Each item on a Thanksgiving plate serves a purpose and adds flavor to the overall meal. Some dishes can stand alone, while others NEED each other to succeed. Some are downright bland, and I wonder why they’re on the plate, to begin with (cough cough, turkey...cough cough, mashed potatoes). Such is the case for players on a football field, too. And in honor of turkey day, the Niners Nation staff is breaking down what 49ers would be on a Thanksgiving plate. Corny? Yes. But have some fun with it!
Turkey: KYLE SHANAHAN. Turkey can be hit or miss. So can Kyle Shanahan. Dark meat, crispy skin, the proper brine and flavoring, and we’re good. That’s when Kyle’s in his play-calling groove, and things are moving. But when things are bad and drives are stalling, well...it’s hard to watch.
I really like Kyle, so don’t get me wrong...but at times, he’s just not who the team needs him to be. For me, that’s the way turkey is, too. Sue me.
Mashed Potatoes: I think this is Jimmy G. Like mashed potatoes, when given the right play call, Jimmy G can be a welcome addition on the football field, get the job done, and be a factor on the offense (for the potatoes, this would be the flavoring like garlic, salt, pepper, butter, maybe a little cream. When not given these ingredients, they can be downright inedible and bland...). Don’t expect mashed potatoes to be the star of the show, or Jimmy G either, as they’re merely a vehicle for other more important things (like gravy or like the running backs).
Gravy: Mmmm, the sauce that makes the plate come together. I’d say the running back room is the gravy that makes the 49ers’ plate sing. You can always count on gravy to make things more delicious, and such is the case for the running backs the Niners are working with now. For example, feed Elijah Mitchell and you know he’s going to gain solid yards. Like gravy on just about anything, Mitchell is one of the season’s biggest surprises (especially among rookies) with 116 carries for 560 yards and three TDs. Without him, things just aren’t the same.
Mac N Cheese: Mac n cheese is by far my favorite addition to a thanksgiving plate. So, that’s Deebo Samuel for me. Samuel is separating himself from the pack in the league and honestly should be an MVP candidate — much like mac n cheese. The kid brings SO much to the 49ers offense and now sits fifth behind Jerry Rice in most receiving yards through 10 games in franchise history with 994. He’s averaging 18.1 yards per reception and is one of the toughest wideouts, muscling his way up against tough defenders to pick up extra yards. Simple, not too flashy, but dang, he does it all and makes it look easy — just like mac n cheese.
Sweet Potato Casserole: Let’s talk a little defense. After Dre Greenlaw injured his groin early in the season, Azeez Al-Shaair stepped in, and he has delivered in every way. For me, he’s sweet potato casserole. They say don’t eat dessert before dinner, but what about a dish that’s so good it tastes like dessert but gets to be on the dinner plate? That’s what Al-Shaair does on the field for the 49ers. He flies around, makes big hits, and stops big plays from happening on his watch. He ranks second on the team with 62 total tackles, including 31 solo. While Greenlaw is returning from injury, it will be hard to justify pulling Al-Shaair from his starting role. And honestly, a guy who does things on the field as sweet as sweet potato casserole shouldn’t be.
Stuffing: Back to offense and the guys that often don’t get enough praise but are extremely important additions to making the offense go is the offensive line. That’s what stuffing is, and that’s who Laken Tomlinson is to me. The guard has garnered a 72.6 grade on Pro Football Focus and hasn’t allowed any sacks this season. Like stuffing, he’s an underrated and maybe sometimes under-appreciated component of the 9ers.
Cranberry sauce: I’m talking Ocean Spray from a can. This is Nick Bosa. Bosa adds a little spice, a little sweet, but a whole lotta flavor to this defense. When he’s on, he’s on, and it’s hard to think about the 49ers' defense being as effective and disruptive without him. He’s racked up ten sacks this season, and he fits just about anywhere, efficiently defending against both the run and pass game. This defense needs him, just like any plate needs a dab of cranberry sauce. With the Niners improving week by week, Bosa’s role becomes even more important.
