Consider this the first proper confidence check of the season.
While this is the third confidence check I’ve done this season, this one is the first with a natural substance to it. Discussing confidence in each position after reading training camp reports or watching the 49ers’ three preseason games is one thing. It’s another after seeing what the 2023 version of the 49ers looks like after five regular season games.
We are 29 percent of the way through the season, and with a 5-0 start, there is plenty to feel confident about:
Quarterback: High confidence
Only three quarterbacks in 49ers history have had a five-game stretch with at least 1,200 yards, nine touchdown passes, and no interceptions (per Pro Football Reference):
Joe Montana - 1989, Weeks 4-10 (Steve Young started two games between Montana’s five starts)
Steve Young - 1993, Weeks 7-12
Brock Purdy - 2023, Weeks 1-5
Something, something, two names you want to be mentioned with, yadda yadda yadda.
Purdy has everything he could ask for with the 49ers: a great head coach, a solid offensive line, and plenty of weapons, but the 49ers offense has been scoring at a rate that has not been seen since 2019. The 49ers offense scored 30 or more points eight times in 2019 - the most such games in a season under Shanahan - but it took until Halloween to record its fifth such game.
It’s barely the second week of October, and the 49ers offense under Purdy shows no signs of slowing down.
Running back: High confidence
Christian McCaffrey has taken 99 carries through five weeks. That number is the highest in the league and the 49ers by 83 attempts.
However, with the high touch count comes plenty of production from McCaffrey, who’s leading the league with 510 rushing yards and tied for the league-high with seven rushing touchdowns. While the usage has been a cause for concern from 49ers fans, it hasn’t been a concern for either Shanahan or McCaffrey.
Part of the heavy usage has been the depth behind him. Elijah Mitchell has only played two games this season and entering Sunday night, Jordan Mason had six carries for 21 attempts and Tyrion Davis-Price had zero touches. However, Mason took advantage of his playing time on Sunday, posting a team-high 69 yards on ten rushes with a 28-yard touchdown.
As long as McCaffrey headlines the position, confidence will be high in the group. Still, if Mason continues to show spurts and Mitchell can finally stay healthy, the 49ers could have a deep group to give McCaffrey the occasional break.
Wide receiver and tight end: High confidence
With the 49ers without Brandon Aiyuk in Week 3, Deebo Samuel finished with six receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Samuel was not fully 100 percent in Week 4, but Aiyuk picked up the slack and had a career-high 148 yards on six receptions.
With Aiyuk and Samuel, both at full strength in Week 5, George Kittle finished with a career-high three touchdowns on three receptions.
What I’m saying is the 49ers are not only rich with pass-catching depth, they’re rich with high-end pass-catching depth. Any one of the three names listed above would be the number one option on what, 15 to 20 other teams? But the 49ers have all three with at least one standout performance through the first five games.
And that doesn’t even mention the other guys at the position. Jauan Jennings might only have five receptions, but he’s averaging 20.2 yards on those five catches, almost double his previous career-high. Rookie Ronnie Bell only has three receptions, but one went for a touchdown.
All of that, and I didn’t even need to mention Christian McCaffrey’s receiving production out of the backfield.
Offensive line: High confidence
There was plenty of concern about this group entering the season despite only having to replace one spot from an otherwise solid offensive line in 2022. Week 1 was rough, with TJ Watt sacking Purdy three times in Pittsburgh, but since then, the offensive line has only allowed five sacks.
The eight sacks allowed are the sixth-fewest in the league, the same spot last season’s team finished at.
The left side of the line - Trent Williams and Aaron Banks - have been solid. The two have only combined to allow ten pressures (four credited to Williams, six to Banks), with none of the sacks coming from the left. Even Jake Brendel hasn’t allowed a sack yet despite his nine pressures allowed.
However, the right side of the line has had its fair share of issues. The three sacks from Watt in Week 1 were given to Colton McKivitz, who has allowed ten pressures of his own through five games but only allowed one sack in the previous four. Right guard Spencer Burford has only allowed one sack but has allowed a team-high 13 pressures.
Even in the run game, the right side of the line has struggled. According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers have 169 designed rushing attempts, totaling 740 yards - an average of 4.4 yards per attempt. Of those attempts, 61 have been behind the right side for just 184 yards, 1.3 yards per attempt less than the team average.
Of all the position groups on the offense, the offensive line will be the one to watch the rest of the way. While there are concerns, the unit is performing, and that’s all that can be asked.
Defensive line: High confidence
The edges usually come to mind when talking about the 49ers defensive line. The first five weeks of 2023 have been different, with the line’s interior stealing the spotlight.
Nick Bosa is the group’s focus, as he should be, with a sack and a half through five games and a team-high 27 pressures. But after Bosa, the three players with the most pressures are Javon Hargrave (19), Arik Armstead (13), and Javon Kinlaw (12). This follows a 2022 season where Armstead led the IDL with 30 pressures, but the next closest IDL was Kevin Givens, finishing with 15 pressures - sixth-most on the 49ers.
The 49ers could have three IDL with at least 15 pressures through six games, let alone an entire season.
Is there a question to be asked about the edge rushers? Absolutely, but we can revisit that in a few weeks after seeing what Randy Gregory looks like in the red and gold.
Linebacker: High confidence
We’ve already discussed all the talent the 49ers have at multiple positions, but their best position group is linebacker - and it might not even be particularly close.
Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are excellent football players. I don’t know if I need stats to prove it to 49ers fans, they have known. But there’s no better example of how good the duo is than their Sunday night win over Dallas. The two linebackers combined for 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hits, two pass deflections, a forced fumble, and an interception. Even Oren Burks got in on the fun with an interception of his own from Dak Prescott.
It’s turned into a weekly reminder of just how good this duo is; the older of the two is only 26 years old. This duo is not just great now, but it has the potential to be great for plenty of years to come.
Secondary: High confidence
Depth is still a concern regarding the cornerback group, but the group has been producing. While the 49ers are near the middle of the league in terms of passing yards against (1,013), the defense is tied for most pass attempts against with opposing teams throwing the ball 201 times in five games.
The Eagles’ defense has also faced 201 pass attempts but has allowed 225 more yards and has intercepted six fewer passes than the 49ers’ defense. Only the Baltimore Ravens have allowed fewer yards per attempt (5.3) than the 49ers (5.5), with San Francisco’s defense one of five teams allowing fewer than six yards per attempt.
The only secondary member to allow a touchdown this season was Isaiah Oliver against Dallas on Sunday night. Still, even then, he’s only allowed a passer rating against of 87.3 on 25 targets, allowing the lowest yards per completion of any cornerback.
Deommodore Lenoir and Charvarius Ward have been more than solid on the outside, with Ward leading the team in pass breakups, and despite facing a team-high 36 targets, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 77.4 when targeting Lenoir. Only Talanoa Hufanga and Ward have a lower passer rating against.
Special teams: High confidence
The special teams this season have been just that: special. Jake Moody hasn’t missed a single field goal attempt this season after his struggles in the preseason. Mitch Wishnowsky has pinned a career-high 66.7 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, with more being downed at the one-yard line (2) than downed inside the opposing teams’ 10-to-5-yard line. The opposing team’s average drive starts at its own 23-yard line, the worst average starting position against in the league.
Special teams have been an enormous question mark in previous years, but the 49ers are 5-0 not just because the offense and defense have been playing well, but the third facet of the game has been on top of its game.