Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


How the 49ers can find value in a lost season

Nov 11, 2020 at 5:29 PM0


Unprecedented is an understatement when describing the first half of the 2020 NFL season, and that rings especially true for the San Francisco 49ers as they find themselves in an unparalleled situation in regards to the decimation of a roster that entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations. According to Spotrac, the 49ers currently have $79.43 million worth of player salaries on injured reserve, accounting for 38.43% of their 2020 salary cap, by far the most in the league with the next closest being the Dallas Cowboys at 23.62%. Factoring in the rate at which the injuries are piling up, combined with the ever increasing difficulty of competing in the toughest division in football, and it makes the 49ers' path to a playoff spot exceedingly difficult and unrealistic as the weeks go on. As the unsettling reality of a season ending without a playoff birth sets in, the 49ers must now pivot and find some sort of tangible value in a year that slipped away from them.

Talent evaluation is a fluid thing in the NFL, as teams are constantly assessing their rosters and planning for the future while gauging their expectations in the present. The precarious position the 49ers currently find themselves in does lend them the advantage of being able to analyze the performance of players who otherwise would have had a difficult time getting meaningful snaps without the injuries to the incumbent starters at their position.

The 49ers have 29 players set to hit unrestricted free agency in the coming offseason. Thus, the ability to evaluate the performance of players who could be cheaper alternatives in 2021 is invaluable as the team navigates the coming uncertainty surrounding the future of its roster and the NFL as a whole, as money is expected to be tight due to the likelihood of a decreased salary cap caused by the lost revenue from playing a season largely without fans and the gate revenue that accompanies them. Immediately, players like Marcell Harris and Jordan Willis come to mind as those who have a chance to showcase they should be given the opportunity to play a role in the 49ers' future plans by being substantially cheaper alternatives to players like Jaquiski Tartt and Kerry Hyder, whose high level of play might make it difficult for the 49ers to retain their services due to the money they will command on the open market if they hit free agency. Finding key contributors on bargain contracts over the next couple seasons has become an imperative task for the 49ers' front office due to the limited cap space it will have to work with, and having some internal options to evaluate gives it an edge to make those decisions with a bit more clarity than it would have pursuing players who haven't spent time with the organization.

While on the topic of finding veterans at a discount price, it is important to remember the 49ers have a pair of rookies on both sides of the ball who are under contract for at least three more years on rookie deals and who will be depended on heavily to have key roles moving forward. The development of 2020 first-round picks Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk becomes the preeminent priority should the 49ers fall out of the playoff race they somehow have managed to remain a part of.

Aiyuk has put together an impressive rookie campaign thus far as he currently ranks 3rd out of all rookie wide receivers in receiving grade per PFF, and has displayed sure hands as evidenced by his 86.9 drop grade, which ranks 10th out of 197 wide receivers in the NFL. Aiyuk's combination of sure hands and his massive 81-inch wingspan provides an extremely large catch radius for whoever is throwing him the football. He has also demonstrated the ability to get open downfield, which has to excite the front office and coaching staff who traded up in the first round of the 2020 draft to select him. It's still very early in his career, but Aiyuk clearly has the potential to blossom into a true number one receiver at the NFL level and give head coach and play caller Kyle Shanahan another explosive weapon in his arsenal while also being a safety blanket for whoever is under center for the 49ers.

On the surface, Kinlaw's rookie season hasn't produced the same immediate dividends and has led many to become concerned about a player who essentially replaced fan favorite and All-Pro talent DeForest Buckner. The issue is looking at his production through a lens of comparison with a player like Buckner creates a false sense of panic, as it is unrealistic to expect a rookie player with no OTAs and a severely shortened offseason to come in and contribute at the same level. When Kinlaw is compared to his own draft class, his numbers are actually quite favorable as he currently ranks second in pass rush snaps, total pressures, quarterback hurries, and quarterback hits among rookie interior defensive lineman.

