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Who was the 49ers most improved player this year?

PFF believes it was Deommodore Lenoir

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NFC Championship - Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

You don’t make it to the Super Bowl without your role players gradually improving as the season progresses. The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs were beneficiaries of this during 2023.

Who would it be if you had to name the most improved player on the Niners from this past season? Pro Football Focus went through each team to determine the answer, and their selection for San Francisco was cornerback Deommodore Lenoir:

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: CB DEOMMODORE LENOIR

2022 PFF grade: 55.9

2023 PFF grade: 72.5

Lenoir’s role changed for the 2023 season, as he spent more of his time in the slot. It helped his performance following a somewhat disappointing 2022 season. He allowed just a 75.0 passer rating into his coverage and earned a 72.6 PFF coverage grade during the regular season — both career-high marks.

I wouldn’t characterize Lenoir’s 2022 as a disappointment by any stretch. He played pretty well during the second half.

PFF’s grades don’t offer much context for us. Lenoir’s improvements are noticeable when you split the 49ers season up before and after their bye week. As we know, Isaiah Oliver was bumped out of the nickel spot after Week 8, where Lenoir took over.

From Week 1 through 8, Lenoir allowed 351 yards on 46 targets — the sixth-most targeted player of the first half. He had two pass breakups with an interception. He also was flagged for a pair of pass interference calls. He was averaging 43.9 yards per game with a 103.2 passer rating against. But he wasn’t a liability, as Lenoir allowed a negative EPA per target.

After the bye week, Lenoir was targeted 28 times for 234 yards. While the yards per target is up, Lenoir went three games without allowing a reception and had eight pass breakups and an interception. Sports Info Solutions also credited Lenoir with three dropped interceptions. Lenoir’s passer rating against fell to 60.2, and he only allowed 26 yards per game.

And that’s without getting into Lenoir’s aggressive nature against the run and how he helps set the tone for the 49ers defense. There’s a mentality needed to excel to play on that side of the ball. The “dog,” if you will. Lenoir has it, and he’s played at a level better than he ever has this season.