The 49ers return from their bye week with a Sunday night game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The bye week couldn’t have been more perfectly timed for the offense, as it looks like key players like Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell, and Kyle Juszczyk are slated to return. They’ll host a Chargers defense that has seen its fair share of injuries as well but has also allowed the third-most points in the league.
Here are the five players to watch on the 49ers' offense as they look to carry their momentum from the second half against the Rams:
WR Deebo Samuel
The 49ers' offense will get some big boosts but none bigger than Deebo Samuel. Samuel missed the 49ers' Week 8 game against the Rams with a hamstring injury and will make his return Sunday night. He’s had some inconsistencies of late, with 90-plus offensive yard games against the Rams and Falcons in Weeks 4 and 6 while being held to under 50 offensive yards against the Panthers and Chiefs in Weeks 5 and 7. Sunday will also mark the first time both Samuel and Chrisitan McCaffrey are full-gos in the 49ers' offense which could create matchup problems all night.
RB Christian McCaffrey
How will Samuel’s return affect McCaffrey in the 49ers' offense? McCaffrey had 26 touches for 149 total yards with three touchdowns two weeks ago in his first game without a snap limit but also without Samuel. His touches could drop not just in the pass game but in the run game as well, with Elijah Mitchell returning, but it likely won’t be a significant drop-off. McCaffrey is the best player in the 49ers' offense, and with the returning weapons around him, there could be an increase in production with less stress on him.
RB Elijah Mitchell
Mitchell could play in just his second game on the season on Sunday after spraining his MCL back in Week 1 against the Bears. Mitchell had double-digit carries in 9 of his 11 games during his rookie season, with at least 20 carries in each of his last five games while missing six games with various injuries. He turned into somewhat of a workhorse running back thanks to injuries, and the wear and tear showed when he averaged 3.07 yards per carry in the postseason after averaging 4.71 in the regular season. His workload should be reduced with McCaffrey in the backfield, which, like McCaffrey, could mean more productive carries in shorter bursts for Mitchell.
FB Kyle Juszczyk
Juszczyk, like Samuel and Mitchell, is slated to make his return on Sunday after missing Week 8 with a finger injury. Kyle Shanahan used the combination of Tyler Kroft, Jeff Wilson, Ross Dwelley, and Charlie Woerner to replicate what Juszczyk does in the 49ers' offense against the Rams with some levels of success, most notably Dwelley’s 56-yard reception. Juszczyk simplifies all of that as he can do the job of four, and his versatility allows him to do even more within the offense. With all eyes on McCaffrey and Samuel, look for Juszczyk to sneak in a big play on Sunday.
WR Brandon Aiyuk
The skill player who’s made the biggest strides in the 49ers' offense has been Brandon Aiyuk. In Weeks 1-5, Aiyuk had 17 receptions on 27 targets for 237 yards and a touchdown. Over the last three weeks, Aiyuk has topped that with 21 receptions on 28 targets for 246 yards and three touchdowns. His play has steadily been improving, and the numbers have gone to show it, with him just a touchdown from matching his career-high while he’s on pace to set career highs in both receptions and yards. With McCaffrey and Samuel drawing so much attention around the line of scrimmage, Aiyk could become the biggest beneficiary in the intermediate area.