Despite a landslide of injuries that sidelined just about every significant 49er over the course of last season, San Francisco got healthy during the offseason and returned 18 regular starters this year from that team. But the 49ers still had a surprising eight new faces in their starting lineup on offense and defense in their season opener at Detroit compared to the lineup San Francisco put on the field for its 2020 opener against Arizona. Here, The Niner Report takes a look at every new starter and where each stands as the team moves through the early part of its schedule, giving a bottom-line determination whether San Francisco is better or worse at the position now than the 49ers were when the season started last year.
WR DEEBO SAMUEL
The third-year veteran made a triumphant return to the starting lineup against the Lions after his 2020 season was thwarted by a series of injuries, including a foot injury that put him on injured reserve to start the season and forced Samuel to miss San Francisco's first three games. That set the tone for a season in which Samuel would suffer multiple hamstring injuries, and he went on to play in only eight total games, a disappointing encore to his standout rookie season. Dante Pettis started in Samuel’s place in last year’s opener and had a laughable performance, playing 45 snaps and failing to catch a pass while being targeted only once on his 30 pass routes. A healthy Samuel is so much more than that, and he made that clear in San Francisco’s opener, playing lights out while recording game-high totals of nine receptions for 189 yards, including a 79-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that gave San Francisco a commanding 38-10 lead. Samuel followed up that fantastic season debut with a game-high six receptions for 93 yards while adding eight yards rushing to carry San Francisco’s offense in Week 2 at Philadelphia. Yes, Deebo Samuel is back. And San Francisco’s starting lineup — and offense — is much better because of it.
C ALEX MACK
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EIGHT IS ENOUGH
Set 49ers lineup still has several new starters
Calling all cornerbacks
Loss of Verrett exposes 49ers’ thin depth at CB
Always finding their way to run
49ers system accomplished at developing homegrown talent
Resilient veteran Verrett to miss rest of season
TOP 10 Rookie running backs
THE BACK LIST
STOCK UP STOCK DOWN
DEOMMODORE LENOIR | AMBRY THOMAS
Will Mostert run for 49ers again?
Raheem Mostert was primed this year to be the centerpiece of one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses, featured as the lead performer in San Francisco’s grinding rushing attack while making his climb among the league’s top running backs.
THE WONDER OF WARNER
49ers make All-Pro star highest-paid LB in NFL
Making the right choice at QB
In the weeks that follow after you read this — and perhaps sometime even sooner than that — Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers organization will make a titanic decision that will have present, future and perhaps even everlasting implications for the franchise. It will chart the course for the team’s pivotal 2021 season while determining whether San Francisco really does have the juice to return to powerhouse status and again be considered a legitimate contender to get back to the Super Bowl.
TOP 10 Linebacker seasons
Fred Warner vaulted to stardom with a spectacular 2020 season — and the 49ers rewarded him this summer with a $95.225 million deal that makes him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. By today’s standards, Warner’s performance last year was worth the money as he posted an Approximate Value of 19 — matching the highest score ever recorded by a San Francisco defender according to a Pro Football Reference formula that puts a single number on each player-season across all positions since 1960. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (twice) also had seasons with an AV of 19 as they dominate this list of the greatest individual seasons by a linebacker in 49ers history.
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