Five 49ers Not Named Jimmy Garoppolo Who are Key to 2020 Success

Brian Renick
Aug 31, 2020 at 9:00 AM1


Most people know how important the quarterback position is in football. The 49ers are going to go as far as Jimmy Garoppolo can take them. However, there are other people in the organization that will have a significant impact on whether or not the 2020 season ends with the Niners hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The five 49ers not named Jimmy Garoppolo who will have the biggest impact on the success of this season are Kyle Shanahan, Trent Williams, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford, and George Kittle.

Kyle Shanahan


Shanahan automatically gives the 49ers the edge in every game they play. His play-calling brilliance comes from a deep understanding of defensive principles, tendencies, and schemes. His personnel groupings dictate which players the opposing defensive coordinator uses on the field, his pre-snap shifts and motions (used on a league-high 79 percent of all offensive plays in 2019) help reveal a defense's plan of attack, and his plays are designed to stress defensive rules and responsibilities. All of this culminates in run plays with holes you can fly a Jet through and pass plays that put pass catchers in wide-open spaces.

Kyle is not only an offensive savant, but he is also an impressive leader of men. The culture he has created in that locker room is one of professionalism and a hunger to compete. This may be the more important aspect of Shanahan's role this season because the 49ers have to overcome the hangover that many teams experience after a loss in the Super Bowl. All reports out of the building seem to reveal that this team is focused, hungry, and ready for Revenge Tour 2020. Shanahan is going to lead them on that journey and he has his team ready to follow him.

Trent Williams


The biggest coup of the NFL offseason was the trade that John Lynch pulled off to bring left tackle Trent Williams to the 49ers, sending just a 2020 fifth round draft pick and a 2021 third round draft pick. Hours after the announcement of the trade, future Hall of Fame tackle Joe Staley announced his retirement, having held off the announcement long enough for Lynch to complete the trade. The Niners are replacing a Hall-of-Fame-worthy player with another Hall-of-Fame-worthy player, at a position that is imperative to the success of any offense. While Williams has been one of the top five best left tackles for many seasons, the reality is he did not play a single snap last season for the Washington Football Team, so it's no guarantee that he picks up right where he left off. However, reports out of camp signal that Williams has been as good as advertised, and his battles with Nick Bosa have been appointment viewing.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked 36 times last season, but 11 of those sacks came in just two games, the first being the Monday Night Football clash with Seattle where he was sacked five times and the second game against the Los Angeles Rams where he was sacked six times. Not surprisingly, those were the two lowest-rated games of Jimmy's season if you don't include the mud-bowl-in-a-monsoon game in Washington. The Seattle game was Staley's first game back after breaking his leg in Week 2, and he broke his finger in that game as well, so the poor performance has some explanation. Regardless, Williams should shore up the edge protection for this year's offensive line, but if he doesn't, Garoppolo is going to have a long season ahead of him.

Richard Sherman


Cornerback Richard Sherman played at an All-Pro level last year at the age of 31. That may not sound old, but for a cornerback, it's definitely on the downside of a career. Sherman has never been an athletic marvel, especially for a defensive back, but what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for by being the smartest guy on the field. Uncle Sherm has always beaten teams with his brain, and he continues to do so. He can diagnose offensive plays better than most defensive coordinators, and he can put himself and his teammates in a position to make plays.

However, a few times during the season, and on the biggest stage in the Super Bowl, Sherman was exposed by the one thing that his brain can't overcome: speed. I would argue that the 38-yard pass play he gave up to Sammy Watkins in the Super Bowl, with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter that set up the Chief's go-ahead touchdown was a bigger back breaker than the long pass play to Tyreek Hill on the 3rd and 15 play that kept the Chiefs Super Bowl hopes alive. Watkins credited Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams for the strategy he used to beat Sherman off the line, having studied Adams' play against him in the NFC Championship game where he faked an outside release on the line of scrimmage and then cut back inside and used his speed to haul in the pass from Aaron Rodgers for a big gain. Sherman must maintain the same All-Pro level of play he had last season for the 49ers secondary to carry over their success from last season because the biggest weakness of this 49ers defense is at the cornerback position starting on the opposite side of him. As Sherman goes, so goes this secondary.

Dee Ford


Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh has stated, on multiple occasions, that Dee Ford is the key to unlocking the 49er pass rush. Nick Bosa was a revelation last season at defensive end, so look for teams to find ways to neutralize him and his devastating pass rush. That means that there should be plenty of opportunities for Ford to see one-on-one matchups against opposing offensive lineman. He was hampered by a knee tendonitis issue for most of the season last year but had offseason surgery to correct the issue. For the ten games that Ford was on the field last season, he was dominant: 6.5 sacks, 14 tackles, and two forced fumbles.

However, his impact can also be seen by the performance of the players around him when he is on the field, versus when he is off of it. Arik Armstead had a career-year in 2019, registering 10 sacks from an interior rush position, but only two of those sacks came without Ford in the lineup. Bosa also only registered two sacks when Ford was out and had seven in the 11 games they played together. I found this stat to be absolutely mind-blowing: Bosa, Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander only combined for 108 defensive snaps together in 2019. In those 108 defensive snaps, opposing quarterbacks achieved a QBR rating of 3.0 out of a possible 158.3. Ford must remain healthy for this defense to continue to dominate games the way they did last season, and a full season of Ford should scare offensive coordinators around the league.

George Kittle


The People's Tight End is now the richest Tight End in NFL history, and there isn't a player more deserving. Kittle is the heart and soul of this team, the emotional leader, and he's the best Tight End in football. Not only that, but his peers just recently voted him as the 7th best player in football on the NFL Network Top 100 list. Just like Ford is the player that unlocks the defense for the 49ers, Kittle is the player that unlocks Kyle Shanahan's offense. There is not a better blocker at the tight end position, and he functions as a sixth offensive lineman because he is so effective. When Kittle is on the field, the Niner offense averages 4.9 yards per carry and a 43 percent success rate on outside runs. Those numbers drop to 3.0 yards per carry and a 29 percent success rate. It may seem odd to touch on Kittle's impact on the run game when he is an elite receiver at the position as well, but it seems that Kittle prides himself more on his blocking than his receiving. Perhaps my favorite quote from Kittle, shared by Rob Lowder last season, explains why he loves blocking so much "[w]hen you pancake a guy, and you feel their breath exhale, to me that's their soul leaving their body." That's a man that a team can rally behind, a tone-setter that will lead the charge for Revenge Tour 2020.

This season, more than any other, is a complete unknown due to COVID-19. Will there be a full season? Will there be mass quarantines of high impact players? These are questions that we cannot answer right now, and questions that could derail the season for all teams, not just the 49ers. However, if the season goes as planned, these five 49ers will be key to the team's 2020 success.
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.


1 Comment

  • 49er-Fan
    I think the biggest key is Javon Kinlaw. Defo made that defense work. His work allowed others to fly around.
    Aug 31, 2020 at 11:20 AM
    0

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