49ers

49ers' Fred Warner named NFC Defensive Player of Month for November

49ers' Fred Warner named NFC Defensive Player of Month for November

Since 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander sustained a season-ending torn pectoral, middle linebacker Fred Warner has elevated his game to another level.

On Thursday, Warner was recognized as NFC Defensive Player of the Month.

In his four games in November, Warner registered 10 or more tackles in each game. He picked up three sacks, three passes defensed and forced two fumbles.

Warner, a second-year player from BYU, becomes the second consecutive 49ers player to win the award. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa won the honor for October.

Warner played well Sunday in the 49ers’ 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens despite the significant challenge of trying to slow down quarterback Lamar Jackson and the top-ranked offense in the league.

“All the misdirection and everything they have, especially with the quarterback runs, can really lock a guy up,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I thought he played as good as any of the linebackers that I’ve seen play them on tape and as it got going.

“They were good in the beginning, but they got better as the game went because the more you see that stuff, the more you get a feel for it. When you’ve got a guy like Fred, who’s very natural at things and football comes to him the right way, he just got better as the game went.”

[RELATED: Shanahan uses 'Karate Kid' analogy to describe Sherman's recovery]

Warner has taken on more responsibility since Alexander, a vocal leader on the defense, sustained his injury. Warner’s responsibilities include relaying the play call from defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to his teammates in the huddle.

“It was usually him calling the plays and Kwon being the energy guy,” Bosa said. “And now it’s him doing both. He calls the play. He gets us lined up. And he brings the energy, so he’s really important.”

49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries

49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries

Kyle Shanahan’s offense was never at full strength in the first three seasons as 49ers head coach.

Even when Shanahan’s offense ranked second in points scored and fourth in total yards last season, it was accomplished without three components who were expected to be major factors on offense.

The 49ers had situational roles envisioned for running back Jerick McKinnon, and receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd. But injuries kept each of those players off the field for the entire 2019 season.

Those players could give Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a lot more options, especially on third downs and in the team’s two-minute offense. An offense that needs only a tweak could get a major boost if McKinnon, Taylor and Hurd are healthy.

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RB Jerick McKinnon

He missed his first season with the 49ers when he sustained a torn ACL one week before the start of the season. Last year, his season ended before it started when the surgery from his graft did not fill in properly.

McKinnon was an elite route-runner before all of his knee issues. Shanahan made a priority to sign him as a free agent in 2018 because he envisioned flooding the middle of the field with McKinnon, tight end George Kittle, a slot receiver and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Shanahan felt those players would cause all kinds of matchup problems.

McKinnon looks good in his workouts, and the 49ers are cautiously optimistic he will finally provide what they were expecting when the signed him two years ago.

Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida were good backs. But none had the route-running skills of McKinnon.

The 49ers’ best route-runner out of the backfield last season was Jeff Wilson. His ability to juke a defender in man coverage was the reason Shanahan called upon Wilson to run the route that won the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Late in the first half of the Super Bowl, Wilson went in for the season reason and caught a 20-yard pass.

Mostert is working hard on his route-running, and he is likely to make improvements in that area. McKinnon is not likely to be considered for every-down duties. But he will have opportunities to make a considerable impact on third downs.

[RELATED49ers' Raheem Mostert expects Jerick McKinnon to 'surprise everyone']

WR Trent Taylor

Taylor had an impressive rookie season. He and Kittle tied for third on the team with 43 receptions apiece. But Taylor had a difficult time bouncing back in 2018 after offseason back surgery. Then, he had one setback after another following surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot last summer.

Taylor hopes to be ready for when the 49ers get on the field to begin preparations for the 2020 season. Taylor’s best attribute is his ability to get open quickly with Shanahan's favorite route. Depending on the matchup, Garoppolo can lock onto Taylor and rely on him get open in order to convert third downs on what Shanahan calls "choice routes."

Emmanuel Sanders was the 49ers’ main slot receiver after coming to the team in a midseason trade. But the slot was never a big part of the 49ers’ offense. The 49ers had big hopes for Taylor last season. Nobody on the team would benefit as much from Wes Welker’s coaching as him.

WR Jalen Hurd

Shanahan likes some players for specific roles. But with Hurd, Shanahan sees a player who can be used in a number of different ways. Hurd can line up outside. He can line up in the slot, at tight end or in the backfield.

Hurd’s versatility would be especially useful to the 49ers on their two-minute drill when the opposing defense is unable to make substitutions after every play. Hurd could be moved around the formation to create exploit certain matchups Shanahan wishes to exploit.

General manager John Lynch said last month that Hurd had been cleared for on-field work after he was forced to sit out his rookie season due a stress fracture in his back. Hurd is not likely to post huge numbers, but he has the potential to play a vital role in key situations.

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

One of the 49ers' newest rivals is coming to the NFC West with lots of confidence.

DeAndre Hopkins hasn't even suited up for the Arizona Cardinals yet, but he told ESPN's "Jalen & Jacoby Show" that he "definitely" is the best wide receiver in the NFL. 

"I know I'm the best," Hopkins said Thursday. "Mike's my boy. I love [New Orleans Saints wide receiver] Michael [Thomas] ... but he knows if I had Drew Brees my whole career what these numbers would be. [Falcons wide receiver] Julio Jones knows if I had Matt Ryan my whole career. That's my boy. I trained with Julio, too. He knows what these numbers would be."

Hopkins caught passes from Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson over the last two-and-half seasons before Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals this offseason, and Watson is no slouch as a quarterback. The 27-year-old receiver made First Team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons since Watson was drafted, catching 257 passes for 3,288 yards and 24 touchdowns in the QB's 37 career starts.

But Hopkins was great despite playing with numerous forgettable quarterbacks in four years before Watson arrived in Houston, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 after finishing third in receiving yards (1,521) and tied for seventh in TDs (11) while Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden each started at least one game.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Hopkins won't have to worry about that in 2020, barring injury, as he's set to team up with up-and-coming star Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury's high-octane offense. That combination has the potential to be a thorn in the 49ers' side for years to come.

If you agree with where Hopkins stands among the game's best wide receivers, he'll pose a threat to the 49ers this season. Thomas and Jones each carved up the 49ers' dominat defense last season, with both catching 11 or more passes for 134 yards and at least one touchdown. Of the receivers who accrued at least 100 receiving yards in a game against the 49ers, Thomas (13) and Jones (11) had the most receptions.

[RELATED: How Washington jumping gun on Williams benefited 49ers] 

Hopkins will have two chances to replicate his peers' production, and he'll be aided by arguably a better supporting cast of receivers. Larry Fitzgerald caught 75 passes for 804 yards as a 36-year-old last season, while Christian Kirk had 709 receiving yards himself. Fitzgerald has gained more receiving yards (2,381) and scored more touchdowns (19) against the 49ers than any other team in his career, while Kirk has scored two of his six career TDs (in two seasons) against San Francisco.

The All-Pro receiver's swagger alone won't knock the 49ers off their divisional perch, but Hopkins' arrival should keep them -- and their secondary -- up at night preparing for (at least) two games against the Cardinals this season.