49ers

Five 49ers to watch vs. Seahawks: Richard Sherman faces a legacy game

Five 49ers to watch vs. Seahawks: Richard Sherman faces a legacy game

SANTA CLARA – Let’s all take a deep breath and keep this whole thing in proper perspective.

After all, it’s not like the 49ers’ Week 17 game at the Seattle Seahawks is the biggest thing ever.

“It’s not the Catalina Wine Mixer,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “You guys remember that movie? It’s not the biggest deal in the world.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan has used the fictional helicopter leasing event from Will Ferrell’s 2008 movie “Step Brothers” as a way to keep things loose and give his players something relatable – while also maintaining proper balance.

“Not that we don’t understand what’s at stake and how exciting this can be and all that stuff,” Saleh said. “Your mindset should always be internally driven in that every day, every practice, every rep is a championship play, practice, rep, day, whatever it is, meeting.

“You have to approach it that way and the opponent is just secondary.”

Here are five important 49ers to watch in Week 17 on Sunday night when the 2019 NFC West champion will be crowned:

5. WR Kendrick Bourne

Just call this one a hunch.

Bourne had a difficult game with multiple dropped passes when the 49ers lost to the Seahawks on Nov. 11. Since that time, he has put that rough game behind him and made some key plays in crucial moments.

The Seahawks will be focused on stopping George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel. But Bourne is the kind of player who can emerge and make a big play. This could be the kind of stage on which he shines.

After all, Bourne is tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions. (Kittle also has five scoring catches.) And Bourne simply does not seem to be affected by the pressure of the moment. It’s one of the reasons Shanahan is not reluctant to go to him in big spots.

4. LB Fred Warner

What a bargain. The 49ers selected Warner in the third round of the 2018 draft. In his first two NFL seasons, he has played like a first-rounder.

Warner has been, perhaps, the most valuable member of the team’s defense. From his spot in the middle of the field, he is a leader who gets everyone lined up and on the same page. He leads the 49ers in tackles, and provides some game-changing plays, too.

It is a bit of an unknown what the Seahawks will feature on Sunday. Veteran running back Marshawn Lynch is back after not playing a football game in more than 14 months. He is expected to be a load, as always.

It will be imperative for the 49ers to limit Seattle’s rushing yards on first and second downs.

Then, on third downs, Warner must show his versatility to cover in the passing game as well as tracking down Russell Wilson to make sure he does not make big plays with his legs when he escapes the pocket.

Warner has the kind of versatility that makes him a big part of the 49ers’ overall defensive game plan.

3. LT Joe Staley

Veteran left tackle Joe Staley had every reason to be rusty. He was, and Seattle edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney had, far and away, his most impactful game of the season.

Clowney tore up the 49ers’ offense with quarterback pressure after quarterback pressure, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown in Seattle’s 27-24 overtime victory at Levi’s Stadium back in Week 10.

Staley, who was returning from a six-week absence due to a broken left lower leg, was nowhere near his peak. This week, however, figures to be different.

Now, it’s Clowney who is coming back from an injury. He has missed the past two games with a core muscle injury. Clowney has appeared in 12 games this season. Shockingly, he has only three sacks. Sometimes he shows up to play; sometimes he does not.

Staley said he is feeling better than at any point this season. He should be ready to provide the kind of pass protection in a difficult environment that will be required for the 49ers’ offense to properly function.

2. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo will make his 16th start of the season after never starting more than five games consecutively over his first five years in the NFL. Garoppolo is putting together the best statistical season for a 49ers quarterback in two decades.

News flash: The 49ers are a better team with Garoppolo on the field.

The 49ers are 18-5 in Garoppolo’s starts over the past three seasons. In games Garoppolo has not started during that same period, the 49ers are 4-20.

Of course, we’re not saying that Garoppolo is solely responsible for all those victories. There are a number of other factors at play, but let’s just say Garoppolo knows how to win. During his time with the 49ers, he has led six fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. It does not get much more difficult than going up against the Seahawks in their raucous home environment. But Garoppolo believes he is ready.

This is game No. 256 of the NFL regular season. It’s the biggest non-playoff game of the season in the league. This is valuable experience for Garoppolo, whose most-important start of his NFL career only will be topped by the next game he starts when the 49ers open the playoffs.

[RELATEDHow 49ers-Seahawks tie in Week 17 would impact NFC playoff seeding]

1. CB Richard Sherman

Cornerback Richard Sherman was at the center of the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry when it was going strong in the early part of the decade. Now, he is on the other side. He has gone from an individual that 49ers fans hated to a beloved member of the organization and community.

