The San Francisco 49ers have championship aspirations going into the 2021 NFL season. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan believe the team is capable of big things this year.
A big reason why the 49ers are listed as one of the favorites in the NFL is their group of core players. The Niners have three players who are arguably the best at their position compared to the rest of the league. George Kittle, Trent Williams and Fred Warner are routinely mentioned as the top-rated tight end, left tackle or and middle linebacker in the NFL. In addition, the 49ers have another stud — Nick Bosa — who would climb up the list of EDGE rushers with a strong 2021 campaign.
Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus put together a piece highlighting which three players every NFL team should build around going into the 2021 season. Here are Linsey’s criteria for his choices:
It’s not simply a matter of picking out the best football players heading into next season. Tackle Andrew Whitworth has been excellent for the Los Angeles Rams, but he can’t be part of their long-term plans as he enters a 2021 season in which he’ll turn 40 years old. Josh Jacobs has been one of the best young running backs in the NFL, but does Las Vegas want to build around a position with such a short shelf life?
Production, age and positional value were all considered to put together a three-player core to build around for all 32 NFL teams. Contracts weren’t considered for the purpose of this exercise.
When it came to the 49ers, Linsey went with Kittle, Bosa and rookie QB Trey Lance.
Lance’s combination of rare physical tools and intelligence bodes well for his future in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, even if the accuracy isn’t fully there yet. It also helps that Lance will have one of the few true difference-makers at tight end at his disposal as he makes the transitions into a starting role. Kittle is capable of winning as a receiver from any alignment and adding value as an inline blocker. He’s the highest-graded tight end in the league since 2018 (93.4).
The decision over whether to include Bosa or Fred Warner next was a difficult one, but Bosa’s dominance at the edge defender position as a rookie is hard to ignore. He broke the rookie pressure record in 2019 with 80 combined hurries, hits and sacks. There’s no reason he won’t get back to dominating opposing tackles in his return from injury next season.
If all goes according to plan, Lance will be the face of the franchise within a couple of years. Lynch and Shanahan will try and take advantage of having their prized prospect on a rookie contract.
Although he hasn’t officially signed with the 49ers yet, Spotrac project’s Lance’s cap hit to be $6.2 million for next season. For reference, No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence — who has already his deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars — will have a cap hit of $11.7 million for the 2024 season, per Spotrac. Having a top-flight QB still on his first contract will help management add talent by allocating the funds they save towards other positions.
Even though Warner didn’t make Linsey’s list, he remains a centerpiece for the team. The 24-year-old was named first-team All-Pro for his efforts in 2020.
When it comes to core pieces, the 49ers are in great shape for the short and long-term. Kittle turns 28 in October, while Bosa, Warner, Lance, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Javon Kinlaw will all be 25 or younger throughout the 2021 campaign.
How would you rank the top five 49ers in order of importance to the team’s success for the next few seasons?