The San Francisco 49ers had a rocky nine weeks to start the season before turning it around in Week 10. Head coach Kyle Shanahan led the unit to a 7-2 record after Week 10 as the team finally reflected the talent we all knew they had.
Shanahan watched his team get out of their way, and this turnaround could not happen without Jauan Jennings and Samson Ebukam. Both were monumental in the Niners’ playoff run. I’ll focus on their strengths and how they can expand their role below.
What Jennings brings to the table
Jennings missed 2020 with a lingering hamstring injury but showed he could make an impact in 2021 as early as last year’s training camp. He first stood out to me when I saw him dominate in the one-on-ones at the joint practice with the Los Angeles Chargers. Jenning’s physicality brought a new element to the 49ers receiving core.
Jennings’ role should expand this year. He finds a way to win downfield despite not being blazing fast. Lance ushers into the offense, which Garoppolo did not, is his downfield passing ability and willingness to throw outside the numbers. Rookie receiver Danny Gray could be the new deep threat and starting slot receiver, but that will not hinder Jennings. Jennings has established himself as an endzone and third-down target. It’s up to Lance and Jennings to establish chemistry heading into the season.
What Ebukam brings to the table
Last year, Ebukam (27) transitioned from a stand-up outside linebacker to a defensive end with a hand in the dirt. Unfortunately, he didn’t make his presence felt early on as he often struggled to defeat blocks on pass plays. However, that would all change in the second half, as seven of his 11 tackles for loss came after Week 13.
Ebukam got to the quarterback more effectively and became a force against the run. However, it’s clear Ebukam needs to polish his pass-rushing repertoire. Consistent pressure on the QB will increase his chances of starting in 2022. He will have to compete with rookie Drake Jackson and new 49er Kemoko Turay. The 49ers need Ebukam to take the next step as San Francisco’s defensive line has good depth, but they need their edges to pressure the QB on third down to aid the secondary.
Jennings and Ebukam are looking to expand their role with the Niners. Jennings will continue his development and become a vital part of the offense, either as a third-down or red-zone target. Ebukam has to step his game up with rookie Drake Jackson on his heels. The defense is still a force to be reckoned with, but the defensive line will have to get home on third down.