The 49ers are out of their bye week and have resumed practice. While Trent Williams has missed two days, Kyle Shanahan is hopeful his star left tackle can suit up and protect Jimmy Garoppoo and pave the way for the running backs.
Outside of Jimmy and Trent, the Niners need players to step up. The following list of players are who I believe have the best chance to breakout for the remainder of the season.
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
Shanahan said Dre Greenlaw is expected back within a couple of weeks. This comes after the team had added LB Mychal Kendricks, who projects to fill in at SAM linebacker. Once Greenlaw returns, I’m not sure that he starts over Al-Shaair.
On the season, Al-Shaair has five tackles for loss, a pressure rate of 15.8% and three passes defended on 17 targets while allowing a 58.8% completion percentage for a measly 4.2 yards per target.
Compare that to Fred Warner’s two tackles for loss, 14.3% pressure rate, 75% completion allowed on eight targets for 6.9 yards per target, and one pass defended per Sports Info Solutions.
Am I saying Al-Shaair is better than Warner? Of course not. I’m saying this duo has been more effective than Warner and Greenlaw. Al-Shaair doesn’t have the flashy plays like Greenlaw's pick-six, but he’s far more effective in his all-around game. Based on the rest of the schedule this season for San Francisco, I love Al-Shaair’s chances of breaking out.
WR Brandon Aiyuk
Nothing like your first-round receiver breaking out. Aiyuk has done next to nothing this season. He has one carry and eight receptions, and a drop. The good news is six of those passes went for a first down or a touchdown.
The bad news was through five games last season, Aiyuk had 222 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns, and averaged 12.3 yards per touch.
After watching Aiyuk closely and the coaches have a gripe about him not taking the next step. He’ll run one route that’s eye-popping and gets you excited, then run three routes that come off as “meh,” and he doesn’t set up the defender or run a clean route.
Consistency. That’s what this team needs out of Aiyuk. They’re giving him opportunities, but he’s not continuously getting open. There were plays where it seemed as though Aiyuk shied away from contact or took the easy way out by avoiding contact altogether.
If Aiyuk can get back to his 2020 version of making every route look the same without taking false steps, he’ll have a strong final 12 games. To me, Aiyuk must take it off “cruise control” and get back to a physical style of play.
I imagine the bye week is what Aiyuk needed to see what he was doing wrong, tighten his routes up, flush out the bad and gain some confidence to be the 49ers' top target again.
DT Kevin Givens
ON KNBR Thursday, Shanahan said, “I know we get Kevin Givens back next week, who is our other 3-technique that we thought we’d have going into this year. So that will help next week, and hopefully, we get some better news on Mo Hurst than I’m anticipating.”
Shanahan isn’t optimistic about Javon Kinlaw’s nagging knee injuries. He also didn’t sound like a guy who expects Hurst to play. That leaves Givens as a player to step it up inside. Givens won’t suit up this week but should play next Sunday in Chicago.
Givens is the most explosive interior pass rusher on the team, even when everyone is healthy. On 44 snaps this season, Givens has two tackles for loss and a pressure. In limited action, his speed off the ball had blown up a few plays in the backfield this season.
Givens is the ideal 3-technique and a perfect complement to the other pass rushers on this team. He played well in 2020, and that should continue for Givens once the 49ers get him back on the field.
RB JaMychal Hasty
Hasty seems like the only running back the Niners trust out of the backfield. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per carry on six attempts, but Hasty’s making just as big of an impact through the air with five receptions for 36 yards. Two of those passes went for first downs, and Hasty has made one defender miss.
Shanahan said this about Hasty on KNBR Thursday:
“It’s nice to get Hasty back this week. He helped us out a lot in those first two games with doing some third-down routes and things like that, and running the ball.”
The 49ers haven’t had a threat out of the backfield all year. Knowing the Colts play a Cover-2, bend but don’t break style of defense, it’s a perfect matchup for Jimmy G to play point guard spread the ball around underneath.
Hasty should have an impact as a receiver this year, and that starts on Sunday against a hobbled Indianapolis defense.