In order for the 49ers to make it to the Super Bowl last season, a lot of players had to put together very good seasons.
For the 49ers to remain contenders to win the Super Bowl, many of their top performers must be even more productive in 2020.
Here are six players who played big roles for the club last season and must be even better for the 49ers to get to where they want to go:
TE George Kittle
George Kittle may never improve on the statistics he piled up in 2018, when he set the NFL record for receiving yards for a tight end with 1,377 yards. But he still can become a better, more-impactful player.
Kittle is the best player on the team. He caught five touchdown passes in each the past two seasons. He can definitely get in the end zone more in 2020. But his value this season could come more from how he helps the teammates around him.
The attention defenses must devote to Kittle should help others get open in the passing game. His blocking should be a huge benefit to Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and the 49ers' running backs.
Kittle is the best in the game at this position. And, at 26, his best football is still ahead of him. (And his agent expects his next contract to reflect that.)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Three things you might not know about Jimmy Garoppolo:
1. He ranks No. 1 among 49ers quarterbacks with a career competition percentage of 67.6.
2. He ranks No. 1 in club history among those with more than 100 attempts with a 8.4-yard average per attempt.
3. He ranks behind only Steve Young in club history with a passer rating of 99.2.
Last year was Garoppolo’s first as an NFL starter. The second year Matt Ryan was in Kyle Shanahan’s system, he had his finest season and one of the best in league history. Shanahan has reason to expect Garoppolo’s game to take a step forward in his second full season as the starter.
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WR Deebo Samuel
Deebo Samuel had the second-best rookie season for a 49ers wide receiver behind ... Jerry Rice, of course.
Samuel is a versatile receiver who looks and runs like a running back. After catching more than 800 yards worth of passes last season, it is within reason to expect him to top 1,000 yards and add a few hundred more as a runner. Retired left tackle Joe Staley said he expects Samuel to become one of the best in the league.
DE Nick Bosa
Nick Bosa remained healthy and productive from start to finish of his rookie season. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with nine sacks during the regular season. He added four more during the postseason.
Bosa, widely considered a next-level technician, believes he can get better. And there is no reason to doubt him. He narrowly missed a handful (or more) sacks early in the season as he was still getting comfortable. He has power, and now armed with more knowledge, Bosa is fully capable of challenging for the NFL lead in sacks.
FS Jimmie Ward
Free safety Jimmie Ward was solid in 2019. OK, maybe he was better than just solid. He had a “forced incompletion rate” of 34.8 percent, second-best among NFL safeties, according to Pro Football Focus.
But Ward has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to making game-changing plays. He did not force a takeaway in 2019, and that is one area where he expects to improve dramatically this season.
DE Dee Ford
Veteran edge rusher Dee Ford never was healthy in his first season with the 49ers. He appeared in 11 games and was never right due to knee tendinitis and a nasty hamstring injury. Still, he managed 6.5 sacks.
After offseason surgery, he is feeling good. If Ford remains healthy and on the field -- and with Bosa on the other side -– there is no reason he cannot approach his career-best total of 13 sacks, which he registered in 2018 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ford is one of the top pass-rushers in the game. If he’s performing at a top-level, his presence would immediately supply an upgrade in that spot -- his spot -- from the 2019 season.