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5 young players the 49ers need to come up big in 2023

Marc Adams
Jun 5, 2023 at 1:45 PM--

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Everyone says it, so it must be true. The San Francisco 49ers have a loaded roster. Stacked. Deep. Super-Bowl caliber.

However you choose to describe it, we can all agree that the roster is very good. They have Pro Bowlers all over the field. But there are some spots that will be filled by young players in 2023. And these young men will be asked to step up this season, in order for the 49ers to have the chance to win the Super Bowl.

Here are five young players who need to come up big in 2023:

1. Drake Jackson, Edge Rusher

The 49ers built their defense in 2019 around a dominant pass rush. That season, they had a player opposite of Nick Bosa (Dee Ford) who provided a lot of pressure off the edge. Since then, however, they have been unable to find that pass rusher on the other side of the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year. The team would love it, and so would I, if Drake Jackson were to become the player to bolster their defensive line by complementing Bosa.

Jackson has a rare combination of speed and bend that allows him to get around the edge. He possesses the physical tools that could potentially make him a constant threat in the backfield. He just needs to show he can do it.

Jackson added about 13 pounds to his frame so far this off-season. Defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek, spoke with the media last week and said he's seen "significant strength gain" in the second-year player. "He hasn't missed a day," Kocurek said. "He's stacked one on top of the next and really transitioned his body into going into a season to be able to withstand the rigors of a 17-game schedule, hopefully going into the playoffs, playing deep into the playoffs. And he set himself up to be successful with the work that he's done day in and day out.

"It can't just be a one-day deal, show up, work hard for a day and skip three. He's been consistent with his approach to it, and it's showing with what he's done with his body, not only the weight that he's gained, the good weight that he's gained. It's one thing to go to McDonald's and eat five cheeseburgers a day and put on some pounds like I've done in the past. [It's another to] get in the weight room and put good nutrition in your body and put on lean muscle and eliminate as much of the fat that you have on your body.

"He's done a fantastic job while still being able to maintain the explosive nature and abilities that he has in his body from a speed aspect."

Kocurek believes Jackson will make a big jump this season, saying, "We should see substantial strides in this game if he puts in the work and he's willing to put into work to get it done ... He's in a much better place right now than he was a year ago, to be ready to go and be the player that we drafted in the second round."

If Jackson can provide some of what Ford brought to the 49ers in 2019, the San Francisco defense will be even better than it was last season, and the 49ers will have a great chance of going deep into the playoffs yet again.

2. Jake Moody, Kicker

This is a lot of pressure to put on a rookie kicker, so I apologize for including him on this list. But the 49ers chose to put that pressure on the rookie when they selected Jake Moody in the third round to replace veteran Robbie Gould. With the departure of Gould, the responsibility falls upon Moody to fill Gould's shoes, which means making some big kicks, in high-pressure games, for a team that expects to play for a championship.

Moody brings a promising set of skills to the table. As a standout collegiate kicker, he showcased really good accuracy and leg strength. His ability to perform under pressure and deliver in clutch moments has been well-documented, making him a highly sought-after prospect. Additionally, Moody's work ethic and dedication to his craft have earned him the respect of his college teammates and coaches, further emphasizing his potential as a dependable replacement for Gould.

However, the transition from college to the NFL is never easy, especially for a rookie kicker. Moody will be expected to perform in the face of immense pressure in critical moments. And he'll have to do it while replacing a guy who rarely missed, and who got better as the games got bigger.

The success of the 49ers in 2023 partly rests on the leg of their rookie kicker. Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, has said multiple times since April that no rookie will impact the 49ers more than Moody, good or bad. Can the young kicker handle that kind of pressure? Will Kyle Shanahan trust him in those tense moments?

