The 49ers saved their most impressive preseason performance for their final game before the 2021 regular season. With the Las Vegas Raiders benching nearly their entire starting lineup, the 49ers dominated a 34-10 blowout victory from start to finish.
As a result, the Niners finished the preseason 2-1 and now have two weeks to prepare for the start of their regular season. However, before moving on to their matchup against the Detroit Lions, here are a few takeaways from the win.
Stock Up: Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo was far from an All-Pro on Sunday, but the seven-year NFL veteran was generating the best velocity we’ve seen this preseason on his throws. The 49ers deployed a quarterback platoon, utilizing first-round pick Trey Lance as well in more run-heavy sets, but Garoppolo looked closer to his 2019 form than we’ve seen in a while.
You’re not going to confuse Garoppolo with a running quarterback, but the accumulation of injuries over his career has seemed to sap him of his previous success on bootlegs and rollouts.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday. Aside from his touchdown scoring run, Garoppolo’s movement in and outside of the pocket looked less clunky than it has over the past few weeks. He did take an unnecessary hit diving for the endzone in Sunday’s game, but at this point, that seems like par for the course with Jimmy G.
Stock Down: NFL Defensive Coordinators
Head coach, Kyle Shanahan’s run scheme, was considered one of the best in the NFL before he had a viable running quarterback. So, even if Garoppolo will be the team’s starter to begin the year, Lance’s days under center are just around the corner.
We knew Shanahan would unleash Lance on the NFL at some point. After calling zero-designed runs for the third overall pick in the first two preseason games, he deployed the North Dakota State alum alongside a powerful run game and gashed the Raiders defense.
Even if Shanahan wants a more traditional starter and backup QB, by showing Lance and Garoppolo playing off each other on the first few drives of the game, every defensive coordinator will have to dedicate significant prep time the week before playing the 49ers scheming for both quarterbacks.
Stock Up: Samson Ebukam
The Raiders spent their offseason unloading proven offensive lineman for mid-round draft picks and rested most of their remaining starters on Sunday. While that context may make the 49ers' defensive line’s dominance less impressive, they demolished Las Vegas at the point of attack.
Edge rusher Samson Ebukam was brought in this offseason to add speed off the edge and insurance for Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Bosa and Ford look healthy and as good as ever, but the 26-year old Ebukam looks on the verge of a breakout. A middling outside linebacker for the first four years of his career with the Rams, the 49ers seem to have found the perfect way to integrate him into their pass rush.
Ebukam recorded just one tackle and forced fumble on Sunday, but his speed helped him get into the backfield and force quarterback Nathan Peterman to make several bad decisions. A healthy Bosa and Ford were already enough to help the 49ers edge rushers rebound to their 2019 levels of production, but Ebukam has his eyes on significant contributions as well.
Stock Down: Ambry Thomas
While late-round picks like Deommodore Lenoir and Talanoa Hufanga have moved up the 49ers' secondary depth chart this season, Ambry Thomas, the first defensive back the Niners selected in this year’s draft, has struggled. Thomas sat out the 2020 NCAA season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, and those lost reps have seemed to put the third-round pick behind the eight-ball since turning pro.
It’s been an up-and-down preseason for Thomas, but the Michigan alum finished on his lowest note. On Sunday, he missed an open-field tackle where he shied away from contact, a particular pet peeve of Shanahan, and got burned a couple of times for big plays.
Thomas has flashed the potential to be very good in man coverage throughout the summer, but he’s been quite inconsistent, bouncing between being too handsy and not physical enough. It’s obviously far too early to give up on the rookie, but fans shouldn’t expect much from him, at least early in the season.
Stock Up: Run Game
A dominant defensive line and run game should sound like a familiar recipe to 49ers fans, and it sure looks like the 2021 49ers are doing their best to replicate the 2019 team’s success. While Jeff Wilson’s injury will keep the full running back room from the field at the start of the season, the Niners roster has five running backs who can make significant contributions either running, receiving, or blocking.
Raheem Mostert played for the first time this preseason and showed why he’s undeniably the best running back on the roster. Wayne Gallman has been the primary ball carrier this preseason and will primarily contribute with elite pass blocking once the regular season starts. Still, he accumulated nearly 800 yards from scrimmage last season with the Giants and averaged 4.6 yards a carry.
Second-year back, JaMycal Hasty might be the best receiver of the group but also broke off a 35-yard touchdown run against the Raiders. Meanwhile, rookies Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell looked like either one could replace Mostert if he departs in free agency after the season.
This group is already one of the best in the NFL without Wilson. When you consider Shanahan’s top-notch scheme, Kyle Juszczyk’s unique skillset at fullback, and Lance’s abilities as a runner, it’s hard not to be giddy with excitement to see what this offense looks like by the end of the season.