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3 takeaways from the 49ers’ rookies after win over Broncos

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How did San Francisco’s first-year players impress on Sunday?

NFL: Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

While the final score may show 20-14, the San Francisco 49ers jumped out to a huge lead in the first half and fended off the visiting Denver Broncos for the rest of the game. While it seemed like the 49ers were in prime position to hand another game away down the stretch, San Francisco’s rookies came up in big spots to prevent that from happening.

With the 49ers’ record now improving to 3-10, it shouldn’t shift the focus away from what’s important the rest of the season. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan should be solely focused on evaluating the young talent on their roster in order to make a decision on 2019. Subsequently, that should result in the 49ers’ 2018 draft class getting heavy playing time in the final three games of the season.

The rookies didn’t disappoint on Sunday, with many of them showing a little extra something. Here are three takeaways on the performances of the newest members of the 49ers.

1. Safeties D.J. Reed and Marcell Harris will be the secondary combination to watch in 2019

Many thought the strong safety spot was settled with the offseason extension of Jaquiski Tartt. However, injuries and inconsistent play have caused fans to doubt their standing within the team moving forward.

Tartt’s backup, Marcell Harris stepped in and made sure his impact was known right off the bat. He had seven tackles, including two for a loss. Harris has stepped in for Tartt, who’s been hampered by a shoulder injury for a majority of the season. The ex-Florida safety didn’t disappoint, after returning from injured reserve and making his 49ers’ debut recently.

Meanwhile, D.J. Reed came on in place of nickel back K’Waun Williams, who was inactive with a knee injury. He had 12 tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit and three tackles for loss.

2. RB Jeff Wilson Jr. has earned himself a spot behind RBs Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon in 2019

With running back Jerick McKinnon set to return from his ACL injury in 2019, he projects to be the starter, splitting carries with second-year stud runner Matt Breida. However, in a Kyle Shanahan offense, there may be two main running backs, but there’s usually three on the active game-day roster.

Many assumed it would be Joe Williams or Raheem Mostert at the start of the season, but I’m here to tell you it’s going to be Jeff Wilson Jr. instead. After putting up video-game numbers against the Seahawks in the main role, Wilson Jr. assumed the lead dog position again with Breida out.

The numbers weren’t as gaudy, but Wilson Jr. managed to be effective against a stout Broncos’ front seven. The rookie put up 90 yards on the ground, carrying the ball 23 times. He also added a reception for six yards. His performance over the last two weeks is going to earn him a long-term job with the 49ers after opening up training camp at the sixth-string position.

3. WR Dante Pettis will be a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019

Over the last few weeks, key injuries to wideout Pierre Garçon and the absence of wide receiver Marquise Goodwin have allowed for wide receiver Dante Pettis to earn more snaps on the field.

The result? Pettis has been sensational, tallying 16 catches over the last four weeks, averaging nearly seven targets a game from quarterback Nick Mullens. Not only have Pettis’ catch numbers been higher, he’s been taking these passes to the end zone more often than not.

The ex-Husky added another touchdown on Sunday against the Broncos, which makes it four house calls in the last three weeks. In these past four games, Pettis has totaled 16 catches for 267 yards and four touchdowns.

If those numbers are extrapolated for a full season, Pettis would be on pace for 64 catches, 1,068 yards and 16 TDs. A healthy Pettis, combined with the return of 49ers’ starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will result in the second-round pick becoming the focal point of the 49ers’ passing offense. The passing game is going to be centered around Pettis and George Kittle moving forward, allowing the ex-Washington receiver to flourish.

After a “non-destructive to draft position” victory, it’s all positive for the 49ers’ rookie class, as many made a significant impact on Sunday. They should continue to earn more snaps moving forward, allowing Lynch and Shanahan to make decisions for the future.