the change at right tackle with Colton McKivitz, Burford looks poised to build upon his rookie year in San Francisco's offensive scheme.

4. RB Jordan Mason

As unfortunate as it is, the 49ers cannot rely on Elijah Mitchell to be healthy for a full season, as seen via the first two years of his career.

Despite good production when Mitchell has been on the field, there have been several injuries, especially to the lower body, that put his durability over a season in question, even in a timeshare.

Last season, the 49ers had Jeff Wilson Jr. to fill that void early in the season, but the veteran was dealt at the deadline after essentially requesting a trade, leaving Jordan Mason as the primary backup until Mitchell returned.

Mason, who impressed with a strong training camp and preseason, looked great on the ground when given opportunities, although they came in limited capacity.

With a year under his belt, Mason should have a better grasp of the system and could earn more opportunities if another injury to Mitchell occurs, serving as the backup to star Christian McCaffrey.

While pass protection has been the main question, Mason has flashed the ability to be a solid pass-catcher, as well as an explosive and strong downhill runner, playing well in San Francisco's system.

5. LB Marcelino McCrary-Ball

The 49ers received great contributions from undrafted free agent Azeez Al-Shaair during his time with the 49ers.

However, after San Francisco signed Dre Greenlaw to an extension last season, it seemed more and more likely that Al-Shaair would depart for a bigger role in free agency after the year, which occurred.

In comes Marcelino McCrary-Ball, who has been on my radar as a steal since the 49ers picked him up from the undrafted free agent pool after the 2022 NFL Draft.

McCrary-Ball is a safety-converted-linebacker that possesses the qualities of both positions that the 49ers covet in their linebackers.

San Francisco has viable options like Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, but McCrary-Ball has a chance to potentially earn that final 53-man roster spot with another strong camp this offseason.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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