The 49ers are counting on immediate and significant production from their 2020 NFL Draft class.
Those are the expectations of a team that replaced two of their top veteran departures with first-round draft picks.
The incoming class of five draft picks will have to earn their roles, and they will undoubtedly have a truncated offseason and/or training camp to do it.
South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw steps in to replace DeForest Buckner, who was sent to Indianapolis in a trade. And Arizona State wideout Brandon Aikyk is being counted upon to pick up the slack for the departure of Emmanuel Sanders to New Orleans as a free agent.
Here’s a look at the top competitions that face the 49ers’ 2020 draft class in their rookie seasons:
Javon Kinlaw vs. Solomon Thomas
Kinlaw, the No. 14 overall pick, is a starter at defensive tackle. No question.
But will Kinlaw win the right to be on the field as an inside pass rusher on a critical third-down play in the fourth quarter?
Kinlaw registered six sacks as a senior. Solomon Thomas had 8.5 sacks in his final year at Stanford. But in 46 career NFL games, Thomas has just six sacks after arriving as the No. 3 overall pick in 2017.
Still, Thomas' teammates put his quickness at the snap near the same level as Dee Ford. He could make his biggest contribution as an inside pass-rusher. The 49ers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season, but he still figures to play an important role as a rotational player this season and remain with the club.
While Kinlaw learns what’s expected of him on base downs, he will have to earn his way into a role as an immediate three-down player.
Brandon Aiyuk vs. Kendrick Bourne
Unlike when the 49ers’ coaching staff had confidence in only three wide receivers toward the end of last season, the club should have better depth this year.
There should be plenty of playing time for a handful of the team’s receivers, including rookie Brandon Aikyuk, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor, if healthy.
The 49ers had Aiyuk rated nearly as high as draft prospect CeeDee Lamb. General manager John Lynch traded up from No. 31 to No. 25 to make sure Kyle Shanahan got the receiver with whom he became smitten during the draft process.
But Bourne has been in this system for three seasons. Aiyuk will certainly have a role on offense, but will Bourne still be the better option for most of the playbook? Bourne should have a head start when the competition begins due to his familiarity with Shanaahn's scheme.
The 49ers like Aiyuk because of his versatility. So, on third downs, will Aiyuk or Bourne line up outside? Or will Aiyuk or Taylor take most of the snaps in the slot? How much Aiyuk plays as a rookie will be based on how quickly he adapts.
Colton McKivitz vs. Daniel Brunskill
The 49ers will have a new starting right guard this season after the club made the decision to release veteran Mike Person in March.
The competition at right guard was originally seen as a head-to-head battle involving Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton, whom the 49ers signed as a free agent. Compton turns 31 next month. He started 10 games or more just once in his eight-year career. The 49ers will be his sixth team in six years.
The more likely competition seems to feature Brunskill and Colton McKivitz.
The 49ers had their eyes on McKivitz, the West Virginia left tackle, in the fourth round as a possible replacement for Joe Staley. They ended up selecting McKivitz in the fifth round.
His better NFL position might be guard. Brunskill has the ability to start at all the guard and tackle positions. He performed well last season at whichever position the 49ers needed him. As with all the returners, Brunskill's time in the system gives him the early advantage.
Jauan Jennings vs. Jalen Hurd
Jalen Hurd and Jauan Jennings are big wide receivers the 49ers have selected in the draft in back-to-back years.
Jennings is a tough wide receiver whose skillset seems to overlap, to a degree, with the 49ers’ original plan for Hurd.
Hurd, of course, did not see any action as a rookie due to a stress fracture in his back. He was recently cleared and apepars to be on pace to compete for a major role in the 49ers’ offense.
Jennings plays wide receiver like a middle linebacker. He lasted until the seventh round of the draft because of questions about his 4.72 speed in the 40, and whether he has any chance to create separation against NFL defensive backs.
These two large, physical wide receivers, are likely to be going head-to-head for the same identity in Shanahan's system.