NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals

It was a magical season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, until it wasn't. The team went on an absolute tear to start the season, firing off eight straight wins before suffering a single loss, then winning five of their last seven games to land at 13-3 -- mixing in a series of must-wins that were nearly enough to trigger a cardiac event. Things didn't slow down for them in the playoffs either, with the 49ers easily handling both the Minnesota Vikings -- who were hot off an upset of the Saints in New Orleans -- and the Green Bay Packers, en route to making their appearance in Super Bowl LIV. It was the team's chance to finally end a drought comparable to that of the Dallas Cowboys and grab the franchise's sixth Lombardi trophy. 

They were well on their way to doing just that for three quarters, but the Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs had other ideas, and woke up late in the game to rewrite the script. Falling short of winning a championship by only one quarter will either break a locker room, or make it, and the 49ers are banking on the latter in 2020. But how bold can a prediction be when it's for a team who owned the NFC and nearly the entire NFL last season? 

Well, let's give these three predictions a shot.

1. Brandon Aiyuk + Deebo Samuel = Two 1,000-yard receivers

While a club like the Cowboys boast an embarrassment of riches at receiver -- to the point they're expecting to finish the year with three of them being in the 1,000-yard club -- the 49ers aren't quite as blessed, having questions to answer at the position this coming season. The good news is they know exactly what they'll get from Deebo Samuel once healthy after seeing him dominate over much of his first season in San Francisco. The former second-round pick truly took off when the team brought in veteran Emmanuel Sanders, but Sanders is now departed by way of free agency, and the hope is his seat can be filled in a big way by rookie first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk.

Aiyuk joins the 49ers as a first-team All-Pac-12 talent, having earned the honor after racking up 1,192 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for Arizona State in 2019. He has enough speed to help stretch the field while Samuel and tight end George Kittle work underneath. Some will look at Aiyuk's 40-yard dash time and make the mistake of believing he doesn't play fast and, quiet as it's kept, running that sprint in 4.5 seconds flat is nothing to shake a stick at. That's a gust of wind away from being in the 4.4-second range, and the fact Aiyuk earned awards as a returner at ASU simply furthers the point.

Will it be easy for a rookie wideout to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark? Absolutely not, but being on the field with a 1,000-yard tight end and a second-year receiver who is quite capable of destroying defenses will help Aiyuk's chances -- as one hand washes the other, then washes the forearms. Well, that and the fact Aiyuk has a chance to hit a home run whenever he touches the ball. He's already stealing the show in camp, and that's basically warning shots of what's potentially to come next.

2. Jimmy Garoppolo approaches the 5,000-yard mark

It's weird to me there are still some not sold on Garoppolo's ability to lead the 49ers to a championship. He almost literally did just that in 2019 and yes, I get it, almost doesn't count. What does count, however, is a career-best season wherein he threw for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions -- while logging an accuracy rate of 69.1 percent in the process. Garoppolo may not always hang gaudy numbers on an opposing team, but he's both productive and efficient, and don't go shrugging off the 424-yard game he mushed in the face of the rival Arizona Cardinals last season, or the 349-yarder against the Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 13 to snatch victory in the waning moments of a shootout with Drew Brees.

In a "what have you done for me lately" league, however, it's fair to at least say Garoppolo didn't get it done when it mattered most -- namely in the Super Bowl. It's that failure that I believe drives him to truly bear down in 2020, and he's got the weapons around him to help him do something he's never come close to doing before: hit the 5,000-yard mark. It won't be easy, mind you, but it's doable.

Kittle isn't slowing down any time soon, coming off a 1,000-yard season as a tight end. Samuel has another training camp to build on the chemistry he and Garoppolo established in 2019 that led to a breakout season for both, and Aiyuk joins the fold with returner speed to give the 49ers quarterback a deep target. If my first bold prediction materializes, and assuming Kittle tosses up another 1,000-yard season, there's a minimum of 3,000 yards ready-made for Garoppolo. The rest would need to come via talent like Kendrick Bourne and others, with Raheem Mostert and the RB corps getting in the mix as well. 

Again, it won't be easy for Garoppolo to achieve this when comparing his offensive depth chart to other more potent clubs -- especially with the rash of injuries at the position -- but these predictions are supposed to be bold, right? 

3. Double-digit sacks from three different players

If you know anything about Armageddon, you know it involves the Four Horsemen. That is more or less how you could've viewed the defensive line of the 49ers in 2019 -- the team having a four-man front that has been known to end worlds. They enjoyed 33 combined sacks from Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford, with Bosa going on to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl that he couldn't take (because he was sort of tied up with Super Bowl prep). All of this being said, the 49ers are set to repeat as arguably the most dominant defensive line in the NFL, but it admittedly won't be easy.

Why? Because they traded Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. Here's the kicker, though: they used the pick they acquired in that trade to land his potential successor in Javon Kinlaw, who is very capable in his own right. For the most part, general manager John Lynch has been a guru when selecting defensive lineman, and using the 14th-overall pick in this year's draft on Kinlaw is a nod to what the team believes he can be. Plus, he won't be the focal point of an already-stacked front, which will allow him to avoid double teams and make it that much easier for the rookie to eat early and often.

That doesn't necessarily mean I'm predicting Kinlaw will have 10 sacks as much as I'm predicting his presence in supplanting Buckner makes the loss of the latter possibly a wash (even if it's not instantly), and allows Armstead, Bosa and Ford the ability to continue doing what they've been doing. 

So while the 49ers don't have the aforementioned embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, they certainly do on the defensive front, with at least three guys who have the ability to deliver 10 sacks a piece and a rookie who will try his best to do the same. Don't forget, Ford is only one season removed from a 13-sack campaign with the Chiefs and has two double-digit sack seasons on his resume. The bottom line is, the 49ers have four (!) first-round picks set to start at defensive line when the season gets underway.

Are you betting against them when it comes to again racking up sacks? You shouldn't.