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They Got Next: 5 49ers Stars of the Future

Gilbert Brink
Jul 15, 2020 at 8:53 AM

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Championships are built on the backs of young players. History shows, as much as the flashy free-agency signing steals the headlines, the DNA of consistent contenders can be traced directly to the NFL draft.

The San Francisco 49ers' recent ascension is a fine example of this team building strategy. Temptations of July center around players like NY Jets mega-star SS Jamal Adams, but the 49ers steamrolled their way to the Super Bowl due to a deep roster filled with young, hungry and humble men looking to make their mark. Players like George Kittle, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel and Mike McGlinchey. Three men are the current cornerstones on the 49ers franchise.

When Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took over the 49ers in 2017, one of their earliest moves would be to gut the team and rebuild it to fit their vision. Heading into 2020 the 49ers have carried over only 4 starters from that 2017 squad. This dramatic re-shaping of the 49ers roster is in direct correlation to their recent success. Shanahan and Lynch have scoured the college ranks and the free-agency market to get the 49ers younger, and better, at every position. The moves made by this regime have set up the franchise for success well into the future. That success can be attributed to the dominant stars like George Kittle, Nick Bosa & Richard Sherman, but take a closer look, and these five players are the reason the 49ers will be in contention for years to come:

CB Emmanuel Moseley

Emmanuel Moseley was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. When CB Ahkello Witherspoon went down in early 2019, E-man stepped into the 49ers line-up and seamlessly blended into the #1 pass defense in the NFL. Like many of the 49ers young contributors, Moseley was an undrafted free-agent. The 49ers have a penchant for finding these players and turning cast-aways into can't-live-withouts (see RB Raheem Mostert, WR Kendrick Bourne, RB Matt Brieda; all UDFAs).

Though Moseley only measures in at 5'11 184 lbs, he plays the game like a giant. His speed (4.42 40-yard dash) allows him to close in on defenders (looking at you Seattle WR DK Metcalf) while his deceptive length (31.5 inch arm) takes opponents by surprise. Pro Football Focus had Moseley rated at 70.0 for the regular season. Other cornerbacks Rams CB Jalen Ramsey (71.5), Steelers CB Joe Haden (70.3) and Browns CB Denzel Ward (69.9) were all rated similarly. All three of those players were top drafted in the top 10 of their classes, yet Moseley wasn't drafted at all. After drafting both Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore in the 3rd round, the 49ers have found in Moseley the cornerback they have looking for.

Heading into 2020 Moseley is on the final year of his contract, and with uncertainty surrounding the secondary (fellow DBs Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K'Waun Williams & Jaquiski Tartt are all scheduled to be free-agents in 2021) it would be in the 49ers' best interest to try and extend Moseley as soon as possible. Doing so would lock down a young, talented CB who will pair well with an already excellent pass-rush for years to come. This will provide some future stability for the 49ers secondary.

DL DJ Jones

The 49ers defensive line doesn't need any more praise. This unit was one of the main reasons the 49ers made it to Super Bowl 54. As dominant as it was in January, it was much better in September. While Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead terrorized quarterbacks in the playoffs, they may have actually won the Super Bowl if DJ Jones was on the field as well.

A 6th-round pick in 2017, Jones was one of the unsung heroes of the 49ers defense in 2019. You don't often hear much about the men clogging up the middle of the line. Serving as a rotational piece, Jones recorded 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble for the year. On December 12th 2019, Jones was forced onto season-ending IR with a high ankle sprain. Prior to his absence, the 49ers relied on Jones to bring the heat from the inside and his availability kept the legs fresh of his fellow linemen. Due to the absence of Jones and DL Ronald Blair, the 49ers front 4 in January wasn't as ferocious as it was earlier in the season.

Jones at 25 years old is a mountain of a man. Standing 6'0 and weighing 305 lbs, his presence in the middle of the line gave the 49ers a player with a different body type, one that is well suited for taking up space and clogging run lanes. This was sorely missed in Super Bowl 54, as Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien Williams consistently racked up big first downs while rushing his way to 104 yards against the 49ers defense. John Lynch and company took note of this, even referring to the notion that perhaps the 49ers needed to get a little bigger in the middle. This can be seen with the 49ers drafting DT Javon Kinlaw, a much thicker player than DeForest Buckner ever was. Buckner weighs in at 287 lbs and is 6'7. Jones, being 7 inches shorter, outweighs Buckner by 13 lbs.

If Jones can stay healthy through 2020, he will play a huge role in recreating the defensive line dominance that we saw early last season.

OL Daniel Brunskill

When the term rising star is brought up, a swing lineman is not often mentioned. Just like DJ Jones, if OL Daniel Brunskill played in Super Bowl 54 the 49ers might be six-time Super Bowl champions. As RG Mike Person was being bullied by Chiefs DT Chris Jones, Brunskill sat on the bench watching lesser players start over him in the most prestigious game in American sports.