Bonus: Pumpkin Pie. Mitch Wishnowsky. ‘Nuff said. R
Turkey: Jimmy G, the centerpiece, the defining identity of this holiday. Beauty is skin deep. The turkey’s best part is the skin. Jimmy’s best attribute as a quarterback is being good-looking. This whole “they played the game script perfectly for Jimmy to thrive” thing falls apart when the run defense snuffs out our rush and force Jimmy to throw deep, and the whole “you just never had turkey done perfectly like my grandmothers' recipe” falls apart when you realize that you’re dousing the white meat with sauces/condiments (the real playmakers). We all want the turkey to win, though, because it just takes up so much of the Thanksgiving experience, and to give it credit; dark meat is solid. But when you can only eat half the bird and the other half needs so much support, and everyone is looking forward to the stuffing anyway, you realize that turkey is too much effort and energy for not enough of a payoff.
Gravy: George Kittle. Gravy is seen as this nice-to-have complementary piece, like the saying that “and that’s just gravy!”. But when you dig deeper, gravy saves the white meat and the mashed potatoes, and you realize that gravy is more than just a flashy attention-grabber. It does a lot of the dirty work on the dinner table, and Kittle has the same effect. Blocking will never be as respected or appreciated as raw counting stats, but Kittle is so crucial to our offense even when he’s not getting touches.
Pumpkin pie: Trent Williams. I’m biased because I think pumpkin pie is one of the most delicious things on the planet. Trent Williams is the highest-graded offensive player in football. If it were up to me, pumpkin pie would be served as an appetizer, a side dish, a dessert, and a drink (don’t ask me how but I’m sure Trader Joes can figure out a way to make it work), and if it were up to me, Trent Williams would be in the MVP conversation.
Pecan pie: Nick Bosa. Pecan pie is elite. I would say 1B to pumpkin pie’s 1A. It’s truly generational. To think you can have both slices of pies on the same plate reminds me of the thought of Bosa and Trent going against each other in practice. Feels great, baby.
Sweet potato casserole: by themselves, I can’t do sweet potatoes. Don’t get me started on sweet potato fries. But douse them in sugar and marshmallows and calories, and all of a sudden, you have one of the strongest dishes of the night. I would say that’s any DB not named Jimmie Ward. They’re inedible without him, making you hold your breath after every deep pass to see there isn’t a DPI. With him, they’re solid.
“Going out for a walk with the chill cousin”: Mike McDaniels. Just look at this guy.
Leftovers sandwich: Trey Lance. The leftovers sandwich is the better tomorrow you dream of when you’re two hours in, relatives arguing, food getting cold, and you’re just over it all. It’s full of unrealized potential and endless possibilities, and you can really open up your playbook with different combos. (Turkey + cranberry sauce + sriracha, for example, shout out Ike’s Sandwiches). Eating that alone in a quiet house two days later is so freeing. You feel so unburdened like your mental salary cap can actually breathe. That freedom and flexibility must be what it feels like not to pay 26 million dollars for a mids game manager.
Turkey: Jimmy Garoppolo. A highly overrated dish that everyone thinks is better than it really is despite knowing deep down that it’s very average and they don’t have the heart to turn it down. Everything around the turkey has to be perfect and on point on or it’s just another cooked bird. At times it can be dry. Other times it can be juicy. But the only consistent thing about a cooked Thanksgiving turkey is that it is never consistent year to year. There are much better main dish option of the meat type, but you can’t quite bring yourself to pull through trigger on the rib roast due to the cost, or maybe you’re just cheap.
Apple pie: Trent Williams. The most elite of the after-dinner desserts. It never disappoints and always packs a knockout punch at just the right time to send you into an after-dinner food coma.
Stuffing: Deebo Samuel. You can never get enough stuffing. Despite how much you eat initially, you keep feeding it to yourself because it’s too good not to and missing any bites feels like malpractice when there is more than enough to around. Every plate you eat, much like every drive, needs a helping of stuffing to get the next round of gluttony going. At least two times as much on your plate as other foods on there. Excellent finisher that you keep coming back to between bites of your Mom’s dry bird because it’s the only dish she puts the time and effort into despite their being other really good options like sweet potatoes (George Kittle) and Hawaiian sweet rolls (Brandon Aiyuk).
