What LaDainian Tomlinson believes could be 49ers' Achilles heel in 2020

What LaDainian Tomlinson believes could be 49ers' Achilles heel in 2020

The 49ers enter the 2020 season with a loaded roster and sky-high expectations of getting back to the Super Bowl and finishing the job. But even the best-laid plans can go awry.

Yes, the 49ers are in win-now mode, with a stacked defense led by a dominant defensive line. But that unit will have to stomach the loss of DeForest Buckner, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in March. On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers lost Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency, and Deebo Samuel is out 12 to 16 weeks with a Jones fracture in his foot.

Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson sees wide receiver as an issue for the 49ers if two young stars don't show up and contribute early.

“We know what Deebo Samuel is," Tomlinson said on "NFL Total Access." "We know that he’s coming off a foot injury, and hopefully he’ll get back healthy, but I’m talking about the other guys. They drafted Jalen Hurd a year ago, and he spent the entire season pretty much injured. Now, he’s the bigger body type of guy that can help them in the red zone, where they struggled a bunch last year. But, I like Brandon Aiyuk. I think it may take him some time to develop considering the climate we’re in with the pandemic, and you can’t get on the field. So, depending on how quickly Aiyuk adjusts to the offense, this could be the Achilles’ heel for the 49ers in production out wide. We know Jimmy [Garoppolo] in the past has struggled throwing the football. He needs those guys outside to step up a little bit more for him.”

Samuel has said he would be back in 10 weeks, but that's an optimistic take on an injury that is known to cause setbacks. The 49ers still will have once of the best-receiving weapons in the NFL in tight end George Kittle, but they will need others to step up in Samuel's absence, or else the passing attack could falter.

The 49ers drafted Aiyuk with the No. 25 overall pick in this year's draft, moving ahead of the Green Bay Packers to select the Arizona State wide receiver. But rookie receivers normally take time to adjust to the NFL, and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic only will slow his development with teams unable to hold official practices. Once up to speed, Aiyuk's ability to break tackles and take the top off the defense is something that should make a fully-functioning 49ers offense all the more dangerous. But if he struggles to find early success in the NFL, the 49ers' offense could be less potent until Samuel returns.

Hurd is an intriguing option. After missing all of last season with a back injury, the Tennessee/Baylor product is healthy and ready to contribute to the 49ers. Hurd was a running back at Tennessee before switching positions and transferring to Baylor. His versatility and strength should be something coach Kyle Shanahan can utilize right away, If Hurd can have some early success then that could take some of the pressure off Aiyuk, who will be expected to slot in as the No. 1 receiver until Samuel returns.

[RELATED: This stat shows how Aiyuk can be reliable receiver]

The 49ers also have seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings, Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor, who will be asked to shoulder the load in Samuel's absence. Kendrick Bourne has shown himself to be a reliable receiver on third down and in the red zone, as well. If the 49ers can get good contributions from two of Aiyuk, Hurd, Taylor, Jennings and Pettis, then the offense should be able to keep humming until Samuel returns.

But if the young group of wideouts can pick up the slack, the 49ers' offense could see a dip in production early on. As we found out last year, the margin between the No. 1 seed and a wild-card spot can be inches in the loaded NFC.

That's something the 49ers can't afford.

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49ers' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo grades his 2019 season 'productive'

49ers' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo grades his 2019 season 'productive'

Everyone has an opinion about Jimmy Garoppolo’s first full season as an NFL starter.

On Monday, for the first time since the 49ers’ bitter Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Garoppolo spoke publicly about how he thought he performed in 2019.

“I thought it was a productive year,” Garoppolo said on a video call with Bay Area reporters. “Obviously, it didn’t finish the way we wanted it to. But I think there were a lot of things that went well for us.”

Garoppolo had just 10 NFL starts in his first five seasons. He played in just three games in 2018 due to a torn ACL. Last year, he started all 16 regular-season games and posted one of the better individual seasons from a quarterback in 49ers history.

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

Garoppolo ranked third in 49ers history with a 69.1 completion percentage. That accuracy also enabled his receivers to post big yards-after-the-catch numbers. Garoppolo threw for 3,978 yards, ranking fourth in franchise history.

“The thing I always take pride in is being an accurate quarterback,” Garoppolo said. “The more accurate you are, the more yards after the catch your guys can go get for you. So in our offense, it’s putting the ball in the right spot, putting it in the right timing of the play and it’s little things like that that go a long way in our offense.

“I was pretty happy with everything, how it went. Like I said, we just want the last game of the season to turn out a little differently.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch discussed the possibility of pursuing Tom Brady as a free agent this offseason before opting to remain committed to Garoppolo, who turns 29 on Nov. 2.

[RELATED49ers GM John Lynch calls Jimmy Garoppolo's physical skills 'elite']

Garoppolo believes, as do Shanahan and Lynch, that he has room to grow as he gains experience. One area where Garoppolo can improve is in taking care of the ball. he threw 16 interceptions in 19 games, including the postseason.

“Having my first full season under my belt, coming off the ACL and everything that went into that season, it will only help me going forward,” Garoppolo said. “I think in terms of being a quarterback, I still have a long way to go. I’m still relatively young for a quarterback, just in terms of playing time.

“As a quarterback, you got to get out there and get the reps, play, get in the live action like that. I think having a full season under my belt will help me going forward.”

How 49ers fans acted toward NFL analyst Adam Rank since 3-13 prediction

How 49ers fans acted toward NFL analyst Adam Rank since 3-13 prediction

It was an idiotic pick, according to himself.

Before the 2019 season began, NFL Network analyst Adam Rank predicted the 49ers would have a 3-13 record. That didn’t happen, of course, as they went 13-3 and found their way to Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

The 49ers fans who got wind of this let Rank have it on social media.

But how have 49ers fans been since then? Maybe not as bad as we thought.

“They’ve been great,” Rank said on the NBC Sports Bay Area’s Balk Talk podcast. “Right off the bat, they’ve been super cool.”

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So why did Rank choose that ghastly record? Jimmy Garoppolo was coming off of an ACL injury, for starters, and the 49ers secondary was coming off a season where they couldn't force takeaways.

“The defensive secondary had no interceptions -- or, I think maybe it was two interceptions, but the cornerbacks had no interceptions for an entire season,” Rank said. “Richard Sherman, you know, had not been playing well, arriving from Seattle … “

Rank also wasn’t sure how 49ers newly-drafted defensive end Nick Bosa would do. He can’t predict the future. He couldn’t anticipate a Defensive Rookie of the Year honor or an 89.8 grade on Pro Football Focus after a nine sack, 47 tackle, 25 QB-hit season.

How was he to know that?

[RELATED: Rank admits he's an 'idiot' for 49ers prediction]

Don’t worry friends, Rank had his reasons. And he has more than made up for it, predicting the 49ers to finish with a 12-4 record in the 2020 season.

He talks about that, and more on the latest episode of Balk Talk. And wait until you hear about the time Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout asked him for fantasy football advice.