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5 49ers named to PFF’s top 101 players of 2021

3 players landed in the top-20

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San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Pro Football Focus recently released its top 101 players of the 2021 regular season. Five San Francisco 49ers made the list, with three landing in the top 20.

The Rams, fresh off a Super Bowl victory, elected to build their team through stars, and it paid off. You need superstars to win in this league. I’m not talking about unicorns like Aaron Donald. I mean the Ja’Marr Chase’s and Cooper Kupp’s of the league.

Luckily, the 49ers feature some of the best players in the NFL at the most vital positions. Here’s a look at who made PFF’s list on the Niners.

70. LB FRED WARNER, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2021 Snaps: 1,170 | 2021 PFF Grade: 80.1

Linebacker has become one of the hardest positions to play in the NFL. Everything modern offenses do is designed in large part to put them in a bind and stretch their responsibilities. Warner was the best linebacker in the league a season ago, earning himself a big payday with that performance. He couldn’t quite replicate that play in 2021, but he was still very good. Warner posted impressive grades in all facets of play and made 48 defensive stops in the regular season, eight more than last year.

PFF 101 Rank, 2020: 30

The only difference in Warner’s play from 2021 to 2022 was that he didn’t generate the same number of turnovers. Warner had more tackles for loss, a half-sack compared to a full sack, and his average depth of tackle was lower.

Warner’s yards per target were higher, but so were his coverage responsibilities. As a blitzer, Warner’s sack and pressure percentage were higher this season.

If this past season was a “down” year for Warner, the 49ers are in good hands. He was in a slight funk early in the season and admitted as much. But down the stretch, when the stakes were high, “All-Pro Fred” showed up.

31. EDGE NICK BOSA, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2021 Snaps: 975 | 2021 PFF Grade: 89.4

Including the playoffs, only Maxx Crosby racked up more pressures than the 88 posted by Bosa among edge rushers. Bosa returned from a major knee injury to pick up exactly where he left off as one of the best pass-rushers in football. As was the case in his rookie year, he seemed to pick things up in the playoffs, recording five sacks and 13 pressures in total across the 49ers’ three postseason games. The only notable difference between this version of Bosa and his previous iteration was a PFF run-defense grade that took a step backward this season.

PFF 101 Rank, 2020: unranked

If you were to ask opposing offensive coordinators in the league if there are 30 players in the NFL better than Nick Bosa, you would get laughed at.

I disagree that Bosa was worse against the run in 2021 than he was as a rookie. In 2019, I thought Bosa tended to get too far upfield, which created rushing lanes or quarterbacks to get outside of him. Bosa was better this season at keeping contain on those types of plays as well as end around or plays that would go from one side of the field to the other.

Bosa was noticeably quicker and covered more ground on his first few steps as a pass rusher this year, too. He won’t be paid like the 31st ranked player in the NFL when it’s time for Bosa to be extended.

16. TE GEORGE KITTLE, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2021 Snaps: 971 | 2021 PFF Grade: 91.4

Even with Kittle operating as a second fiddle to Samuel within the 49ers offense, he racked up 916 yards and six scores in the regular season while leading all tight ends in yards per route run (2.35). When Samuel wasn’t in the lineup, Kittle proved capable of carrying the load as the team’s No. 1 receiving option. Kittle is an elite receiver but also thrives as a blocker — something that really separates him in a world of one-dimensional tight ends.

PFF 101 Rank, 2020: unranked

“Second fiddle” undersells the work Kittle does on the ground or as a blocker. Kittle had 67 pass-blocking snaps with only one blown block. As a run blocker, he only allowed two “stuffs,” per Sports Info Solutions. The Niners running game worked thanks to Kyle Juszczyk and Kittle executing blocks with a high degree of difficulty.

Kittle was reliable yet exciting whenever he was targeted. He caught 85% of his catchable passes, with 6.5 yards coming after the catch. Kittle had a 2.5% drop rate, had 62% of his receptions go for first downs, and was an all-around superstar.

8. WR DEEBO SAMUEL, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2021 Snaps: 910 | 2021 PFF Grade: 90.4

Samuel was one of the most dynamic players in the entire NFL this season, coining a new position — wide back — to describe his utilization as both a wide receiver and running back. Samuel racked up over 1,400 receiving yards in the regular season, but his eight rushing scores also set an NFL record for a wide receiver. He lined up in the backfield 80 times during the season and became one of the biggest matchup problems in the NFL.

PFF 101 Rank, 2020: unranked

Only Joe Burrow, Davante Adams, and Kupp were the skill players listed ahead of Samuel. An encore season doesn’t seem feasible, plausible, or sustainable. So, what’s next for Deebo? Does he revert back to a slot receiver?

Samuel told us last week that he was slacking on his route running skills the more he played running back. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Deebo is the type of player who takes screens and slants 60 yards.

Although it’s unlikely he averages 18 yards per reception next season, his usage could be similar to what we saw with Kupp. A physical, fast, slot receiver who you get the ball in his hands in the underneath to intermediate-range, knowing there’s a good chance Deebo creates for himself after the catch.

1. T TRENT WILLIAMS, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

2021 Snaps: 1,062 | 2021 PFF Grade: 98.3

Williams wasn’t just the best offensive lineman in the NFL this season, but he was the best player overall and had a historically great season. His 96.6 PFF grade is the highest mark ever given to a tackle, and the next best grades belong to Jonathan Ogden and Joe Thomas — Hall of Fame or future Hall of Fame players. Williams allowed 23 pressures across 18 games, including the playoffs, but his run blocking was a true marvel. He simply erased defenders from the point of attack and paved the way for some big gains.

Williams had four blown blocks as a run blocker all season. When he was beaten, it was a surprise. I don’t think there’s a proper perspective for how dominant of a season Williams just played.

What are your critiques of Williams? He averaged fewer than a penalty per game. If you’re reading this, Williams allowed as many sacks as you in 2021. In 408 run-blocking snaps, Williams man made a stop once.

This is the player the 49ers traded a 3rd & 5th round pick for.