Yet, when the 49ers had one player test positive and three others as “close contacts” were ineligible to play while on the reserve/COVID-19 list in Week 9, the NFL did not postpone their Thursday night game against the Green Bay Packers.
“This is an ongoing matter with new positives among players and staff,” NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy told NBC Sports Bay Area.
“Delaying several days gives us more testing time and provides greater comfort and certainty than playing tomorrow when there could be additional issues that could affect both the Ravens and Steelers and the rest of their seasons.”
“We were able to identify and isolate the few cases and were confident that there was no longer concern for more spread among either team,” McCarthy said of the 49ers-Packers game.
The logic behind the move was sound. But Kinlaw remains a work in progress, and Buckner’s absence has hit even harder during a season in which most of the team’s best players have been lost to injury. Buckner’s ability to stay on the field — he’s missed just one game out of a possible 76 in nearly five seasons in the league — might be the thing the 49ers miss most. Replacing him hasn’t been as easy as just turning to their bevy of talented defensive linemen or as simple as installing Kinlaw in his place.
Fair or not, the comparison to Buckner isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Still, the Niners remain resolute that when Kinlaw puts it all together, he’s going to be a force. Before he finally got his first sack against New Orleans on Nov. 15, nose tackle D.J. Jones said he believed once Kinlaw got it, he would take off and “there won’t be a ceiling for him.”
“They definitely could be the best team in the division next year. Absolutely,” King said on the Damon, Ratto & Kolsky show. “I’m not saying they will be, but they could be if they get (Jimmy) Garoppolo straightened out.”
King believes Shanahan and the 49ers will have to at least discuss the quarterback situation during the upcoming offseason but feels Garoppolo will probably return next year. Much of that might depend on San Francisco’s draft position next April, but the veteran writer sees offensive tackle and cornerback as two of the team’s top draft needs.
“I think this is a very important offseason, as weird as it may be because of COVID and those other restrictions about how much you can work with players, but this is a really important offseason for the Niners at that position,” King noted. “You also have to say it’s important to get these guys who were such vital players back healthy.
Aiyuk appears to have turned a corner, and Pro Football Focus is inclined to agree. The football analytics site gave the receiver the third-best grade among all rookies (79.0) through 11 weeks this season.
“He’s been red-hot as of late, though, raising his yards per route run figure to 2.63 and earning a receiving grade of 87.3 over the last three games, the third-best grade at the position over that span,” Anthony Treash wrote of Aiyuk on Tuesday.
Aiyuk, Treash noted, has been particularly good against single coverage lately. In his last two games before the 49ers’ bye in Week 11, Aiyuk caught 10 of 12 targets for 125 yards and scored two touchdowns. All but 41 of his receiving yards and five of his receptions came against single coverage.