Painting in broad strokes isn’t always recommended, but general knowledge of the 49ers roster and two preseason games allows me to do exactly that when it comes to the 49ers’ strengths and weaknesses.
- Stopping the run
- Stopping the pass
With that settled, here’s the next two players on my list of key players for this season. I think I’ve mentioned this already, but I’m leaving Colin Kaepernick off this list because, well, DUH. Of course he’s a key player. He’s the quarterback. If he’s bad, the 49ers won’t be able to move the ball through the air and opposing defenses will stack the box. In short, the offense will stink if Kaepernick isn’t accurate.
NaVorro Bowman won’t be a part of this 10-part series either, because, well, DUH. We all know the 49ers will benefit greatly if he comes back at close to the same level he was before. But we know Bowman will be amazing if his knee will allow it.
I’m saving this list for players who either disappointed last year due to injury or whatever (Vernon Davis (2), Tramaine Brock(3), Reggie Bush (8)) or haven’t proven anything yet (Carlos Hyde (1), Shareece Wright (4), Joe Looney (5), Marcus Martin (6) and Brandon Thomas (7)).
The last two players I’m adding to this list belong to the latter category. If the 49ers are going to stop teams from succeeding through the air, they must make enormous strides.
9. Eli Harold
He’s the first true rookie to make this list, because the 49ers don’t have the luxury of stashing Harold on the bench or some injured list. They need him to get the quarterback … immediately. Sort of like Aaron Lynch last year, only more effective. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long year against Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and all the rest.
The 49ers don’t have a speed rusher. Aldon Smith was probably that guy — and the reason why I created this list of 10 — but he’s gone. Aaron Lynch (back, hamstring) has been injured throughout much of the offseason and wasn’t in great shape earlier this month. Corey Lemonier has disappointed since getting drafted in the third round in 2013, and he’s noticeably bulkier now.
Is Ahmad Brooks somehow going to get better this season after a down year last year? It’s possible that his head wasn’t in it, but he’s 31 — the possibility exists that he peaked in 2013. Oh, and after I started writing this story yesterday, Brooks was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery. Trent Baalke said today that Brooks is still a member of the team, for now. Who knows what that means.
For now, Lynch and Lemonier are the first-team outside linebackers while Brooks is away from the team. But Harold should overtake Lemonier at some point. If he doesn’t, the 49ers are in trouble.
If the 49ers are going to get some speed off the edge in 2015, they’ll need to get it from the rookie out of Virginia. Harold ran a 4.60 and was probably the only player Trent Baalke chose in the 2015 draft who went later than the experts predicted. He may not be adept at setting the edge or covering receivers out of the backfield just yet, but the 49ers need at least one player on the team who can fly around the edge, zoom past unsuspecting offensive linemen and tight ends on stunts, and get to the quarterback. Based on talent and team need, Harold is easily the likeliest 49er to garner some Rookie of the Year attention at the end of the year. The 49ers would settle for eight sacks and at least as many hits and hurries.
Where’s No. 10? You’ll have to wait until later in the day …
More keys to the 2015 season (10-part series)