Kinlaw's massive frame and high powered motor have been on display all season. However, the issue has been that he has registered pressures without finishing with sacks, of which he has 0 in his professional career. I truly believe that is a product of being raw and used to dominating opposing linemen with the bull rush generated from his natural size advantage. While that worked at the collegiate level, the athletes on NFL offensive lines aren't going to be bullied in the same way. With the adjustment of refining his technique and adding pass rush moves to his arsenal, I genuinely see a path to Kinlaw being a game-wrecking defender in the coming seasons. You can always teach someone how to improve his footwork, or how to use his hands but you can't teach the intrinsic motor that accompanies Kinlaw and his enormous 6-foot-5, 311 pound frame.

Great teams can never afford to be stagnant, so while the 49ers may struggle down the stretch and appear to lose the battle that is this season, they can still manage to win the war of the coming years by focusing on the progression of their talented youngsters, while evaluating their prospects of retaining veterans at an affordable price next season. A top-15 draft pick being added to a roster returning key pieces in 2021 certainly feels like a silver lining in what has felt like a nightmare season.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


0 Comments

  • No Comments

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



49ers TE George Kittle identifies where he can improve this offseason

By David Bonilla
Feb 15, 2021

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle can do it all. He excels as both a receiver and a run-blocker, making him the complete package. Still, there is always room for improvement. According to Pro Football Focus, only six of Kittle's 63 targets this past season went for 20-or-more yards. The All-Pro tight end hauled in four of those pass attempts for 131 yards. To his credit, one was determined to be uncatchable, leaving Kittle with just one drop. He would love to create more opportunities as a downfield target, though. Kittle spoke with Chris Simms of NBC Sports last week and was asked what he hopes to work on this offseason to improve his game in 2021. "I would like to get better at the longer-distanced routes, some longer-distanced third-down



Why the 49ers can't use the franchise tag on Kyle Juszczyk

By David Bonilla
Feb 19, 2021

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk has earned $21 million since signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. He is scheduled to become a free agent next month and is pondering his NFL future. "I've been lucky enough to have the career that I've had these past eight years that I'm definitely going to have a lot of options," Juszczyk said last week during a podcast interview. "But I also absolutely love San Francisco. I love playing for Kyle (Shanahan). I love playing for Mike McDaniel. Bobby Turner, my running back coach, is an absolute OG. I want to send him out the right way. "But there's a lot more factors that come into play now. I'm 29 years old. I've been married



Patrick Willis: 49ers can return to glory by focusing on defense this offseason

By David Bonilla
Feb 22, 2021

Former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, one of the best to play the position, recently spoke with Fox News and shared his thoughts on what the Niners' offseason focus should be. San Francisco was in the Super Bowl just over a year ago. It followed up the impressive run with a six-win campaign in 2020. The 49ers hope to rebound in 2021, and that will start with the upcoming draft. San Francisco owns the No. 12 overall pick. While some feel that head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch might try to target a rookie quarterback, Willis believes his former team can return to glory by focusing on defense this offseason. That starts with adding a pass rusher to line up opposite the team's young star, defensive end Nick



Simms can't envision a 49ers trade scenario involving Nick Bosa

By David Bonilla
Feb 22, 2021

Chris Simms conducted an ask-me-anything version of his podcast, Chris Simms Unbuttoned, and spent a good deal of time discussing quarterback Deshaun Watson and his situation with the Houston Texans. Watson wants out, but the Texans want to repair the estranged relationship. There would be high demand if Watson were actually able to force a trade. His no-trade clause means that he would have a lot of say in any potential destination. It's not a stretch to believe that San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan might be intrigued by the possibility of adding a talent like Watson to his offense. Of course, there is no urgency on the part of the 49ers, as they have made it clear they are pleased to move forward with Jimmy Garoppolo. San Francisco has


Featured

More by Jordan Elliott

More Articles

Share 49erswebzone