Brunskill, just 26-years old, was discovered on the field in San Diego. No, he wasn't a Charger many moons ago. This versatile offensive lineman played one, albeit defunct, season in the Alliance of American Football for the San Diego Fleet. The 49ers scouting department took note of Brunskill and signed him to a 1-year deal on April 11, 2019. What seemed to be nothing more than a camp body, Brunskill surprisingly made the team after swing tackle Shon Coleman was injured in the 1st game of the 2019 pre-season. The team re-signed Coleman to another 1-year deal in March 2020.

Due to additional injuries to LT Joe Staley, RT Mike McGlinchey and RG Mike Person the 49ers had to shuffle the offensive line quite a bit. Brunskill totaled 474 snaps at both guard and tackle during the 2019 season, surrendering only 2 sacks and committing only 1 penalty. Compare his numbers to top-10 draft pick and starting RT Mike McGlinchey's 777 snaps, 5 sacks allowed and 6 penalties committed and one might wonder why Brunskill is being slotted as the starting RG and not the starting RT heading into 2020.

The versatility that Brunskill brings to the offensive line is invaluable. Wherever the 49ers place him, he performs at a high level. With trade talks swirling, Brunskill's ability to do it all allows the 49ers to float RT McGlinchey's name as a bargaining chip. If the 49ers front office were smart, it would ink Brunskill to a long-term deal now before he further proves his value in 2020 and his pricetag increases in 2021.

LB Dre Greenlaw

Words cannot express the appreciation the 49ers faithful should have for LB Dre Greenlaw. If not for anything else but finally making Seahawks HC Pete Carrol look like a buffoon in Seattle, in prime-time with the NFC West hanging in the balance. So, thank you, forever, Dre Greenlaw for annihilating Jacob Hollister at the 1-inch line.

Even if that is all he ever contributed to this franchise, he would be a star. In actuality, Greenlaw is a phenomenal young LB who plays strong and fast and fits perfectly into the 49ers defense. If San Francisco had any inkling that Greenlaw would be the player who he is today, it would have never paid LB K'won Alexander his bloated salary. The 49ers were desperate to erase the memory of failed 1st round pick LB Reuben Foster, so they turned to the proven talent with Alexander in free-agency in 2019. As good as Alexander has been, Greenlaw has been even better. According to Pro Football Focus, Greenlaw graded out as the better LB (63.9 compared to Alexander's 61.3).

Greenlaw's emergence as a 5th round steal gives the 49ers plenty of options heading into the future. With Paraag Marathe constructing his conditional contracts, the 49ers could promote Greelaw to Alexander's position and either trade or cut Alexander heading into 2021 and they wouldn't miss a beat.

Greenlaw is the type of person you want to root for. One of the very first stories told about Greenlaw revolved around him protecting a young woman from being sexually assaulted. Not only is Greenlaw a rising star on the field, he's the type of person you want your children to cheer for.

WR Brandon Aiyuk

Let us go out on a limb a little bit for this one. WR Brandon Aiyuk was the prized possession of 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan heading into the 2020 draft. He valued Aiyuk over the big three receiving prospects of Jerry Jeudy, Ceedee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III. This is more than just coach speak, as the 49ers had the ability to draft Jeudy or Lamb at #14 and instead selected DT Javon Kinlaw.

Unlike the other 4 players on this list, the 49ers fans have no pro tape to judge Aiyuk off of. Scour your social media feed and you can find some very impressive highlights of Aiyuk in shorts making some amazing grabs. He looks great in shorts in July, but so does a 46-year-old Terrell Owens. With Aiyuk, you simply have to have faith. "I look at Aiyuk, he runs every single route, he can play all three positions, and the toughness he plays with," Shanahan told Tim Kawakami after the draft.

One thing that stands out about the best players in Shanahan's offense is versatility. The players who have seen the most success are the players who can do the most. For instance, TE George Kittle isn't just a great receiving option he is a hellacious blocker. WR Deebo Samuel not only can get open, but he breaks tackles like a RB and excels with run plays designed for him. One of the 49ers first acquisitions under the Shanahan/Lynch regime was signing FB, or should I say, offensive weapon, Kyle Juszczyk to the richest FB contract in history. Juszczyk followed that up by earning every penny as he plows the way for 49ers rushers to run free in space one play and snags a pass 40 yards down field on the next.

There's a famous saying in the world of psychology, which states, "The best predictor for future behavior is past behavior." According to recent history, Kyle Shanahan makes magic with players who can pull off a myriad of tricks. Brandon Aiyuk, you couldn't have found a better place to start your football career.
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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