3. Jordan Mason (or Ty Davis-Price), Running Back

As much as we love Elijah Mitchell, he struggles to stay healthy. And someone in the 49ers running back room needs to be healthy and ready to make a difference so that Christian McCaffrey doesn't have to touch the ball as much as he did last season. With all due respect to Brock Purdy, McCaffrey was the biggest difference-maker on offense last season. And the 49ers can't afford to lose him. Overusing him will almost assure that of happening.

There's no replacing McCaffrey. But if someone can step up enough to be a great option at RB2, and give the star running back a break, it could go a long way in keeping him healthier.

Jordan Mason looked like the real deal in 2022. Ty Davis-Price barely played. Maybe he just wasn't ready as a rookie. Maybe he never will be ready.

There were times last season that I wanted to see the 49ers get McCaffrey out of the game and let Mason close it out. That needs to happen more. Mitchell is the obvious number two. The question is always his health. If he continues to miss games, Mason or Davis-Price could become a very crucial piece to the team's success.

4. Colton McKivitz, Right Tackle

Colton McKivitz was drafted in 2020, so he may not technically be considered a young player, but he hasn't played much. Yet, the 49ers have made it clear that McKivitz is the starting right tackle unless something crazy happens.

Offensive line coach Chris Foerster spoke with the media last week and said the starting job is McKivitz's to lose. "Colton, he's done a great job for us through the years he's been here," Foerster said. "He's always had to fill in short spells and has done a good job for us. I think that knowing the job is his coming into it and it's his job to lose kind of, although there will be guys that are there to compete if it doesn't work out. I think it is also going to help build his confidence. He is good for the position."

Though McKivitz won't be able to replace what Mike McGlinchey did as a run-blocker, McKivitz might actually be a better pass blocker.

"Mike McGlinchey is one of the best run-blocking tackles in the NFL," Foerster said. "Whether I say it, PFF says it, whoever says it. Colton probably won't be quite that, but he is a very good run blocker and his protection is really solid and consistent. He's got a consistent personality. He's a really tough, hardworking guy. He's a great character guy. Kind of like last year when we talked about the interior three players, he's made of the right stuff. He's actually played more snaps than those interior three guys last year had played and so it's just about a matter of getting out and starting week in and week out and not feeling like you're a short-term guy that has to get it done for one week. This now is your job to kind of work with and play through, so I'm excited for his opportunity."

The 49ers need McKivitz to be able to hold his own on the right side so this offense can be as dangerous as everyone believes they can be. And so they can protect their starting quarterback. Speaking of which...

5. Brock Purdy's elbow

You can't help but be impressed with what Purdy did last season. But that's not enough. The 49ers need Purdy to build off of last season's performance, which won't be easy, considering he's coming off a torn UCL, a serious injury for anyone who has to throw a ball. And since no one still knows what Trey Lance will become, the team will be relying on Purdy to get back to being healthy enough to play and come up big in 2023.

More specifically, the 49ers need Purdy's elbow to come up big, staying strong and in one piece. Fortunately, Purdy is coming along well in his recovery. The 49ers have been optimistic that Purdy can be ready to play in week one. And now, reports from media members are coming out, saying the same thing.

Albert Breer, in his MMQB column, wrote that Purdy should "continue to be expected to start for the team. He's on a very controlled throwing program now, and this week's minicamp in Santa Clara should provide more answers. As it stands, Purdy is throwing without pain, and he's passed every test the Niners have thrown at him.

"The plan going forward is to gradually increase the velocity and distance on his throws. But at this point, I'm told he's come through the rehab process and is now building strength back in his arm, on a track that'd have him ready to go for Week 1."

As Maiocco pointed out, Purdy is on schedule with his recovery, and that schedule has him being fully cleared to play almost three weeks before the season opener on September 10. Will Purdy truly be ready to start and play like the starting QB will need to play on the road against a tough Pittsburgh defense?

The 49ers need these five young players (well, three young ones, a kind of young one, and an elbow) to come up big in 2023. Who do you expect to come up big? And who do you believe won't?
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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