It’s prediction time!
The 49ers open their 2021 regular season in Detroit on Sunday, which means the time is upon us to put official predictions down on paper for posterity. Chances are some of these will be wrong, but there’s a chance that some of them are right. And if we’re not living for the hope that a prediction we put on the internet comes true, then what do we really have, ya know?
Anyway, predictions for the 49ers’ 2021 season:
Brandon Aiyuk leads team in receiving
(AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Tight end George Kittle is probably the favorite here, but Aiyuk looked like a star in the making during a very strong rookie season. Kittle is too important for the 49ers to lean on him as heavily as they have over the last couple years, and Aiyuk's ability to generate big plays will earn him a ton of targets and the team lead in receiving yards.
George Kittle sets career-high in TDs
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
While Kittle may see a dip in targets between the 20s, his red zone presence should grow, especially in play action looks near the goal line. Kittle's career-best in touchdown receptions is five. He should go over that number this year even if his production drops a bit in other areas.
Separate rushing leaders
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Figuring out the top running back on the 49ers' depth chart isn't easy heading into Week 1, and it may not clear up at all during the year. Raheem Mostert is electric in this offense and a home run threat every time he touches the ball. He should lead the club in rushing yards. However, as a curveball, we've got rookie Trey Sermon leading the team in carries. Having a fresh, healthy Mostert is imperative for the 49ers' rushing attack to hit its ceiling, so expect him to get his 12-15 carries per game while Sermon settles in at the 15-18 range where he's the one salting away games late.
Fred Warner sets career-high in sacks
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
There's not much missing from Warner's tool belt at linebacker. New defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans mentioned having a more aggressive, attacking defense which could mean more blitzes from the second level. Warner had 3.0 sacks in 2019, but he's an effective enough pass rusher that he'll have more than that if Ryans is utilizing more blitzes this year behind a healthy defensive line.
Jimmy Garoppolo keeps the starting job
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
The caveat here is that it requires Garoppolo to stay healthy. He won't lose the starting job if he's under center since there won't likely be enough opportunities for Lance to overtake him in practice. Garoppolo isn't as bad as he was in 2020 coming off a high ankle sprain, and the offense should move if he's playing. As long as San Francisco is winning games it's hard to believe they'll move on from their starting QB.
Jimmie Ward gets an interception
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Despite Ward quietly becoming a vital cog in the 49ers' defense, he hasn't generated an interception since 2016. He's gotten close on occasion, but there've been zero in the last four years. This is the season he finally gets his third-career interception behind a more aggressive defensive front.
Four DL over 5.0 sacks
(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Speaking of an aggressive defensive front, the 49ers had four defensive lineman over 5.0 sacks in 2019, and should do so again this year. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Samson Ebukam and Arik Armstead should all get there with a couple of them hitting at or near double digits. To sprinkle some extra, we'll say Bosa and Ebukam both finish with 8.0 or more.
Jason Verrett makes the Pro Bowl
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Verrett was excellent in 13 starts last season. Now he'll go into this year with a chance to earn 17 starts behind what should be a really strong defensive front. If he can pick up where he left off last year and be the top corner on a top-seven defense, he should go back to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2015.
Over 10 wins
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The 49ers have a really good team. While 2020 and all the chaos that came with it can muddy the water some, the fact remains that all but one of the key pieces from San Francisco's 2019 Super Bowl run are still intact. They've got a couple tough games on their schedule, but for the most part their 17-game slate is pretty forgiving. An 11-6 finish or better should absolutely be in reach and the expectation as long as they can stay relatively healthy.