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49ers midseason awards: Arik Armstead deserves a ton of credit

Looking at everything from the most-improved player to the biggest surprises of the season

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Plenty of teams and bloggers are going through their midseason awards. Let’s do one for the San Francisco 49ers, who have had plenty of success in their undefeated season.

Describe the first half in two words

Overcoming adversity.

Every team in the NFL faces injuries and has unexpected issues arise that they weren’t ready for in August. Do most teams have to play a month without their starting offensive tackles? They don’t. The Niners were without more than a couple of offensive linemen. San Francisco missed one of the most important players on offense in Kyle Juszczyk, as well as a starting cornerback. At the time, Ahkello Witherspoon was playing at an insanely high level.

The 49ers overcame each injury in what has been some of the better coaching you’ll see. It’s a testament to how well San Francisco has been prepared despite missing key starters.

Most-improved player

Arik Armstead

This offseason, there was weekly talk about the 49ers moving on from Armstead. San Francisco was rumored to trade on from the versatile defensive lineman during the NFL Draft.

Eight games into the season and Armstead has arguably been the MVP of the defense. Armstead has a career-high six sacks this season, which is second on the team. He’s fourth in total pressures and second in run stops. Those numbers don’t do justice for how much of an impact Armstead has made this season.

Biggest first-half surprise

The replacements

Emmanuel Moseley looked like he would be competent in training camp. Justin Skule looked out of his depth. Daniel Brunskill was an unknown. Brunskill has played so well he’s created arguments that he should start over Mike McGlinchey. Skule, with the help of Kyle Shanahan, went from “there’s no way he should be on a roster” to “maybe he can play after all.” Moseley should be the Nickel cornerback of the future for the 49ers. He’s not competent. He’s good.

Defensive MVP

Nick Bosa

We will not be discussing the offensive MVP because that is George Kittle, and there is no need to expound on the obvious. There is more competition on defense. Armstead has been nothing short of spectacular. If Dee Ford were on the field more, he’d have a stronger argument. Ford has played over 100 fewer snaps than each of the starting defensive linemen but is right there statistically with all of them. Maybe less is more with the speedy pass-rusher? Richard Sherman looks like himself again, but this goes to the rookie.

An MVP has special moments. It feels like each of Bosa’s sacks has come at a time where the 49ers needed a critical stop. Bosa gets the nod over a tough field because his numbers are there--he leads the team in sacks, hits, and hurries--but also his freaky interception against Carolina and the flag plant after sacking Baker Mayfield.

Biggest disappointment

Dante Pettis

You have to have expectations to be disappointed. I genuinely thought Pettis showed traits of a No. 1 wide receiver last season. Here’s what it looks like when comparing what Pettis has done in eight games to what Emmanuel Sanders has done in two games

Pettis: 21 targets-11 receptions-109 yards-9.9 yards per reception-2 TDs

Samuel: 14 targets-11 receptions-137 yards-12.5 yards per reception-2 TDs

Not great! It’s evident that Jimmy Garoppolo trusts Sanders more. There’s been visible frustration with Jimmy throwing to Pettis this season. Read his lips for yourself.

I wouldn’t give up on Pettis just yet. The 49ers are going to need him to contribute as the season goes on. Pettis needs to find consistency over these next 11 games of the season.

The second half will be a success if

To call this season, a Super Bowl or bust would be too much of a prisoner of the moment statement. The 49ers should focus on winning the division, getting a first-round bye, and winning a playoff game. That’s what will make this season a success. We are going to find out a lot about San Francisco, who have six playoff contenders left on the schedule. A fast start gives them more margin for error, but let’s not act like the 49ers will be underdogs in all of these games. This is a very good team that is getting reinforcements back.

With as much success as the Niners have had, we still haven’t seen them play a complete game. It’s scary thinking that an undefeated team can improve, but there are a handful of areas where the 49ers can do better. If they do that, this team will outlast a lot of teams this season.