Amid a three-game winning streak, the 49ers have had several unsung heroes step up. San Francisco’s “A” players have played up to their skill level, but the complementary performances have been equally important.
Here are our unsung heroes during November.
Akash: Kyle Juszczyk
During their three-game winning streak, the 49ers have gone back to the basics by dominating defenses with the ground attack, controlling the clock, and finding timely defensive stops. Given the personnel on this team, that’s going to be the path to success in 2021.
Offensively, to accomplish that, it requires a solid commitment to run-blocking, as well as a running back that can make magic happen with the ball in his hands. So when you turn on the tape, one of the unsung heroes for the 49ers is undoubtedly fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
From a blocking standpoint, the 49ers’ original offensive weapon is asked to do so much for this offense that I’m not sure where their rushing attack would be without it. He consistently takes on defensive ends, linebackers, and safeties to open up running lanes for the backs. He’s also been a threat in the receiving game, adding four catches for 50 yards.
Xavier: D.J. Jones
I’m probably biased, but D.J. Jones is the most underrated defensive tackle in the NFL, so it was easy for me to pick him as my unsung hero. Jones has been pivotal in helping the defense hold the last three rushing attacks under 100 rushing yards.
There can never be enough flowers for a guy who is constantly asked to eat up double teams. The stats are not glaring, but he impacts the game farther than the box score. Jones and Arik Armstead have created clean alleys for Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair. Jones can take this defense over the top to get to the quarterback more.
Tyler: Jimmie Ward
Right before the three-game winning streak began, the team hit absolute rock bottom with one of the worst all-around performances in the Kyle Shanahan era. Defensively, things are not going well when you allow Colt McCoy to slice and dice you to shreds without his top receiving option on the field. That week, a certain player was out due to injury. Who was it? Jimmie Ward.
The perpetually under-appreciated safety should absolutely qualify as the squad’s unsung hero, even if we were all singing his praises against the Rams, as he intercepted Matthew Stafford twice, taking one to the house. Like the rest of his career, his impact on a play-by-play basis is nowhere near as flashy as his pick-6 but is vitally important to the defense’s overall success.
Upon his return, he’s nearly single-handedly stabilized a secondary ravaged by injury. The man can, simply, do it all. He’s one of the surest tacklers on the team, totaling 52 without a single one missed. Line him up against Cooper Kupp, OBJ, or Tyler Higbee, and expect them erased. Turn to him as a team captain and one of the speakers at a players-only meeting the night before the Rams matchup, and the message will be sent. That’s Jimmie Ward.
Kyle: WR Jauan Jennings
The 49ers relied heavily on Mohamed Sanu both in the passing game and as a blocker. Sanu had multiple games where he had more targets than Brandon Aiyuk. Once Sanu went down with an injury, the Niners inserted Jennings and didn’t miss a beat.
If anything, you could argue they’ve improved. Jennings has made his presence felt in recent weeks. That impact goes well beyond the box score. The offense doesn’t score on one touchdown drive during the first half of the Jaguars game if Jennings doesn’t hustle to recover a Jeff Wilson Jr. fumble.
Jennings is no longer in the unsung role with Deebo Samuel sidelined. Jennings is likely to have his highest volume to date against the Seahawks. He seems like the type of player who would get better the more he touches the ball. Jennings could be in for a big afternoon against Seattle.