Let’s take a look at some of the questions facing the Niners heading into their 2021 training camp.
The San Francisco 49ers will gather at their team facility for training camp in less than a week. Expectations are high for the Niners going into the 2021 NFL season.
After a dismal 2020 campaign that saw San Francisco lead the league in adjusted games lost, many NFL pundits expect the team to be among the title contenders in 2021.
After a busy offseason that saw the 49ers trade up for the No. 3 pick, re-sign key free agents such as Trent Williams and Kyle Juszczyk while also adding Alex Mack and Samson Ebukam in free agency, oddsmakers are bullish on the team. Vegas has the Niners with the second-best odds to win the NFC.
It’s also a major help that dominant pass-rusher Nick Bosa will be back in the fold after tearing his ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign. In addition, superstar tight end George Kittle appears to be ready to go, while All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner is primed to showcase why he is the best in the game at his position.
Despite all of the positives, there are still some questions surrounding San Francisco heading into training camp. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch surprised many when they sent three first-rounders and a third-round selection to the Miami Dolphins for the third pick.
The 49ers used the selection on a prospect they hope will be their QB of the future, Trey Lance, although they have incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo and his $26.3 million cap hit on the roster.
Shanahan and Lynch have maintained that they plan on keeping Jimmy G and have him under center for Week 1 of the 2021 campaign against the Detroit Lions. Garoppolo has shown he can play at a high level when he’s healthy.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case over the past three seasons. Garoppolo’s injuries have resulted in 23 missed starters, in which the Niners’ record is 6-17. Shanahan and Lynch felt they couldn’t take the risk of having another Garoppolo injury torpedo their season, which is one of the reasons why they made the trade to get Lance.
The QB battle is just one of the things to keep an eye out for heading into training camp. The plan appears to be to have Garoppolo start, but that could change if Lance outperforms the veteran leading up to the regular season.
Let’s get your opinion on a few of the major storylines going into 49ers training camp.
Another battle to keep an eye on is who will emerge as San Francisco’s third receiver next season. There’s no doubt that Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will be at the top of the depth chart, but after Kendrick Bourne departed in free agency, the Niners need one to step up in his absence.
Richie James has been with the team since 2018 but has mainly been used as a returner. He finished the 2020 season with a career-high in receptions (23) and yards (394). But the team hasn’t committed to having James as the No. 3 receiver.
Shanahan had high hopes for the 2019 third-round selection Jalen Hurd, who unfortunately hasn’t played a regular-season down since joining the team. Hurd hurt his back during the 2019 preseason, which caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign. He looked great at last year’s training camp but wound up tearing his ACL. The 49ers will give him plenty of opportunities to make his mark if he can knock off the rust after missing back-to-back seasons.
Another veteran who remains on the roster is Mohamed Sanu. The 31-year-old had just 17 receptions for 187 yards while playing for the Niners and Detroit Lions in 2020. The team will also see how Jauan Jennings develops going into his second year, and veteran Travis Benjamin is under contract after opting out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 threat.
The Niners signed Trent Sherfield in free agency. Although he should be used more in a special teams role, Sherfield might be called upon as a receiver if San Francisco deals with a plethora of injuries once again. San Francisco also added Bennie Fowler, Andy Jones and Austin Watkins Jr. (UDFA) in free agency. River Cracraft and Kevin White remain with the team as well.
San Francisco made a big addition to the offensive line as well. Signing the durable Mack should solidify the middle of the line. The left side of the unit is set with the All-Pro Williams and Laken Tomlinson protecting the QB’s blindside.
It will be interesting to see who wins the starting right tackle position. Daniel Brunskill appears to have the inside track, but 2021 second-round selection Aaron Banks could challenge Brunskill.
Defensively, the Niners appear set at most positions. However, the secondary has some question marks when it comes to injuries. Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley — who figure to be the starters at CB — combined to miss 15 games in 2020. The 49ers’ depth will be tested if any of the three suffer a long-term injury.
Shanahan and Lynch added a couple of corners at the draft. Rookies Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir join the unit, and San Francisco is hopeful at least one of them can develop into a long-term starter.
It will also be interesting to see how the defense performs under new coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who’s taking over for the departed Robert Saleh, who moved on to become the head coach of the New York Jets.
Despite missing Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman and other vital members of the secondary, the 49ers only gave up 207.9 passing yards per contest under Saleh in 2020, the fourth-fewest in the NFL. The team ranked fifth in total yards allowed at 314.4.
The Niners are loaded with talent on offense and defense, and if they can avoid the injury bug, they should be in the playoffs come January.
What do you think are some of the other major questions facing the 49ers heading into training camp?