3 49ers Players Who Need to Step Up Immediately

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2021

3 49ers Players Who Need to Step Up Immediately

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    With the NFL trade deadline in the past, the San Francisco 49ers are still in a position to compete for a playoff spot. 

    They head into Week 9 with a 3-4 record after a 33-22 win over the Chicago Bears. With the Rams and Cardinals sitting at 7-1, the Niners are in on the playoff race, but the margin is slim. 

    The time to make a deal to boost their odds are over. There is the free-agent market, but finding a difference-maker there at this time of the year is rare. 

    The best shot San Francisco has at making this a competitive season is simply for more players to step up. Jimmy Garoppolo certainly did Sunday. He went 17-of-28 for 322 yards and ran two scores in with his feet. 

    Elijah Mitchell ran for over 100 yards for the second week in a row. Both are examples of players who are getting it done to resurrect the team from a shaky start. 

    Here are three more that need to elevate their game. 

DT Kentavius Street

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    With Javon Kinlaw out for the season, the 49ers have had a void on the interior of the defensive line. D.J. Jones has been playing well, but the 49ers have had to move Arik Armstead inside on a near full-time basis when they are probably at their best with him playing both spots. 

    Samson Ebukam played his best game to date against the Bears, notching a sack against Justin Fields. The team also brought in Charles Omenihu from the Houston Texans at the trade deadline. So there are reinforcements at defensive end. 

    The same depth does not exist on the inside, though. Armstead played 55 of the 70 snaps, while Jones played 37. Kentavius Street only logged 15, and Kevin Givens saw 18. 

    Street has now been with the 49ers franchise since he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft. He has overcome a torn ACL since then and battled his way to stay on the roster despite a plethora of talent at the position throughout his tenure. 

    Now is the time for him to step up and play at a level where he can take some of those snaps so the Niners defensive line can continue to play a heavy rotation of fresh players. 

CB Josh Norman

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    If the 49ers would have made a move at the trade deadline, it might have been in their best interest to continue to look for cornerbacks. Jason Verrett's season-ending injury has put them at a disadvantage at the position all season. 

    The primary answer to those woes was the team signing Josh Norman in September. 

    Five games into the Norman experiment, it would appear age has caught up with the 33-year-old. The former All-Pro corner is allowing a passer rating of 101.7 when targeted. 

    Those struggles were on display again against the Bears. Going against Fields, who has only completed 59.5 percent of his attempts this season, he allowed four receptions on five targets, including a touchdown, per PFF

    The time to add new personnel at the position has likely passed. Norman has to play better if the Niners are to get things turned around. 

LB Azeez Al-Shaair

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    Kyle Shanahan told media Monday that he is optimistic about both Azeez Al-Shaair and Dee Ford coming back from injury to play in Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals. 

    Al-Shaair has been an important piece of the defensive puzzle, especially since Dre Greenlaw went on injured reserve with a groin injury. The team is actually hoping to get Greenlaw back to practice this week, but even that remains questionable.

    With Al-Shaair in concussion protocol last week, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles stepped into the role. Flannigan-Fowles was a fine backup option, but Al-Shaair is a much better option against the run. He stands at 6'2" and 228 pounds, while Flannigan-Fowles is just 209 pounds and profiles as more of a safety/linebacker hybrid. 

    That's important because the team just gave up 176 yards on the ground to the Bears. Justin Fields was a big part of that, but with Kyler Murray on tap, it isn't as though the threat of a mobile quarterback is going away. 

    The Niners need their linebacker back in the lineup and playing at an even higher level than he was when he left.