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Five 49ers Who Will Come Back Big in 2021

Marc Adams
May 28, 2021 at 9:40 AM0


These five players missed half of 2020, but each will have a big impact for the 49ers in 2021.


It was Steve Mariucci's first game as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were opening the 1997 season on the road against an up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, and it was a game the new coach's team was favored to win. But by the time the game was over, the five-time Super Bowl Champions had not only lost the game...they had lost their two best players.

By the end of the first half, Steve Young and Jerry Rice both had suffered costly injuries. Rice, who hadn't missed a game since high school, suffered a knee injury that (for the most part) cost him the entire season. Young left the game early after suffering a mild concussion on just the fifth play of the game. He tried to return late in the third quarter, but the offense could get nothing going. Young's teammates admitted he didn't seem quite right when he went back in the game. It was his third concussion in 11 games. He would miss the next game (also known as the Jim Druckenmiller game).

Fast forward 23 years. On a September afternoon in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the defending NFC Champion 49ers played the New York Jets. They won the game. But they lost some key players, including 2019 Rookie of the Year, Nick Bosa, and starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Bosa suffered a knee injury, and was lost for the season. Garoppolo didn't miss the season, but he struggled with a high ankle sprain the rest of the season. He ended up missing 10 games.

If it seemed like the 1997 game was a disaster, it was nothing compared to the 49ers' 2020 season. The 1997 team rebounded, led by a strong defense, to make it within a game of the Super Bowl. The 2020 49ers weren't so lucky. That team continued to deal with injuries, and, in the end, used 84 different players on the way to a 6-10 record.

Believing the team's luck will turn around, I am declaring (as much as you can in May) that the 49ers will be Super Bowl contenders in 2021. But it will take improved health, better luck, and strong seasons from some key players who missed at least half of the games last season. Below are the five returning players I predict will show up big in 2021.

Nick Bosa


I know. This isn't exactly a hot take. This one seems so obvious I am probably cheating by including Nick Bosa. But the fact is, the 2020 49ers defense missed him immensely. The 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year had 60 quarterback pressures (fourth-most in the NFL) and nine sacks in that season. He was consistently disrupting opposing offenses in the pass game, as well as the run game. In 2020, the team's pass rush struggled to get to quarterbacks. Who knows what the 49ers will get from Dee Ford in 2021. A healthy Bosa is just what the 49ers need. I believe he will have a strong season despite his injury.

Jimmy Garoppolo


Yes, I went there. I happen to be one of the ones who believe Jimmy Garoppolo is a good quarterback. When he plays, the 49ers win. And while he has limitations, he knows the offense and should be better this season than he has been the last few. If he is healthy, which he says he is, and if he is motivated (like when your boss hires your future replacement), he could be on pace to have his best season yet. I predict Garoppolo will come up big, and the 49ers will win a lot of games with him as their quarterback.

Cue the angry mob!

Jalen Hurd


For the past two offseasons, 49ers fans have anticipated great things from Jalen Hurd. As a third-round pick in 2019, Hurd was believed to be the perfect weapon for Kyle Shanahan. Hurd has the tools to be a huge threat in the red zone and has a knack for making plays with the ball in his hands. But a back injury (2019) and an ACL tear (2020) have kept him from living up to the lofty dreams of 49ers fans, who are still salivating after seeing Hurd score two touchdowns in one 2019 preseason game. He has yet to play his first regular-season game. Jimmy Garoppolo said this week on 95.7 The Game that Hurd is a "physical freak." It seems like fans aren't the only ones anxious to get Hurd back on the field. I believe this is the season Jalen finally makes an impact.

Travis Benjamin


While I expect Hurd to show up this season, if he doesn't, or if he has to be eased back in slowly, I expect Travis Benjamin to make an impact. Last season, Benjamin was not injured, but he did opt out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. And considering the 2020 49ers had to use receivers like Dante Pettis, River Cracraft, Kevin White, and Trent Taylor, they could have used the speedy wideout. Benjamin has struggled with injuries so far in his career, but if he can stay healthy, the lightning-quick receiver has the chance to be a great fit for Shanahan as a slot receiver.

K'Waun Williams


With all due respect to Akhello Witherspoon's self-proclamation of being the best corner in the NFL, I believe K'Waun Williams is the key to the 49ers' secondary. Williams is one of the top nickel corners in the league, whether defending the pass, the run or rushing the quarterback. In 2020, the tough-nosed Williams missed eight games. He wasn't expected to re-sign with San Francisco this offseason, but his teammates worked hard to persuade him to return. His decision will pay off, and K'Waun will come back strong for the 49ers this season.

Those were my five 49ers who will come back big in 2021. Who are yours?
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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