Pro Football Focus this week named Sherman as the best NFL cornerback of the decade. This season he was named to his fifth Pro Bowl, which is especially significant because the Seahawks released him following the 2017 season while he was rehabbing from a torn Achilles.

This is a legacy game for Sherman, though he said he is approaching it as just another week. He won with the Seahawks, and now he is winning with the 49ers. A division championship and home-field advantage would be huge.

The Seahawks running game does not figure to be much of a factor. The Seattle offensive line is bad. Wilson will have to get the ball out quickly, which might enable Sherman to jump some routes and come up with a big play against his former team.

NFL mock draft 2020: 49ers expected to take Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs

NFL mock draft 2020: 49ers expected to take Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs

The 2020 NFL Draft is merely two weeks away. It will take part in much different circumstances than the pomp of Las Vegas, but nevertheless, seven rounds of draft picks will be complete. 

After shocking many by trading star defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers now own the No. 13 pick in the draft, along with the No. 31 pick they already owned as the NFC champions. 

San Francisco can go plenty of ways with its two picks in the first round and should be able to find a receiver with star potential for Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo. Here at NBC Sports Bay Area, Dalton Johnson and Josh Schrock have the 49ers taking receiver Henry Ruggs III at No. 13 and cornerback Jeff Gladney at No. 31. 

Check out how various mock drafts see it playing out: 

Todd McShay, ESPN.com: WR Henry Ruggs (No. 13), CB A.J. Terrell (No. 31)
Ruggs: "Coach Kyle Shanahan likes speedy guys who can tack on yards after the catch, and that's what Ruggs does. Suddenly, that arsenal doesn't look too bad with the likes of Deebo Samuel and George Kittle also running routes for Jimmy Garoppolo."
Terrell: "Terrell is long and plays fast -- as he ran a 4.42 at the combine. He has the talent to be a difference-maker opposite Richard Sherman."

Mel Kiper, ESPN.com: WR Jerry Jeudy (No. 13), CB Noah Igbinoghene (No. 31)
Jeudy: "Adding Jeudy, who caught 77 passes for 1,163 yards and 10 TDs last season, to a group with Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne makes this a really exciting (and young) trio of wideouts for Jimmy Garoppolo."
Igbinoghene: "Igbinoghene, a track athlete who is still raw, is my third-ranked corner, and he could also help as a return man."

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: WR Jerry Jeudy (No. 13), OL Cesar Ruiz (No. 31)
Jeudy: "If Jeudy is on the board, this is a no-brainer for the 49ers."
Ruiz: "He’s a mean but agile centerpiece in the middle of the offensive line, and he has the moves to get upfield and lock out in the zone-blocking scheme."

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com: WR Henry Ruggs (No. 13), DT Ross Blacklock (No. 31)
Ruggs: "Let's take a minute and just imagine Ruggs in the hands of a creative play-caller like Kyle Shanahan."
Blacklock: "The 49ers will likely trade down to stockpile selections, as they currently don't hold a pick in Rounds 2-4."

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: WR CeeDee Lamb (No. 31), S Xavier McKinney (No. 31)
Lamb: "Lamb would give the 49ers a superstar wide receiver to pair with Deebo Samuel. Along with tight end George Kittle, San Francisco would have one of the best receiver groups in the NFL."
McKinney: "He’s capable of playing safety and cornerback, and comes out of a system at Alabama that should have him pro ready."

    49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

    49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

    Kendrick Bourne wants Matt Breida to follow in his footsteps.

    The 49ers wide receiver signed his one-year tender Monday, ensuring he would return for the 2020 season. San Francisco placed second-round tenders on Bourne and Breida last month, and Bourne encouraged Breida to sign his, too.

    Bourne and Breida joined the 49ers as undrafted free agents in 2017. The 24-year-old receiver scored a career-high five touchdowns in the 2019 regular season and caught 30 passes for 358 yards.

    [RELATED: Why Jeudy could be just what 49ers want in 2020 NFL Draft]

    Breida, meanwhile, largely lost his role in the 49ers offense by the end of the 2019 season. He ran a career-high 153 times for 814 yards in 2018, but Breida ran for nearly 200 fewer yards in 2019 as the running back ended the season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman on the 49ers’ depth chart. Jerick McKinnon’s return could further crowd Breida out.

    Bourne has been with Breida every step of their NFL careers, however, and he wants the running back to once again be his teammate this season.