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Five 49ers to watch against the Rams in Week 17

Five players to watch when the 49ers face off against the Rams in San Francisco’s 2018 season finale.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers wrap up their 2018 season on Sunday on the road against the Los Angeles Rams. Here are five players to watch in San Francisco’s season finale:

TE George Kittle

The 49ers’ star tight end is just 100 yards shy of Rob Gronkowski’s single-season record of 1,328 yards. Kittle has amassed 79 receptions for 1,228 yards and two touchdowns this season, surpassing Vernon Davis’ franchise record by 263 yards. With a crippled receiving corps, Kittle is primed for another large target share against the Rams. He isn’t the only tight end in the hunt for Gronkowski’s record though, with Kansas City ChiefsTravis Kelce needing just 54 yards.

LB Elijah Lee

Lee has emerged as a reliable cog in the 49ers’ young defense. He earned the nickname “Steady Eddy” from Rams head coach Sean McVay, who cited Lee’s ability to continually be in the right place at the right time. Lee has managed to replace linebacker Malcolm Smith in the starting lineup, a veteran who the 49ers signed to a 5 year, $26.5 million contract in 2017. Lee led the 49ers’ defense with 11 tackles against the Bears. A strong performance on the team’s final game of the season wouldn’t hurt Lee’s chances at earning a prominent role in 2019.

WR Kendrick Bourne

Bourne, an undrafted free agent in 2017, will be the 49ers’ No. 1 receiver on Sunday. Both Marquise Goodwin (calf) and Dante Pettis (knee) are out against the Rams, leaving the 49ers with five young, healthy wideouts. Trent Taylor, Richie James, Steven Dunbar, and Max McCaffrey, the latter two newly promoted from the practice squad, round out the rest of the group. Bourne had his most productive game of 2018 against the Bears, catching four passes for 73 yards, bringing his season total to 37 receptions, 428 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll be a routine target for quarterback Nick Mullens on Sunday.

DL DeForest Buckner

Buckner’s stat line so far in 2018: 63 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback hits and 12 sacks. The 49ers’ first-round pick in 2016 has gotten to the quarterback more this season than he has the last two combined. Buckner’s the first 49ers defender to surpass 10 sacks since Aldon Smith in 2012 — an impressive feat for an interior defensive lineman. The Rams limited Buckner to just three tackles and one tackle for loss when the two teams met at Levi’s Stadium in Week 7.

QB Nick Mullens

Sunday may be Mullens’ final start for the 49ers. Franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to be fully recovered from his torn ACL and ready for the bulk of the team’s offseason program in 2019. Mullens perfumed better than expected over the course of his seven starts. Since his Week 9 debut, the former third-string quarterback has completed 63.5% of his passes for 1,995 yards, 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 91.2 quarterback rating. He struggled against the Bears’ formidable defense in Week 16 and will have his hands full again on Sunday against a Rams’ front led by Aaron Donald — who’s 3.5 sacks away from overcoming Michael Strahan’s season record of 22.5 in 2002.