49ers’ fans will wake up on Sunday to find that their beloved team is 3-0, sitting atop Preseason NFC West Standings. OK, the record doesn’t mean anything, but if a team is winning preseason games, it means that the team’s young players are winning these games in the third and fourth quarters.
That was the recipe on Saturday in Kansas City, as the 49ers were down 17-13 heading into the fourth quarter, but two touchdown drives later, San Francisco escapes the Midwest with a 27-17 victory over the Chiefs.
Saturday was more about the rookies that didn’t play than the rookies that did participate. Defensive end Nick Bosa continues to miss time with his high ankle sprain and has a “50/50 chance of playing in Week 1,” per general manager John Lynch. Wideout Jalen Hurd missed his first preseason action with a sore back and corner Tim Harris is sidelined with a groin injury. Let’s recap the first-year players that did participate in Saturday’s matchup at Arrowhead Stadium.
Wide Receiver Deebo Samuel
The 49ers’ best rookie continues to see his stock soar, as the ex-South Carolina receiver found himself playing with the first-team offense on Saturday. It was only a matter of time, but the connection between quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and wideout Deebo Samuel continues to develop.
Samuel was targeted three times in Saturday’s showdown, hauling in two targets for 37 yards, including a 21-yard strike from Garoppolo. The former Gamecock ran a beautiful route and was wide open in the middle of the field. Solid protection from the 49ers’ offensive line gave Garoppolo enough time to find Samuel for the first down.
#49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo finds a wide open WR Deebo Samuel for a 21-yard gain. Looks a like a connection is developing between the two pic.twitter.com/5hYTGGeQpp— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) August 25, 2019
Not only did Samuel find time with the first-team offense, but the rookie also managed to return a kick as well, showing off his versatility for this roster. Samuel’s position on this offense continues to grow with each passing day, and it won’t be long until he finds himself as a starter alongside wideout Dante Pettis.
Tight End Kaden Smith
The biggest positive sign for rookie tight end Kaden Smith might be the lack of productivity from tight end Ross Dwelley. While the NFL’s best tight end, George Kittle, has secured one spot, the second spot is still up for grabs between Dwelley and Smith. Dwelley dropped two huge catches — even if the throw wasn’t perfect — that would have kept two 49ers’ offensive drives alive.
The 49ers’ sixth-round pick was able to haul in one catch for four yards on Saturday, but blocking continues to be one of his biggest strengths. If the 53-man roster needed to be decided today, Smith would hold the upper hand and possesses greater potential over a 16-game season.
Punter Mitch Wishnowsky
One week after declaring himself as one of the 49ers’ starting linebackers, punter Mitch Wishnowsky follows up with another solid punting performance. The 49ers’ offense was more effective on Saturday, only needing the rookie’s services on two occasions.
The Australian was able to pin the Chiefs’ on the three-yard line on one punt and average 57 yards on two separate occasions. Wishnowsky didn’t have any flashy, jaw-dropping tackles on Saturday, but his punting continues to be effective.
49ers’ rookie linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair continue to show why they should make the final 53-man roster. Greenlaw’s making the final team, while Al-Shaair continues to be on the bubble and is likely a practice squad guy.
The duo added five tackles on Saturday, playing fewer snaps after linebacker Kwon Alexander made his debut in the 49ers’ red and gold on Saturday. Greenlaw’s starting to slot himself into the SAM linebacker position, while Al-Shaair could be making a run at a special teams’ role.