Seven under-the-radar impact players for 49ers in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea:
Looking ahead to the 2022 season, the 49ers have several players they’ll need to be impactful in order to string together another deep playoff run.
Matt Maiocco and I previously each complied a top 10 list of the most important players on the team. This time we took a look at the less conspicuous choices, choosing seven under-the-radar players who could be key difference makers for the club in 2022.
Here are our choices:
DB Darqueze Dennard:
The 30-year-old defensive back only appeared in three NFL games in 2021 – two as a member of the 49ers. Dennard signed a one-year deal with the club during the offseason and could become a key contributor this season.
There is a void in the secondary following K’Waun Williams’ departure to the Denver Broncos, and Dennard is a candidate to step in and take over the nickelback role in the secondary.
Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin spoke glowingly about the veteran defender, noting his dedication once signing with the 49ers for the second time in Week 17 of the 2021 season. Dennard was on the field for 21 defensive snaps and 10 special-teams plays after he spent the week in his coach’s office (including sleeping) learning the scheme.
CB Jason Verrett:
Verrett did not do any work on the field with the team during the offseason program but is set to make his return after an ACL injury derailed his comeback in Week 1 of the 2021 season. Like Dennard, Verrett signed a one-year deal and could end up being an important part of the secondary in 2022.
When healthy, Verrett is an incredibly effective defender. The 31-year-old has already bonded with newly signed Charvarius Ward and has been seen coaching up the younger members of the secondary. While he has usually been seen on the outside, Verrett is talented enough to play anywhere on the field, including in the slot.
RB Jeff Wilson:
Wilson appeared in 11 games for the 49ers in 2021 after recovering from knee injury he sustained during the offseason. The 26-year-old carried the ball 79 times for 294 yards and two touchdowns but did not seem like the same player he was in 2020 when he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored seven times.
Now further removed the injury, the former undrafted free agent has more spring in his step and was seen with the first team frequently during the offseason program. Wilson was not only taking handoffs out of the backfield from Trey Lance but also catching passes from the young quarterback.
Wilson could be a key part of the 49ers offense along with fellow running backs Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, and rookies Ty Davis Price and Jordan Mason.
RT Mike McGlinchey:
The right tackle was on Matt’s top-10 list of important players for 2021 but most of the attention from everyone outside the building has been on who will play on the interior of the offensive line.
2022 is a huge year for McGlinchey who could set himself up for a huge payday in 2023 when he becomes a free agent. Consistent pass protection from the Notre Dame product will be needed as well as leadership for the group that will have quite a few new faces on the starting lineup.
McGlinchey, who has always been a solid run blocker, will also be important in creating lanes for the ball carriers which in turn will take the pressure of Lance in his first full season as a starter.
S Tarvarius Moore:
Like McGlinchey, Moore could set himself up to hit 2023 free agency with a bang if he has a great season. The safety is technically entering his fifth NFL year but sat out 2021 due to an Achilles injury suffered during the offseason.
The new rules in the CBA prevent a season spent on injured reserve to count as an accrued season keeping the third round player on the 49ers roster competing to start along side of Jimmie Ward.
Safeties coach Daniel Bullocks said he likes the level of talent that he has in the group, noting it will be in an open competition for a starting role. Even if Moore does not win the starting role, he could play on a rotational basis as well as on special teams.
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S Talanoa Hufanga:
The second-year safety was seen in on the field with the first team during organized team activities, but who will start at the position come Week 1 has not been decided. Hufanga has already made drastic improvements in his game – especially in his on-field communication which Bullocks mentioned was a coaching point.
The USC product continues to show improvements from working with Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu while away from the facility. Bullocks believes Hufanga is a step faster, and twitchier since returning to Santa Clara for the offseason.
Both Hufanga and Moore will be competing with George Odum who joined the club after spending four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. All three have a chance to win the starting strong safety role.
DT Javon Kinlaw:
If Kinlaw can stay healthy, could be a game changer for the 49ers defense in 2022. After having a second procedure on his knee, the No. 14 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft is set for a comeback season.
The defensive tackle has yet to participate in team drills on the field but all reports from the facility have been encouraging. Both John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have shared that Kinlaw has been more upbeat and working around the clock to make a return now that he is dealing with less knee pain than he has in the past.
The defensive line room is filled with talent with lightens the pressure on Kinlaw to perform on the field. The South Carolina product has remained in Santa Clara working with the team medical staff completely focused on making his way back at a pace that will keep hopefully keep him healthy going forward.
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