Dee Ford

49ers must rely on these players on rise to be even better in 2020

49ers must rely on these players on rise to be even better in 2020

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.

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

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.

[RELATED: 49ers' Dee Ford knows how to use disappointment as fuel next 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.

Why 49ers have best crop of edge rushers in NFL, according to PFF

Why 49ers have best crop of edge rushers in NFL, according to PFF

Sometimes breaking the rules is fun. That's exactly what Pro Football Focus did Wednesday when they ranked the best edge-rushing duos in the NFL. 

The 49ers top the list, but there's a catch. When it comes to the defending NFC champions, they actually sport a trio of star edge defenders in Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead.

Nick Bosa already is the 41st-best player in the entire NFL on PFF's rankings. He recorded 13 sacks, 30 QB hits and 19 tackles for loss in 19 games last season as a rookie, including the playoffs. Bosa's 80 regular-season pressures were more than any rookie since the PFF era began in 2006, and he tied Los Angeles Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who PFF has as the best player in football.

Players aren't supposed to dominate from Day 1 like Bosa did last year. But Bosa is an outlier. 

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

Either Ford or Armstead, or even both players, will line up across from Bosa this season. Ford is extremely motivated right now after an injury-riddled first season in Santa Clara. In limited time, Ford still had 6.5 sacks in 11 regular-season games and then underwent surgery two weeks after the season to address a lingering issue with tendinitis in his left knee. 

Ford also had an 81.7 pass-rushing grade in the regular season with 25 pressures on only 163 pass-rushing snaps.

Armstead is coming off a career-year where he led the 49ers with 10 sacks in the regular season, and then had two more in the playoffs. He also 22 QB hits and 12 tackles for loss, including the playoffs. 

[RELATED: Sherman calls out Jerry Jones for his silence on racism]

The former first-round draft pick flashed his star potential and had an 89.6 overall grade, which tied for fifth among 102 qualifying edge defenders. 

Once again, the 49ers will lean on a star-studded defensive line that will include the trio above, along with rookie Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Jones and others. This group should continue to put a ton of fear in the eyes of opposing quarterbacks.

49ers' Dee Ford knows how to use disappointment as fuel next season

49ers' Dee Ford knows how to use disappointment as fuel next season

Edge rusher Dee Ford has experienced disappointment two seasons in a row after getting so close to Super Bowl titles.

His offside penalty while with the Kansas City Chiefs nullified a game-clinching interception in the final minute of the AFC Championship Game against the eventual Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots.

And in February, Ford was on the losing end to his former team in Super Bowl LIV after the 49ers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“You have to have a short memory,” Ford said recently on a video call with Bay Area reporters. “Part of being a championship team is having a short memory and moving on.”

A big part of moving on past the pain for Ford is, well, moving on past the pain.

Ford underwent surgery two weeks after the season to address a lingering issue with tendinitis in his left knee, which he compared to playing on a “blown tire.” In 11 games during the regular season, Ford registered 6.5 sacks and never felt right physically.

A healthy Ford is a big key for the 49ers rebounding to put themselves in position to again compete for a Super Bowl.

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

Ford said the 49ers heard the constant chatter last season when their legitimacy was regularly questioned on national talk shows. The 49ers won their first eight games of the season and went on to post a 13-3 record, an NFC West title and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

“We fought the narrative of, ‘Were we going to fall off the map?’ ‘Were we real or not?’ We stuck together each week and we had to battle,” Ford said. “We started getting each team’s best shot. When you put in that amount of work, of course, it’s terrible to come up short.”

The individual players are scattered across the country during the 49ers’ virtual offseason, a result of NFL teams being prohibited from gathering for team-organized workouts due to COVID-19. Some of the 49ers' offensive skill players, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, are meeting regularly in the Bay Area.

[RELATED49ers' Kyle Shanahan believes Jimmy Garoppolo can be all-time great QB]

Ford, who went through this same feeling a year ago, is speaking from experience when he talks about using the hurt from how one season ended to fuel him for the next season.

“If I was to dwell on things that happened in the past, I wouldn’t be any good in the future and helping my team get back,” he said. “So it’s the same thing this year. We can’t dwell on the loss. You got to use that to push forward and be even better -- which we are going to be -- (this) year. Because now we’re going to have to face another narrative of having that hiccup season after the Super Bowl.

“The fight continues, man. The fight continues.”