Let's not waste any time. The 49ers look to become a playoff contender in a stacked NFC conference in 2018, and to do that, they'll need these five guys at full health. With that said, let's look at what I consider to be the five most important pieces to this 49ers team.
This goes without saying. C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer crippled the offense last year with their inability to work at an NFL speed, which was why the front office traded for Jimmy Garoppolo. Graoppolo wasn't outstanding last year, but his quick processing and preference for quick releases allowed the Kyle Shanahan system to be more fully realized.
Garoppolo's biggest concern is improving his footwork, as it was sloppy at times in 2017. But his competence should make the 49ers a dangerous team this year.
Joe Staley will turn 34 by the end of the month, so it's crucial that the 6-time Pro Bowl left tackle is healthy this year. Staley, as the left tackle, serves as Garoppolo's blind side protection, and will keep the left side of the offensive line intact so long as he's on the field.
Probably the best defensive player on the roster, DeForest Buckner is also one of the best defensive tackles in the league. His timing on the snap, electrifying footwork, and power have made him a lot of fun to watch, and he's expected by many fans to be a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
Buckner is the glue to the 49ers' defensive line, one that can be a one man wrecking crew at times. It should take little trouble for him to continue to play at a high level in his third year in the pros.
Jerick McKinnon was the most expensive piece the 49ers acquired in the offseason. He's missing the rest of the preseason as a precaution so that he's ready to go week 1, and San Francisco will need that.
McKinnon himself hasn't been spectacular to this point, but how Kyle Shanahan will use him suggests that may change. McKinnon looks to be an every down back that can be used in multiple ways while being schemed open and taking off with his speed. That will be crucial because it allows for a three-headed monster in the backfield, including Matt Breida and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
The 49ers' secondary is extremely young, so Seattle legend Richard Sherman should be a good mentor for the rest of the unit (although I don't really put great stock into mentor stuff). More importantly, if Sherman plays anywhere near his previous high level at corner, then that's a major boost to the secondary.
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