How 49ers' D.J. Jones benefited from Earl Mitchell's professionalism


How 49ers' D.J. Jones benefited from Earl Mitchell's professionalism

When veteran nose tackle Earl Mitchell was a young, up-and-coming nose tackle, he made a vow to himself that he would conduct himself better than the example he saw in front of his eyes.

Defensive lineman D.J. Jones benefited from Mitchell’s professionalism during his first two NFL seasons, including late this season when Jones supplanted Mitchell in the 49ers’ starting lineup.

“It’s a business, and I understand that,” Mitchell told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I’ve been in D.J.’s position where I was a young guy and older guys didn’t treat me as well as I’d hoped when I got my opportunity.

“So I always told myself I wouldn’t be that guy. I hope he’ll pass it forward because that’s the way it should work. Eventually, younger guys are going to get opportunities, and it’s how you respond to that makes you a professional.”

Mitchell, 31, is a nine-year NFL veteran. The 49ers became his third team when he signed a four-year, $16 million contract in February of 2017.

In 2016, the 49ers had one of the worst rush defenses in NFL history, finishing last in the league. The past two seasons, the 49ers ranked sixth- and seventh-best in average yards per rushing attempt with Mitchell in the middle of the team's defensive line on run downs.

After starting the first 12 games of this season, Mitchell played just one snap of defense in the final four weeks of the year. He was inactive for the final two games, as Jones got his chance to play. Both individuals finished the season with 17 tackles.

“I thought he did well,” Mitchell said of Jones. “Obviously, he’s young. He has some way to go. He got some valuable experience, so that was beneficial. I look forward to his progression. I thought he played well, but at the same time any issue he had you just need that playing time to understand who you’re playing against and to know what this league is all about.”

Jones, a sixth-round 2017 draft pick from Ole Miss, learned a great deal from starting and playing a lot in the final four weeks of the season. He also realizes he was fortunate to have Mitchell on his side during the transition.

“He was the same person,” Jones said of Mitchell. “At first, he was a little frustrated. Anybody would be. But he was the same leader he was for me when I came in as a rookie and I was learning from him every day.

“I’m very lucky. I have friends on other teams and they’re not as fortunate to be where I am. Just being able to be around a guy like him, and find stuff out that a lot of people won’t tell you, I love him to death. I love him like a brother. He’s a big brother to me.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan said Mitchell was playing better this season than he did in 2017. But with nickel defenses on the field for approximately two-thirds of snaps around the NFL, there is no need to suit up more than one nose tackle for games. With the 49ers out of the playoff picture, the decision was made to give Jones a chance.

Mitchell remained healthy throughout the season, but he is scheduled to make $3.7 million each of the next two seasons. He is not certain what the future holds.

“I came to work every day and approached the game the same way I have for nine years,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t flinch, but it still wasn’t easy to sit and watch my team play without me being out there.

“Nothing is definite. I’ll just wait to see what happens in the future.”

Said Jones, “Earl is a great guy, great player. I wish he could stay longer. I wish he could finish here and play way longer than what he will.”

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. 

How 49ers' Trent Williams trade benefited from Washington jumping gun

How 49ers' Trent Williams trade benefited from Washington jumping gun

If Trent Williams is fully healthy and plays up to his ability, the 49ers got an absolute steal in only giving up a 2020 fifth-round pick and 2021 third-round selection in last month's trade with Washington. Had he played last season, it's highly unlikely San Francisco would have been able to acquire him for such a low cost.

And, thanks to Washington jumping the gun, he didn't.

Williams joined NFL Media's Ian Rapoport on the "RapSheet and Friends" podcast set to debut Friday and revealed that he was, in fact, prepared to suit up for Washington once he reported to the team after the trade deadline last season. But before his new helmet could arrive, Washington placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list, officially ending his season.

"The competitive juices started to flow, so I was really prepared to make my return last year," Williams told Rapoport. "I know all of the things that had went on and just being in that facility, being around teammates, being around the guys you fought with and bled with for some many years. It was almost impossible for me to fight the urge not to just want to get back on the field. I was literally waiting on my new helmet to come in. I was getting ready to kind of gear up and it was going to be somewhat of a surprise to some, but I think for the people who know me best, they know how competitive I am.

"... I was under the impression my new helmet was coming in that Tuesday, and then I was put on the NFI ... right before I could even get the helmet to get back out there. It was a bummer but figured it was just how it was supposed to work out."

[RELATED: 49ers help Williams by restructuring final year of contract]

It should be noted, Washington saved $6 million by placing Williams on the NFI. Of course, that likely was the final nail in the coffin for their relationship. 

Williams doesn't sound too upset about it. You can be sure the 49ers -- who now have arguably the NFL's best offensive tackle -- aren't either.

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