The San Francisco 49ers had yet another successful regular season under head coach Kyle Shanahan, finishing with a 12-5 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which provides them with a first-round bye in the playoffs.
With the regular season coming to a close, it’s time to hand out our end-of-season awards 49ers style, breaking down the team’s top players on both sides of the ball.
Most Valuable Player
Before I begin, I want to clearly distinguishbetween the team’s most important player and their most valuable player for the 2023 season.
Since he arrived in San Francisco, the most important player on San Francisco’s roster has been left tackle Trent Williams.
Not only is he the best player at his position, but Williams also plays at the second-most important position in football, providing a significant boost to his team’s offensive line.
Without Williams, the 49ers don’t have anywhere near as good of an offensive line, as they’re likely hovering in the 10-15 range at the moment with their star left tackle. Given how the offensive line reflects on the quarterback, it’s a no-brainer to me that Williams is the team’s most important player.
Speaking of quarterback, Brock Purdy has been the 49ers’ second-most important player this season.
He’s played at the most important position in football, quarterback, while elevating the 49ers at a level that his predecessors failed to do, turning San Francisco into arguably the most explosive offense in the NFL.
Now, Purdy isn’t the best player at his position, and he does have Kyle Shanahan as a play-caller, but he does fall into the Top 13-14 category of franchise quarterbacks and has added a level of aggressiveness to the 49ers’ offense that wasn’t previously there.
This all leads me to say that the 49ers’ Most Valuable Player this season is... Christian McCaffrey.
Last season, even though he played in just 11 games with the team, McCaffrey was my MVP for the 49ers in 2022, as he single-handedly transformed the 49ers offense.
Not only is he the best running back in the NFL, forcing teams to sell out against the run, but his presence in the passing game continues to free up other elements of the 49ers’ aerial attack, adding to their explosiveness.
McCaffrey has battled through injuries and still performed at a high level. While the actual MVP will likely go to Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson this season, McCaffrey could be the top choice to win Offensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year
Last season, the pick was clearly Nick Bosa, who won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year with an 18.5-sack season, two years removed from an ACL tear.
Bosa was still impactful this season with 10.5 sacks and his usual amount of pressures, but the defensive end did have a slower start to the season, while the 49ers added Javon Hargrave and Chase Young along the defensive line.
Then comes Fred Warner, who may have seen his best season yet in 2023 and would be my pick for Defensive Player of the Year in most other seasons.
But Warner did have some slips in his play at times throughout the season, including a two-game stretch during San Francisco’s winning streak.
This leads me to my actual choice: cornerback Charvarius Ward.
Ward has had an All-Pro level season in 2023, manning the No. 1 cornerback spot for the 49ers.
Hauling in five interceptions, good for fourth in the NFL, and breaking up 23 passes, good for first in the NFL, Ward has been the lockdown corner that the 49ers paid him to be.
Especially when considering the talent at linebacker and defensive line this season, it’s understandable why Ward has been the team’s most valuable defender in 2023.
In addition to having great statistics, Ward played 17 games for the second consecutive season, although he did come out of games with smaller injuries.
The 49ers have been searching for a lockdown corner, and they got one in the emerging Ward, who notoriously called his shot on the Third And Long podcast with Arik Armstead.
Rookie of the Year
This one is a pretty easy choice, given that not many rookies saw meaningful action for the 49ers in 2023.
It comes down to Ronnie Bell, Jake Moody, and Ji’Ayir Brown, and Brown is my pick.
Brown has come along as a starter at safety due to the injury to Talanoa Hufanga and has done well in picking up the ropes alongside veteran Tashaun Gipson.
Moody has seen some struggles early and late in the season, finishing the year with an 84 percent kick rate, good for 20th in the NFL this season.
Bell has seen action here and there but did face some inconsistencies as a returner when filling in for Ray-Ray McCloud.
Ji’Ayir Brown likely slots in as a starter opposite Talanoa Hufanga in 2024 and has earned some meaningful reps down the stretch at safety this season.
Coach of the Year
This one boils down to two options: Kyle Shanahan and Steve Wilks.
Wilks was scapegoated early in the season as the face of San Francisco’s defensive issues when, in reality, it was a mixture of scheme and poor execution during the 49ers’ three-game losing streak.
Since then, the 49ers’ defense has been elite, forcing turnovers at a high rate while limiting scoring opportunities for opposing offenses.
Wilks’s work as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator has been noticed around the league, as the Los Angeles Chargers recently submitted a request to interview him for their vacant head coaching position, while Shanahan noted that other teams have called with interest as well.
However, the pick for me has to be Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan arguably had his best season as a coach in 2023, which is why he should be one of the frontrunners for the NFL’s Coach of the Year.
As an offensive mind, Shanahan found different ways to elevate quarterback Brock Purdy’s play, utilizing the latter’s aggressiveness to their advantage.
As a head coach, Shanahan has led one of the NFL’s best teams to the No. 1 seed, defeating other playoff contenders such as the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Los Angeles Rams along the way.
Many have criticized Shanahan for his coaching before, but he put it all together for the most successful season of his career in 2023. He’s a Top 5 coach in the NFL and my 49ers’ Coach of the Year.