It was a tough 2020 season for the San Francisco 49ers as they went through an injury-plagued campaign that caused them to plummet to a dismal 6-10 record. After finishing dead last in the NFC West, the Niners are motivated to get back on the right track and return to being Super Bowl contenders next season.
Regardless of their recent struggles, it can’t be denied that Kyle Shanahan still has one of the most complete rosters in the league when healthy. In a bid for a comeback season, the 49ers will certainly need their superstars along with some help from their complementary players if they want to make another strong playoff run moving forward.
Here are two under-the-radar talents that could make an impact for the 49ers in 2021:
1. Richie James Jr.
Wide receiver Richie James Jr. has yet to become a household name within the team but he is consistently making strides as his young career progresses. The Middle Tennessee State alum was poised to be a rotational player for the team’s pass-catching corps but he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 of their 2020 campaign.
Not only James but also the 49ers’ other wide receivers in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk were also sidelined and missed significant time due to their respective injuries. Due to the setback, James only managed to start seven of 11 total games played for the Niners. However, he still had his most productive season to date as he notched 394 receiving yards and 23 receptions to go with a single touchdown in 2020.
The 25-year-old managed to tally career-best numbers despite seeing limited action only speaks volumes of his ability to perform when given enough opportunities on the field. Certainly enough, the 49ers would need him to stay healthy and have a greater contribution in order to have a more dynamic attack for their offense.
With Kendrick Bourne now out of the San Francisco roster heading to 2021, James is expected to have a bigger role and continue to move up the team’s depth chart. Seeing more minutes on the field would eventually put the wide receiver in a position to make a greater impact on the team in the upcoming season.
2. Ross Dwelley
In the 2020 season, star tight end George Kittle only appeared in eight games due to knee and foot injuries. His absence eventually forced Shanahan to give backup tight-end Ross Dwelley more opportunities on the field.
Known to be a serviceable blocker, Dwelley has been able to fill in well for Kittle over the past couple of seasons. With him on the field, the 49ers’ offense surprisingly didn’t skip a beat for the most part amid their TE1’s absence. Although the injuries suffered by their other key players are another story.
Aside from being a blocker, Dwelley is also a reliable pass-catcher as he was able to catch 19 of 24 total passes sent his way and none of his incompletions were due to drops. He started nine of 16 total games for the 49ers and recorded a total of 245 receiving yards and a touchdown scored in 2020.
Heading to the 2021 season, George Kittle has already recovered from his injury and has been cleared to return to action in Week 1. Certainly enough, the two-time Pro Bowler will still be running the show for the 49ers but they can be assured that they can rely on their plan B in Ross Dwelley who can step up and fill the void when needed.