6 49ers who must step up in 2023
The 49ers’ stars are going to spearhead any deep playoff run they might make in 2023. Those stars can’t do it alone though. While San Francisco had a relatively quiet offseason with very little roster turnover, there are a number of players down the roster on both sides of the ball who are going to need to make a jump this season.
A strong supporting cast has always been a calling card of these 49ers clubs that have made their trips to the NFC championship game. This year though they’ll be entering the year with some question marks for those players who don’t jump out as Pro Bowlers and All-Pros.
Here are six players who need to step up for the 49ers in 2023:
The 49ers are putting a lot of eggs in the McKivitz basket. They didn’t bring in much competition for him at right tackle, which means he has the inside track to the starting job with nobody particularly close behind him. McKivitz in his brief stints at tackle has been okay, but that’s not going to cut it on a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. He has to be better than he’s ever been as a pro. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be as good as Mike McGlinchey in the run game, but if he can offer any kind of upgrade in pass protection it would be immensely helpful for San Francisco’s offense.
Jackson is in a similar spot to McKivitz, although there are more options behind him. The 49ers are hopeful the 2022 second-round pick can make the jump to be a three-down player for them in his second season. Last year Jackson was a healthy scratch for the last few games. He’s gotten bigger according to reports from OTAs, but he’ll need to translate that size to more consistent production against the run and as a pass rusher. He’ll be the de facto starter opposite Nick Bosa going into training camp, and he’ll need to perform well to match the play the team got from DE Samson Ebukam the last couple years.
Any of the other DEs
Whether Jackson takes a step forward or not the 49ers need to find some help on the edges. Part of what made them successful last year and in 2019 was their ability to constantly rotate good edge rushers in through all four quarters. Bosa and Jackson sit atop the depth chart, but San Francisco is banking on free agents Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, or fifth-round draft pick Robert Beal to add some quality depth. Kerry Hyder is also capable of playing on the edge, though he also kicks inside and rushes from the defensive tackle spot. Any one or two of this group stepping up would be huge for San Francisco’s defense.
Lenoir was good for the most part last season when he was moved to outside cornerback after Emmanuel Moseley went down with a torn ACL in Week 5. There were certainly some shaky moments for Lenoir, particularly in the last couple weeks of the season when he was exploited as a mismatch against bigger pass catchers. In the postseason he stepped up though and played his best football through those three games. He didn’t allow a touchdown and hauled in a pair of interceptions. Now the 49ers need him to continue playing at the level he played in the postseason. If he does that they could be working with one of the NFL’s top secondaries.
WR Danny Gray
It’s not that the 49ers offense can’t exist without Gray. That unit isn’t lacking for weapons. However, Gray offers a speed element that would make San Francisco nigh impossible to defend. Whether he’s taking handoffs off jet motion or burning defensive backs down the field, Gray can stress defenses in ways the 49ers other offensive weapons can’t. They took him in the third round to be a game-changing type of player for them, and this year is a huge opportunity to prove himself after a dud rookie season. If Gray can carve out a real role in the offense this season it means the 49ers are adding a new wrinkle to an already potent attack.
Really this could extend to any of the linebackers on the roster since there’s an opening at the Sam LB spot. However, Flannigan-Fowles is the one with the most experience playing with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Ideally he’d take a jump this season with his first real opportunity to win the starting SLB spot following Azeez Al-Shaair’s exit in free agency. There are other options who’ll be in the mix, like Oren Burks, and draft picks Jalen Graham and Dee Winters, but the 49ers would surely love to see a jump from a player who’s been in their building since 2019.