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Robert Kupbens-USA TODAY Sports

An Arsenal of Weapons: The 49ers Have Quietly Become Even More Dangerous on Offense in 2024

Don Atkinson
May 13, 2024 at 7:12 PM

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It's not a shock to anyone who looks back at the past two NFL seasons to contemplate that the San Francisco 49ers' offense has finally stepped out of the shadow cast by the team's ever-imposing defense. Since their 2019 Super Bowl run, players like Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and former 49ers Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward have garnered most of the attention when talking about the team. That was indeed the case until 2022, when future Hall-of-Fame running back Christian McCaffrey, who came to San Francisco in a mid-season trade with the Carolina Panthers, changed the conversation. The 49ers' offense was suddenly seen not just as a semi-capable complement to a sterling defense, but rather as a unit that could put up some points, and in a dramatic way.

With the emergence of rookie quarterback Brock Purdy in a game against the offensively potent Miami Dolphins in early December of 2022, came that day which functionally marked the end of the road for both Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance in San Francisco. Purdy was the real deal, as it turned out, and after a deep playoff run, it was clear that Purdy was the safety-clicked-off on the 49ers' big-guns offense. And the conversation went from "changed" to upended.

Having reached the Super Bowl in February of this year, there now is no doubt the 49ers have secured their franchise quarterback, and one who plays an electric part in sparking Head Coach Kyle Shanahan's devious offensive scheme. Purdy was surrounded by gifted offensive players in 2023, so much so that a large faction of the press and fandom outside of the 49ers Faithful discounted Purdy's remarkable and unprecedented accomplishments as simply a byproduct of an elite roster. Shanahan and 49ers General Manager John Lynch responded to that disrespect by quite brazenly going out and getting their star quarterback even more weapons.

The 49ers used their first-round draft pick weeks ago to bring in an assertive and cagey receiver in Ricky Pearsall (Florida), whose speed and route-running ability seem a natural fit for Shanahan's "get the guy wide-open" play scheming. Now mid-May and post-draft, it's clear the 49ers have no intention of breaking up the best of the team's 2023 wideout room. Adding Pearsall and another potential star-prospect, Jacob Cowing, to a unit that already boasts elite NFL wideout Brandon Aiyuk, game-breaker Deebo Samuel, and third-down-catch king Jauan Jennings may seem like overkill, but to Shanahan, it equates to an overflowing toybox.

Shanahan and Lynch added legacy player Terique Owens as an undrafted free agent to spice up the mix. And with veteran Chris Conley and a few fringe roster players from last year (Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray, Tay Martin) also headed for training camp, there seems an uncommon notion in the air: It might very well be possible to staff an entire NFL receiver room somewhere else just with the players the 49ers will be forced to cast off before Week One.

Not surprisingly, in a year when Shanahan and Lynch spent their end-of-winter weeks snatching quality defensive players from free agency and through off-season trades, the 49ers draft room was able to concentrate on building even more depth on offense, and that construction included more options in the running back corps as well.

With McCaffrey holding down the premier ball carrier spot for San Francisco, and talented running backs Elijah Mitchell and J.P. Mason still on board as his backups, it would have been easy for the 49ers to sit on their hands at this position. Instead, they found two highly undervalued running backs in an RB-rich draft class and secured them both. Drafting Isaac Guerendo (Louisville) in the fourth round, and signing UDFA Cody Schrader (Missouri), the 49ers ensured that their corps of running backs would be as deeply stacked as their wide receiver unit. Both players, while unproven at the NFL level, have solid college resumés and are the kind of gritty, aggressive, tenacious players the 49ers treasure. The team added a capable veteran running back in Patrick Taylor, Jr. (previously with the Green Bay Packers) to the room as well.

With former 49er reserve quarterback Sam Darnold gone to the Minnesota Vikings, the 49ers brought in journeyman quarterback Josh Dobbs to partner with Brandon Allen in backing up Purdy. The team also added a talented but largely overlooked rookie quarterback, Tanner Mordecai (Wisconsin/SMU), as an undrafted free agent. Despite Darnold's impressive arm, the 49ers may have picked up a notably better fit with Dobbs, who plays much closer to Purdy's style of football—something that should be more comfortable for Shanahan to gameplan around.

Going into the draft, the 49ers' offensive line was a priority concern, and it still is to some degree. But the addition of rookie offensive linemen Dominick Puni (Kansas), Jarrett Kingston (USC), and Drake Nugent (Michigan) could go a long way toward easing some of those concerns. Puni seems a likely starter if not this season, then next, but certainly adds depth immediately. It's possible the 49ers could still make changes along the offensive line after training camp when a veteran player or two might tempt the team into making a pre-season trade. That could be the final piece to the 49ers' offensive puzzle heading into the regular season.

There are, of course, no guarantees that all, or even a majority, of the offensive players the 49ers drafted or acquired this off-season will work out. But with the roster the 49ers have maintained moving from last season into 2024, there's little doubt that the potential to be even more explosive with the players they have since added is there.

For the rest of the NFL, the problems they faced in containing the 2023 San Francisco 49ers may have just gotten measurably worse.
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