Bold Predictions for 49ers' 2021 NFL Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2021

Bold Predictions for 49ers' 2021 NFL Season

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are looking to rebound from a disappointing and injury-plagued 6-10 campaign. The good news is that many of the pieces remain from their 2019 Super Bowl squad, and a few intriguing pieces have been added this offseason.

    With two exhibition games in the rearview, we are beginning to get an idea of what sort of team the 49ers will be in 2021. We have seen some good and some bad, but perhaps most importantly, we've seen a healthy and efficient Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.

    This creates a good problem for the 49ers in that they will have a steady veteran under center and a promising rookie in Trey Lance waiting in the wings. This season will be about winning but also about developing players such as Lance for the future.

    There's a good chance that the 49ers succeed on both fronts. Here are three bold predictions for how San Francisco's 2021 campaign will unfold.

Garoppolo Will Hold Off Lance for Most of the Season

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The 49ers know what they have in Garoppolo—a quarterback who can take them to the Super Bowl when healthy but one with limited upside and a significant injury history. This is why they traded up to grab Lance at No. 3 overall in the 2021 draft.

    The rookie out of North Dakota State's physical upside is higher than Garoppolo's, but he's unproven at the pro level. He's shown flashes during the preseason but also a lot of inconsistency.

    "Both of Lance's preseason games have been roughly the same," Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports wrote. "If you just watched the highlights, you'd believe he should start from Week 1 on. If you watched his worst plays, you'd wonder how the 49ers could ever consider starting him this season."

    Fans will want to see what Lance can do, but as long as San Francisco remains competitive, Garoppolo will continue to see the bulk of the snaps. The 49ers are hoping to make a deep playoff run, and they know that Garoppolo can be good enough to make it happen.

    The uncertainty of Lance's learning curve will keep him in a backup role for the majority of the season. He may get some playing time as a change-of-pace quarterback, and he may even get a couple of starts later in the season. However, Garoppolo is going to steer the proverbial ship in 2021.

Sermon Will Become the Lead Back by Season's End

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Head coach Kyle Shanahan loves to utilize multiple running backs in his offense. San Francisco has several options to carry into the regular season, including starter Raheem Mostert and free-agent addition Wayne Gallman.

    However, rookie third-round pick Trey Sermon has the skills to be special at the NFL level. And it's going to be difficult to keep him off the field, even early in the season.

    "Overall, Sermon can be a contributor for a RB room," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "[He] can eat touches with his ability to contribute on a variety of run concepts and [is] solid in the passing game and protection. His three-down ability gives him value, but he would be best paired with another talented RB."

    The former Oklahoma and Ohio State standout isn't going to earn a workhorse role in Shanahan's offense, but his ability to gain tough yards on the interior and breakaway ability—he averaged 7.5 yards per carry last season—will get him on the field early and often.

    Mostert will remain a major factor in the offense, but Sermon will take over as the lead ball-carrier before the season is over.

San Francisco Will Notch Double-Digit Wins

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    It's easy to assume that having players like Garoppolo, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa healthy will make the 49ers a playoff contender. But things are not quite that simple. San Francisco resides in the brutal NFC West.

    Both the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams have a good chance of returning to the postseason. The Arizona Cardinals should also make a push. They have an exciting young quarterback in Kyler Murray, a defense that ranked 12th in scoring last season and several new pieces such as J.J. Watt, A.J. Green and rookie linebacker Zaven Collins.

    A four-win improvement will be difficult in this division, even if everyone remains healthy. However, we saw just how good the 49ers can be two years ago when they went 13-3 and came within a few plays of winning the Super Bowl.

    San Francisco will push for the postseason in 2021, and they will go at least 10-7 during the regular season. Whether they are good enough to get past teams like the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and L.A. in the playoffs remains to be seen. But the 49ers are going to give themselves an opportunity to find out.