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Adam Rank projects 49ers’ 2023 MVP, breakout star, says it’s “Super Bowl or bust for the team”

Jun 8, 2023 at 9:50 AM--

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NFL Media personality Adam Rank recently published his "State of the 2023 San Francisco 49ers" feature for, an annual look at the state of the franchise and projections for the upcoming season. Among those predictions are the team's most valuable player and breakout star.

Christian McCaffrey is the most obvious choice for MVP, and he's the guy Rank selected. The star running back was traded in late October to the 49ers and still contributed 1,210 total yards and 10 total touchdowns with his new team, totaling an impressive 1,880 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.

Rank can't wait to see what McCaffrey does for an encore performance.

"Some folks laughed when I said CMC was going to be a great fit for the 49ers as an October trade acquisition," Rank wrote. "Oh, they had jokes about his health and availability coming off a two-season stretch in which he logged just 10 total appearances. But he played 17 games in 2022 (six with Carolina, 11 with San Francisco). As you could expect, he led all running backs with 741 receiving yards last year and was the only player with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards and 10-plus scrimmage touchdowns from Week 8 (when he made his first start with the 49ers) to Week 18, per NFL Research. Can't wait to see what he's going to do in his first full season in San Francisco."

Last season, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. That, paired with his impressive offseason showings on the practice field, has the media projecting Aiyuk as the 49ers' breakout player in 2023.

Even Aiyuk is expecting a big fourth-year campaign.

"I'm about to take off," Aiyuk declared last week. "That's it. ... We all know it's football. Nothing's ever guaranteed, but just getting a better understanding for my life as a person, and then as a football player, kind of putting those things together and then just looking to get better."

Count Rank among the media members scribbling down Aiyuk's name in the box marked 49ers' 2023 breakout star.

"San Francisco is flush with talented pass catchers," Rank wrote. "It's easy to overlook Aiyuk, who had career highs in receptions (78), receiving yards (1,015) and touchdown catches (eight) last season. He was the only player on the team with 70-plus receptions and 800-plus yards. The scary thing is that the fourth-year pro is likely just starting to reach his potential."

Just how good can Aiyuk be in 2023? Can he become one of the league's top pass-catchers? One of his defensive teammates does not doubt that he can.

"He's going to be a top-five receiver in this league this year," cornerback Deommodore Lenoir told reporters this week. "He's going to put everybody on notice. I feel like he's been so underrated. He really don't get the credit that he deserves."

Looking at the big picture, Rank believes the 49ers must return to the Super Bowl for their 2023 season to be considered a success.

"The 49ers reached the NFC Championship Game in three of the last four postseasons, losing in each of the last two," Rank wrote. "The 49ers have made six NFC title game appearances over the last 12 postseasons. That's great. But they are 2-4 in those games, without a Super Bowl win to show for it. The Patriots and Chiefs are the only other teams with at least five conference championship appearances over that span. Both have won multiple Super Bowls. I don't mean to rub that in or anything. I'm just stating the facts. But the point remains: It's Super Bowl or bust for the team."


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