49ers Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2021

49ers Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are looking to rebound from a season largely derailed by injury. Their 2021 journey will officially begin on Saturday, when they host the Kansas City Chiefs in their first game of the preseason.

    While key starters don't see much action in the exhibition opener, there should still be plenty to watch during San Francisco's first preseason contest in two years. Several rookies are likely to make their debuts, and other key contributors should be on the field as well.

    One player who isn't likely to see game action is star pass-rusher Nick Bosa, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

    "Bosa looks great on the side," General manager John Lynch said, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. "Probably won't see him much through the preseason, but he's tracking well for Week 1."

    While fans probably aren't going to get a glimpse of Bosa on Saturday, here are three players they can likely follow instead.

WR Jalen Hurd

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    Like Bosa, wide receiver Jalen Hurd is working his way back from a torn ACL, which he suffered last August. There's no guarantee that he'll make his debut on Saturday, but fans would love to see it. The 2019 third-round pick has yet to make his regular-season debut because of injuries.

    However, the 49ers feel that the 6'4" Baylor product can be a factor once healthy.

    "It'd be a hell of a bonus to have him," coach Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports' Peter King.

    Hurd has the potential to be a physical mismatch in San Francisco's passing attack and a tremendous complementary option alongside George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. He's been an active participant in camp and is likely to return to the playing field at some point during the preseason.

    The biggest question now may be whether Hurd can stay on the field.

RB Trey Sermon

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Rookie running back Trey Sermon is likely to have a significant role in 2021, especially with Jeff Wilson Jr. recovering from a torn meniscus. The Ohio State product is likely to split time with Raheem Mostert, Wayne Gallman and/or fellow rookie Elijah Mitchell as a leader in the ground game.

    Sermon may have the physical tools needed to eventually take over as the lead back, too. The third-round pick rushed for 870 yards last season with an impressive 7.5 yards-per-carry average. San Francisco will be eager to see how Sermon's skills translate to an NFL game setting.

    Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris saw a heavy early workload in last Thursday's Hall of Fame Game. Sermon could be in store for a similar role. The 49ers know what they have in Mostert and are likely to give longer looks to those behind him on the depth chart.

    Of course, Sermon isn't the only 49ers rookie that the team and its fans will be looking forward to seeing on Saturday.

QB Trey Lance

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    This is the big one. The 49ers traded up to the third slot in the draft to grab former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, and he should make his preseason debut on Saturday. While Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to be the Week 1 starter, San Francisco plans to have a role for the rookie during the regular season.

    "Situationally, he's going to get plays," Shanahan said, per Eric Ting of SFGate.com. "That doesn't mean that he's going to be the starter or anything, but he's going to get plays, and you've got to prepare him for that every way possible."

    A dangerous dual-threat prospect, Lance may be an asset as a change-of-pace quarterback this season. Preparing him for that role will require getting him some live reps in game situations, beginning with the Chiefs game.

    Fans aren't going to want to get a look at Lance because he's a potential gadget player, though. Hopefully, when Lance takes the field for the first time, fans will be getting a look at their next franchise quarterback.