2021 breakout candidates for San Francisco 49ers

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The San Francisco 49ers under general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have built a roster littered with potential stars. From left tackle Trent Williams, to tight end George Kittle, to linebacker Fred Warner, there are perennial Pro Bowlers at multiple spots.

Those names may stand out going into the 2021 season, but there are a slew of players on the roster who’re still waiting to make a jump to a higher tier at their positions.

Here are six 49ers who could have breakout seasons in 2021:

WR Richie James Jr.

James has carved out a role on special teams as the 49ers' return man during his three-year career, but this year could provide his best opportunity to take on a larger workload on offense. Through 40 games James has just 38 catches. However, he's turned those 38 catches into 689 yards and three touchdowns. His best game as a pro came last year when injuries and COVID-19 thrust him into a No.1 role. He responded with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. That game provides optimism that his fourth year could be when he really comes on as a receiver.

DE Arik Armstead

One could argue that Armstead's breakout year came in 2019 when he led the 49ers with 10.0 sacks. His lackluster performance as a pass rusher last year on an injury-ravaged defensive line puts him in spot where he needs to prove 2019 wasn't a fluke. Armstead doesn't need another 10-sack year. He does need to provide consistent pressure though to establish himself as one of the top players on one of the league's best defensive lines.

WR Brandon Aiyuk

There's a universe where Aiyuk puts up monster numbers on his way to his first Pro Bowl this year. He played in only 12 games last season as a rookie and still managed 60 catches for 748 yards and five touchdowns. Even if he stays on the same 16-game clip he's looking at 80 catches, nearly 1,000 yards and around seven touchdowns. An uptick from that pace over a fully healthy season wouldn't come as a huge surprise though. Such a performance in 2021 would push Aiyuk into a higher tier of NFL receiver.

DE Samson Ebukam

Ebukam hasn't played a snap for the 49ers yet, but a new role after spending his first four years in Los Angeles with the Rams could give him the breakout opportunity he's been missing. The Rams pushed Ebukam into a 3-4 outside linebacker role which limited some of his upside as a pass rusher. The result was 14 sacks and 28 quarterback hits over his first four years. While his been consistently productive, he hasn't had a year with more than 4.5 sacks yet. A new 4-3 defensive end job with the 49ers could allow him to blow past his career high sack total while adding more depth at the most important position on San Francisco's defense.

RB Wayne Gallman Jr.

This one comes with a couple caveats, because there's a world where Gallman doesn't even make the final roster after the 49ers used two draft picks on running backs. Even if he does make the club, he's likely to be relegated to a reserve role early on. The 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan haven't been shy about mixing up touches though, especially if there's another player unavailable. Gallman could wind up seeing a sizable workload in one of the NFL's most efficient rushing attacks. If his opportunities climb into the 150-carry range, he could surpass the career high 682 yards and six touchdowns he racked up for the Giants last season while becoming an integral part of a very good run game.

CB Emmanuel Moseley

Moseley has started 17 games over the last two years for San Francisco, but he's never started a season as a No. 1 cornerback. This year should provide that opportunity after he inked a two-year deal to re-sign with the 49ers this offseason. Moseley has 17 pass breakups and two interceptions in his 28 games over the last two seasons, and he's taken on some sizable tasks against the likes of Julio Jones and DK Metcalf. He hasn't always had success, but he's earned enough wins in those matchups to provide some optimism that he can be a long-term answer and a Pro Bowl-caliber corner for San Francisco.

1

1