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Successful AAF debut provides opportunity for 49ers

The debut of the Alliance of American Football showcased talent that gives the 49ers a chance to improve.

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Alliance of American Football made its debut over the weekend, receiving mostly positive reviews across the board. The two opening games on Saturday, televised primetime on CBS, pulled better ratings than the NBA’s matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder on ABC. Among the contributors to the AAF’s initial success was a host of innovations and rule changes that were well received by fans and media.

Viewers were given a live look at the decision-making process behind replay reviews. Big hits on quarterbacks went unchecked by the officials. The play-clock was shortened, TV timeouts were removed from the equation and two-point conversions were mandatory. All combined for a new football experience that served to ease the pain of losing NFL football in February.

The San Francisco 49ers, along with the rest of the NFL, stand to benefit from the AAF’s initial success. Taking a backseat to the AAF’s new approach were a host of solid performances from players that will be getting a look from teams sooner than later.

San Antonio Commanders wideout Mekale McKay was among the immediate standouts on opening night for the AAF. McKay spent time on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster in 2018 before falling victim to final roster cuts. The 6-foot-4 former University of Cincinnati receiver finished with five catches for 80 receiving yards, averaging 16 yards per reception. McKay was targeted a whopping 12 times against the San Diego Fleet and immediately showed big-play ability. The 49ers struggled in the red zone last season, and McKay’s performance on Saturday should draw some attention around the NFL.

On the opposite side of the ball, LB Shaan Washington also had a standout performance for the Commanders. The former Minnesota Vikings linebacker put on a show, totaling two tackles, two quarterback hits, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Washington may have authored the AAF’s hardest hit when he sacked Fleet quarterback Mike Bercovici, sending his helmet flying across the turf.

For the Fleet, defensive lineman Damontre Moore impressed. The former third-round pick of the New York Giants led San Diego with 10 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, one tackle for loss and a whopping six quarterback hits. Other standouts through the weekend include former 49ers wideout Quinton Patton, who totaled 103 yards receiving for the Birmingham Iron. Rashad Ross, who spent time with the 49ers during the 2017 offseason, went off for 103 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

These are only a fraction of the AAF players that managed to make a solid first impressions throughout the weekend. The goal of the Alliance has always been to create a complementary league along with the NFL that serves as a proving grounds for new and former players to earn another shot in the league. So far, we’ve seen numerous standouts that have earned consideration.

Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have shown an ability to identify and develop players that may have been overlooked through the draft process. Undrafted running back Matt Breida totaled 153 carries for 814 yards and three touchdowns for the 49ers in 2018. The team’s leading wideout was Kendrick Bourne, also undrafted, reeling 42 receptions for 482 yards and four touchdowns last season. It’s only a matter of time before the 49ers front office, along with the rest of the NFL, begins to identify impact players within the AAF.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely the NFL will be missing Mike Singletary anytime soon. The 49ers head coach was shut-out in his AAF debut, wit his Memphis Express falling 26-0 to the Iron.