The 49ers were a middle-of-the-pack offense in 2020.
After a strong 2019 season in which the 49ers ranked second in the NFL in scoring and fourth in yards gained, those numbers fell dramatically for coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad in 2020.
The 49ers were 21st in points scored and 15th in total yards — drop-offs that can largely be attributed to injuries to such players as Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and the running backs.
The 49ers have more quality depth at running back this season. They are not reliant on any one person to carry the ball with such available options as Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, Wayne Gallman, JaMycal Hasty and Elijah Mitchell. The 49ers expect Jeff Wilson to make a midseason return after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
On Monday, we looked at the team’s most important defensive players. Today, we take a look at the offense.
10. Kyle Juszczyk
The 49ers use the fullback more than any other team in the league. That is why they considered Kyle Juszczyk such an important player to re-sign in the offseason.
Juszczyk’s new contract — five years, $27 million — means they are not even thinking of phasing him out of the offense any time soon.
Juszczyk had 36 touches — 19 receptions, 17 rushing attempts — last season resulting in 20 first downs and six touchdowns.
But his main contribution to the team is what offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel can design for him as a blocker. There is not another fullback in the league who can sell one type of run play, change course, provide a block and help create a big play.
Juszczyk is so unique the 49ers do not even have a true backup fullback on the team.
9. Aaron Banks
The 49ers invested a second-round draft pick in Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks, who combines size and toughness with the athleticism the 49ers require from the position.
Banks will not be handed the starting job. He still has to earn it in a competition with Daniel Brunskill who split his 16 starts last season at right guard and center.
The 49ers did not select Banks to provide depth. They expect him to step in right away and do his part to improve the interior of the team’s offensive line.
8. Brandon Aiyuk
Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk entered the month of December in position to challenge Jerry Rice’s franchise record for receiving yards for a rookie.
But he could not remain on the field long enough to make it happen.
Aiyuk appeared in only 12 games but still caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns. He also scored two touchdowns rushing.
He was impressive from the moment he stepped on the field a year ago despite the lack of an offseason program due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The key for Aiyuk is to remain on the field. He missed games last season due to a hamstring injury, a high-ankle sprain and two stints on the COVID-19 list.
7. Deebo Samuel
After an impressive rookie season, wide receiver Deebo Samuel never got things going in 2020. It started when he sustained a fractured foot while working out with teammates in the offseason. He appeared in only seven games last season.
Samuel is a versatile and irreplaceable component of Shanahan’s offense. Samuel and Aiyuk are similar. Aiyuk is a more-polished route-runner, while Samuel looks and plays like a running back.
Samuel was plagued by injuries throughout his college career. His head coach at South Carolina, Will Muschamp, advised the 49ers they had to closely monitor Samuel’s weight in the offseason.
If Samuel comes to training camp in good shape and remains healthy, he will give the 49ers’ offense a huge lift.
6. Mike McGlinchey
The 49ers have already made a commitment to right tackle Mike McGlinchey for the 2022 season. The club picked up the guaranteed fifth-year option of $10.88 million this offseason.
McGlinchey was one of the best tackles in the league last season as a run-blocker, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. However, he seemed to struggle at inopportune times in pass protection.
McGlinchey and the team’s strength and conditioning staff devised a plan in the offseason to provide his body with the necessities to handle all of the requirements of the position.
A bump in production from McGlinchey could provide the offense with a major boost this season.
5. Trey Lance
It is conceivable Jimmy Garoppolo plays so well that rookie quarterback Trey Lance never starts a game for the 49ers this season.
But, still, the 49ers can be expected to find ways to utilize Lance’s unique blend of running and throwing. Shanahan is likely to carve out packages in every game plan that provides Lance with the ability to exploit weaknesses in opposing defenses.
Lance could have an impact on the field, but he could also leave his mark on this season with what he does behind the scenes. If he pushes Garoppolo to become a better player, that will count for something.
The 49ers traded up to No. 3 overall to select their long-term quarterback. What Lance does this season — and how he does it — will have an impact on future seasons, too.
4. Alex Mack
The 49ers started three different players at center in 2020. And, frankly, each had his fair share of problems.
Yes, Alex Mack, 35, is nearing the end of a great career. But he should provide some stability at this spot due to his experience within the system. He believes his knowledge and physical skills are ideal fits for Shanahan’s system.
The 49ers do not need Mack to return to his NFL All-Decade form. They need him to keep the offensive line on the same page and hold down his position with solid play.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo
When Shanahan said Garoppolo had his best offseason since coming to the club in 2017, it sounds pretty good. But, really, this was only the second offseason Garoppolo has experienced with the 49ers.
He will take the first snaps at practice on Wednesday, and he figures to be the front-runner to open the season as the starter.
Garoppolo is set up well to succeed. He’s healthy, has another season in the system, and is being pushed for the first time since being a member of the 49ers.
Assuming he holds onto the starting job, Garoppolo will be the person who is most responsible for the fate of this team. But if he were to struggle, the 49ers can always turn to the talented rookie.
2. Trent Williams
Trent Williams is the highest-paid offensive lineman in the game, and for good reason.
Not only is Williams an alley-creating presence in the running game. He also supplies ample protection from the blindside of his quarterback. What makes Williams even more important to the 49ers’ hopes this season is the uncertainty of the backup tackle positions behind him and McGlinchey.
Justin Skule is out for the season with a torn ACL. Shon Coleman was acquired in 2018 for this reason, but he has yet to suit for a regular-season game with the club.
Williams is the best friend of whichever quarterback lines up for the 49ers.
1. George Kittle
The best player on the team is also the most important. Go figure.
The loss of tight end George Kittle for a number of games last season proved detrimental to the 49ers because of what he brings as a run-blocker and pass-catcher.
His impact is felt on every offensive play. And his value does not end there. His energy and enthusiasm set the tone for the entire team — both sides of the ball.
Everything on offense runs just a little more smooth when Kittle is on the field.