© Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC
The great benefit of an early rash of injuries, especially when it takes hold against a pair of young, hapless organizations who are either poorly coached, poorly constructed, or both, is that the players who would normally ride pine see extended snaps. In the 49ers’ case, the past two weeks were simultaneously devastating and invaluable in that respect.
I am of the belief that, for the most part, it would not have mattered much who the 49ers put out on the field over the past two weeks. Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh are verifiably elite and faced organizations without any identity, confidence, or, in large part, a plan. While the Giants clogged rushing lanes in the first half, there are few scenarios in which they could have sustained that effort long enough to secure a win.
That’s not a statement intended to diminish what San Francisco accomplished the past two weeks. The depth within the team’s ranks is legitimate, and the displays by a handful of players reinforced that this team, even with a barebones unit, can squeeze the life out of teams who are ill-prepared. There was a great deal more appreciation of player stock than depreciation on Sunday.
If you haven’t been buying Hyder stock, there’s still time. Barring injury, his value is only going to increase. He’s everything a 49ers team, down their best defensive player in Nick Bosa and two key defensive linemen in Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas, are in dire need of. More than capable of playing on the interior or edge, Hyder clogs rushing lanes and utilizes a domineering blend of speed and power to confound tackles and guards.
This is no surprise. He did the same in training camp, giving Mike McGlinchey and Colton McKivitz consistent trouble by having to prepare for and sell out on the force of that wrecking ball-like power rush, and then being taken off guard by the outside speed rush. His swipe move, like Bosa’s, is simplistic but ruthlessly effective, and it’s why he now leads the team in sacks with 2.0 (yikes).
Hyder had one sack and nearly had two more on Daniel Jones. He led the team with three quarterback hits, and had a tackle for a loss, along with another just past the line of scrimmage. At a time where they need reliability, the 49ers have found it in Hyder.
Jeff Wilson Jr.
Here’s a stat for you.
The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Jones has 24 combined touchdowns in the regular season since 2019, the most for any non-quarterback. He has done so in 784 snaps. That’s a touchdown every 32.7 snaps.
In 88 snaps since 2019, Jeff Wilson Jr. has seven combined touchdowns. That’s a touchdown every 12.6 snaps, almost certainly the most efficient snap-to-touchdown ration in the NFL since the start of last season.
To get even more granular, Jones has 345 touches during that period, a ratio of one touchdown per every 14.37 touches.
Wilson has 47 touches during that period, a ratio of one touchdown per every 6.71 touches.
For fun, here are two more points of reference, from two of the NFL’s all-time, non-quarterback touchdown leaders, since snap counts were tracked in 2012:
- Adrian Peterson (13th), from 2012 to 2015 (tore his ACL in the first game of the 2014 season), had 35 touchdowns on 1,075 touches. That’s a touchdown per every 23.9 touches.
- Antonio Brown (t-62nd), from 2014 to 2018, had 59 touchdowns on 586 touches. That’s a touchdown per every 9.76 touches.
That’s elite, astounding efficiency from Wilson. Yes, it’s a small sample size and Wilson only rushed for 15 yards on 12 carries on Sunday, but the Giants’ defensive front was staunch at stuffing the run early, and poor handoffs from Nick Mullens and early struggles from Ben Garland cost Wilson and Jerick McKinnon. He is clearly a stellar route-running back with power and vision to compensate for his lack of straight-line speed. At the very least, he hits the hole at full speed, which is a pre-requisite for success in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
If Shanahan weren’t so infatuated with Tevin Coleman, Wilson would be making a case that he should be taking those snaps. But it’s likely that Shanahan stick with Coleman when he returns from injured reserve, regardless of how Wilson performs over the next four-plus weeks.
There is no quarterback controversy. Nothing has changed. The reason San Francisco didn’t trade Mullens despite reported offers this offseason is that they knew he was a well above-average backup quarterback. He started off shaky, especially in the running game, but grew into it as he progressed, with just one incompletion in a stellar 11-for-12, 156-yard, 1 TD second half.
He followed Kyle Shanahan’s excellent game plan and picked apart their secondary, which, for a brief moment, looked impressive, with James Bradberry and Logan Ryan showing tight coverage in the first half. But Mullens started to get into a rhythm with Brandon Aiyuk, Ross Dwelley and his running backs, and there wasn’t much left to stop San Francisco from there.
A restricted free agent this offseason, the 49ers are likely going to have to give him a first-round tender to keep him.
Also rising: Ross Dwelley, Brandon Aiyuk, Javon Kinlaw
If you haven’t sold you Pettis stock by now, well it might even be worth holding because it has zero value now, unless he starts showing something on punt returns. He took eight offensive snaps and has thus far been targeted once. Barring injuries, he’s a non-factor in this offense. So much for that stellar training camp.
He was totally lost on Daniel Jones’ longest two runs, both of which were designed. They’re schemed to beat the defensive end; it’s Alexander’s job to be there when the edge isn’t contained. For the first three games, he has looked slow, tentative, and worst of all, uncertain in coverage, where he excelled last season. Thus far, he’s appeared much more the player who returned too early from a torn pectoral to make it back to the Super Bowl, than the spark plug that he was during the first half of last season.
Alexander has always been an energy guy, closing down outside runs and breaking up passes to the flats, but he’s looked well off the pace thus far. An indictment of that is the fact that he was mostly used as a blitzer on Sunday, limiting his coverage duties. He was wayward against the Arizona Cardinals, but at least forced a pair of fumbles. Even that wreckless dynamism has since been lacking. Against better teams, he will get exploited if he doesn’t improve.
This isn’t blaming Witherspoon for an injury, but he’s missing out on a prime opportunity to start before he hits free agency this offseason. He showed the same overthinking tendencies in coverage in Week 2 that have plagued him in his career, and without the opportunity to regain his confidence, it’s hard to see how he’ll find that early, stellar form he displayed all too briefly at the beginning of last season.
The longest-tenured member of the 49ers had an absolute nightmare on Sunday, the likes of which I can’t recall seeing. Most of his snaps were either disastrous or on the border of being disastrous and he was inconsolable at one point on the sideline before Justin Skule replaced him. San Francisco may need a new long snapper, which was an issue when Nelson was out at the start of last season.