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Who are 49ers under-the-radar game changers in 2017?

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The 49ers defensive leader has a lot of work in front of him, but he also has a chance to make a big impact.

The San Francisco 49ers are in a rebuilding process, and are not expected to make a significant impact in 2017. Their win total is set at 4.5, and one analysis is giving them a 3.0 percent chance at a playoff berth.

The 49ers are rebuilding a roster that had atrophied under general manager Trent Baalke. Coming off a 2-14 season, nobody’s job is safe, and anything is possible as they churn through the roster. There is optimism under new head coach Kyle Shanahan, and that could open the door to plenty of potential game-changers..

NFL.com recently took a look at under-the-radar game changers for the 2017 season. We’ve heard plenty about the big names, but they went a little further down the rabbit hole with players like John Brown and Ty Montgomery, coordinators like Steve Sarkisian and Steve Wilks, and executives like Bruce Allen.

Earlier this week, Kyle Shanahan was the one 49ers employee who was listed among the 99 people who will shape the 2017 NFL season. I put together a look at some members of the 49ers who might shape their season. I focused on defensive players, but also included offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner.

However, as reedkrase pointed out in the comments, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh deserves consideration. The 49ers invested heavily on defense in the draft, and made some notable additions through free agency. While the offense has also seen some significant additions, the defense seems better primed to take a big step forward from last season.

There is a lot on Saleh’s plate this year. He is a first-time defensive coordinator, and doing so under an offensive-minded head coach. Shanahan won’t ignore the defense, but Saleh is the one who gets a significant opportunity to build the defense. That puts him in position to be a serious game-changer in year one of this rebuilding project. He’s implementing a whole new scheme for a defense that features a lot of young talent. I don’t expect this defense to be tops in the league, but a move closer to the middle of the pack does not strike me as a crazy expectation. And the responsibility for that will fall in large part on Robert Saleh.