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Who is the 49ers leading MVP candidate in 2017?

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The defensive side of the ball seems more likely to produce a team MVP.

The San Francisco 49ers are not expected to compete for a Super Bowl this year, but even still, we’ll get to figure out who some of the important players are in keeping them regularly competitive. There will be some of the usual counting stats that attract attention, but there are always some notable names that step up outside the stat sheet.

NFL.com analyst Elliott Harrison took a look at MVP candidates around the league, and came up with a potential MVP option for each team. Big names like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Derek Carr topped the list, with Antonio Brown, Ezekiel Elliott and Julio Jones topping the non-QB list.

For the 49ers, it’s an obvious name, as he chose running back Carlos Hyde. Here’s what he had to say about Hyde:

Will Hyde thrive in Kyle Shanahan's offense? He should. The 49ers' RB1 rushed for 988 yards in only 13 games last season, an impressive feat when you consider how often his team trailed (badly). GM John Lynch and Shanahan have said they would like to get more out of Hyde, which could mean a huge season, albeit for a 5-11 team. More likely scenario: Pro Bowl.

The national media is focused on Carlos Hyde as the biggest beneficiary of Kyle Shanahan’s coaching. Outside folks are projecting big numbers for him, even as the 49ers are bringing in some significant competition. Hyde could very well claim a firm grasp on the starting role and have a monster season, but it’s far from a lock.

We’ve currently got a FanPost going asking people to rank their ten most important players on the 49ers roster. We’ll be putting together a consensus look at that, but hopefully more people post their rankings in the comments of that article.

I bring it up because the MVP idea is more than just a numbers game. Hyde could end up being the most high profile player, but there are a few other players who could put together big seasons that help push this team forward.

I don’t expect any member of the 49ers to win the actual MVP award, but what about the Bill Walsh Award? The award was created in 2004 in honor of the legendary coach. The last three seasons, amidst team struggles, the winners were Joe Staley (2016), Phil Dawson (2015), and Antoine Bethea (2014). Frank Gore, Justin Smith, and Patrick Willis have each won the award twice.

Hyde will be a front-runner, as will NaVorro Bowman in his return from the Achilles injury. It’s more fun though to consider some of the sleepers. On defense, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward, and Rashard Robinson all strike me as potential options. On offense, Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin are intriguing possibilities if the passing game gets going, as would include Brian Hoyer if things go particularly well.

My guess is a defensive player ends up winning the award. NaVorro Bowman is an obvious choice for some, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Jimmie Ward ends up claiming the award. The importance of his role on the back-end of the defense strikes me as something that could get him further respect from his 49ers peers. Even if the 49ers shocked us all and were great, it’s unlikely he would be competing for league MVP honors, but for the team-specific award, it is very possible.