Strong 2021 finishes could propel these 49ers to big 2022 seasons

·4 min read

The 49ers got off to a slow start in 2021 for a variety of reasons. One of them was the slow starts of some of their key contributors. As those players rounded into form, so did San Francisco en route to a second NFC championship game appearance in three years.

In 2022 the 49ers’ start may rely on those players to carry over their strong finishes into the new season.

Here are four players who stood out for their success in the latter portion of last season, and how they can make their mark if they pick up in 2022 where they left off last year:

h

h

DT Arik Armstead

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Armstead is the kind of player who can impact games without showing up in the box score. However, the 49ers need him to produce as a pass rusher and he played his best football in that area down the stretch last year. Through the first 12 weeks he had 27 pressures and 2.0 sacks per Pro Football Focus. Then a switch flipped in Week 13 vs. the Vikings when he had five pressures and a sack. From Week 13 through the playoffs, Armstead posted 32 pressures and 8.0 sacks, including 6.0 in the three games from Week 18 through the divisional playoffs.

If he’s back to the 8.0-10.0 sack range this year the 49ers could wind up with the best pass rush in the NFL.

WR Brandon Aiyuk

(AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

There may not have been a slower start for a 49er last season. Aiyuk was primed for a big sophomore campaign, but only put up nine catches for 96 yards and one touchdown through the first six weeks. After that he took off. Over the team’s final 11 regular season games, Aiyuk had 47 catches for 730 yards and four touchdowns. He even posted 135 yards on nine catches in three playoff games.

It looks like the growing pains are behind Aiyuk, who could prove to be the team’s top target this year as he continues to build chemistry with Trey Lance.

DE Samson Ebukam

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers added Ebukam in free agency last offseason in hopes that he’d be a secondary edge presence alongside Nick Bosa. His start to that role wasn’t promising. After 10 games he had just 11 pressures and 1.0 sacks per to PFF, and five of those pressures came at Chicago in Week 8. As he settled into the defense though, his productivity skyrocketed. In the team’s last 10 games (including postseason), Ebukam posted 34 pressures and 8.0 sacks. He had at least one pressure in every game and had a sack in all three postseason contests.

Of the four players on this list, Ebukam is the one the 49ers would most like to see continue the torrid pace he finished last year on. It’s plausible too since he’s going into his second season in DeMeco Ryans’ defense and not much has changed around him from a talent standpoint. Don’t be surprised if Ebukam has a breakout 2022.

WR Jauan Jennings

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Jennings is a fascinating player. His athletic measurables are not good, which is why he fell to the seventh round of the 2020 draft. Last year he got his first shot on the active roster after spending his rookie campaign banged up and on the practice squad. He had only three catches for 31 yards and one touchdown after eight games and was largely used for his excellent run blocking skills. He emerged as a legitimate receiving threat in the last nine games though and put up 251 yards and four touchdowns on 21 receptions to close the regular season. His 17-game averages in that stretch were 40 receptions, 474 yards and eight touchdowns.

There’s a good chance he puts up something close to those numbers this year as the third option in the receiving corps. Combining that with his blocking would make him an invaluable piece of San Francisco’s offense.

1

1