Sweet potato casserole: Deebo Samuel. Dessert is the most exciting part of every meal, and sweet potato casserole is the best dessert on a Thanksgiving table. Samuel’s big-play ability is unparalleled on the team. It’s exciting every time Samuel touches the ball, and sweet potato casserole is on your plate. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Mashed potatoes: Arik Armstead. I’ve never had bad mashed potatoes. They aren’t always exceptional, but they are a positive on every plate, much like Arik Armstead. Armstead’s 2019 and 2021 stand out as exceptional, but he’s been a good contributor in each of his seven NFL seasons.
Still, sometimes consistency becomes an easy thing to get tired of. Armstead has rarely received the credit he deserves for his work on the d-line and, like mashed potatoes, is supremely underrated because of it. Armstead may not be the best player on the 49ers' defense, but it’s undeniably better because of him.
Potato salad with raisins: Tom Compton. I try to avoid making disparaging jokes about players outside the context of their play, but this joke was too good to pass up, and that meant someone was going to have to draw the short straw. The fact that I’d always rather see Jaylon Moore on the field than Compton made him the choice for the item nobody wants to see in their potluck.
Mac N cheese: Jimmy Garoppolo. Turkey is probably the right answer for Jimmy G, but since a few of my colleagues already did that, I figured I should take aim at the most overrated side on the table. I know I’m going to make some enemies for this one, but much like with Garoppolo, I’m just not here for Mac N Cheese over the other options.
If we want some cheese and empty carbs, why are we making Mac N Cheese over a good pasta? Maybe it’s growing up in an Italian-American family, but I’m not at the point where I’m passing on a simple Cappellini if I want a pasta on the side.
I’ve been dragged to some of the new Mac N Cheese places that have popped up, and I have to admit, I was more impressed than I expected. However, the macaroni and cheese weren’t what elevated the meal. It was the bacon, chicken, pork ribs, breadcrumbs, and other things added to the Mac N Cheese that elevated it. If that doesn’t describe Jimmy G, I don’t what does.
Ham: I cannot believe everyone neglected ham. Ham has to be the best entree on thanksgiving. Deebo Samuel is definitely ham. He has always been a good player but his growth as a receiver has helped this offense tremendously. Samuel’s play has projected him as the team’s MVP. Ham does not miss, and neither does Samuel.
Rolls: George Kittle. As a bread lover, I probably eat rolls the most on thanksgiving. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. Kittle is the main source of the offense. His impact on the running game with elite blocking is unmatched from the tight end position. You can’t overlook him as a pass-catcher either. Kittle could easily be the most reliable target on the team.
Mashed Potatoes: D.J. Jones. Maybe it’s just my family, but I feel like there are never enough mashed potatoes on thanksgiving—filling, tasteful (gotta have some skin in it), and dependable. You can compare that to Jones’ play on the field. He does a ton of things that do not show up in the box score.
Gravy: Kyle Juszczyk. Let’s talk about the ultimate Thanksgiving sauce. Gravy somehow manages to be both a luxury and a necessity. You deploy it to elevate even the most delicious mashed potatoes and salvage the driest of turkey. It’s an all-a-rounder that improves everything it touches. Doesn’t that sound like everyone’s favorite fullback? In the modern NFL, the position is treated like a splurge, but within Shanahan’s offense, it’s a key piece of the puzzle. You can add a little Juszczyk to the passing game, the run game, or as a blocker, and he’ll take each to the next level.
Mashed Potatoes: Deebo Samuel. A hands-down elite Thanksgiving side. They are reliable, versatile, and a safe bet to fill up your plate when the other options aren’t looking so hot. Much like Samuel’s target share, there’s a pretty good chance that mashed potatoes will make up nearly 30% of my plate.
Candied Yams: George Kittle. I’ll preface this by saying my mom makes the best-candied yams on the face of the planet. I’m not a yam/sweet potato guy, but when you broil them in brown sugar and butter, it adds a whole new dimension to the game. It’s a little like when you used to just have a tight end who could either catch and run or block. Suddenly, Kittle comes along and blows the top of the position like never before.
Rolls: Trent Williams. A hot roll with butter doesn’t sound that important, but when operating at peak performance, it can absolutely body anything that dare touch your plate. Much like an offensive lineman, who may not get the love of a glamour position, Williams is soooo good that people are watching highlight reels of his blocks. Shout out to my cousin Meg! Send me that roll recipe!!