49ers 2020 predictions: Team MVP, most improved and more

Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /
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Deebo Samuel, 49ers
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

49ers Team Awards

Len Eshmont Award

This award is “voted on by the players and is given to the 49er who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team,” according to the 49ers team website. In 2019, the winner was George Kittle.

For 2020, I’ll stay on the offensive side of the ball, but this time go with second-year receiver Deebo Samuel, who in many ways exemplifies many of the same on-field characteristics as Kittle.

Samuel enters his sophomore campaign as the likely candidate to be the 49ers’ No. 1 receiver outside of Kittle, and given his maturation throughout the second half of 2019, it stands to reason he’ll continue to improve and become an even more integral part of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

This will be especially true is players like Jerick McKinnon, Brandon Aiyuk, receiver Kendrick Bourne and other standout offensive players can help to relieve some pressure off of Samuel.

Fred Warner, 49ers
Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Bill Walsh Award

This award is “voted on by the coaching staff, is given to the 49er who has best represented the standard of professional excellence established by Walsh” and was given to DeForest Buckner in 2019.

The 2020 winner will be linebacker Fred Warner who continues to improve heading into his third season in the NFL.

In 2019, Warner collected 118 tackles, including seven for loss, along with three sacks and his first career interception, a pick-six against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. Warner isn’t the flashiest of defenders, but he exemplifies Walsh’s sense of excellence and professionalism by doing his job each and every week.

Warner is a player who could be considered most likely to break out on the national scene in 2020, and this award seems likely to follow as he begins to be named among the best linebackers in the NFL.

Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
Trent Williams, Washington Redskins (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

Bob McKittrick Award

This award is voted on by the offensive lineman on the squad and is “given annually to the 49ers offensive lineman who best represents the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by the longtime offensive line coach, during his 21 years of service to the 49ers.” Mike Person won the honor in 2019.

It’ll be a new face winning this award in 2020, with the latest addition to the team, left tackle Trent Williams, taking home the prize.

Yes, it’s been a while since Williams has played in an NFL football game, but he’s been one of the elite tackles in the game since entering the league in 2010 and he’ll be the 49ers most talented offensive lineman by a rather large margin.

His success will help shape the 49ers offensive line for 2020 and it stands to reason that the rest of the unit would want to recognize his contribution to the team and the work he did to step in for now-retired left tackle Joe Staley.

San Francisco 49ers
Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Hazeltine Iron Man Award

The 49ers website explains this award as follows:

"The Hazeltine Iron Man Award is named for former linebacker Matt Hazeltine, a 13-year performer who played more seasons at linebacker than any other 49ers player. Known for his durability and dedication, Hazeltine passed away in 1987 from ALS, and Bill Walsh established the award in his honor that year. The award is given annually to the most courageous and inspirational defensive player as voted upon by the defensive coaches."

Linebacker Kwon Alexander received the award in 2019 after returning to the team for the playoff run after tearing his pectoral muscle on Halloween night in Arizona.

If the 49ers are to succeed in 2020, the members of the secondary will need to step up, play well and stay on the field. With that in mind, the 2020 recipient of this award will be safety Jimmie Ward, who will be returning to the Niners for his seventh season after signing a contract extension this offseason.

Ward has struggled with a plethora of position changes and injuries since being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but 2019 was by far his best season, even if he still managed to play in just 16 total games including the postseason.

But when Ward has been healthy he’s been a vital cog of the 49ers defense, holding down the backend as the ball-hawking free safety they need to be successful. The defensive back will be rewarded for staying healthy and continuing to contribute in 2020.

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State Sun Devils
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State Sun Devils (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Thomas Herrion Memorial Award

The final award is this, which is “presented to a rookie or first-year player who best represents the dream of Thomas Herrion. The recipient has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality.” The winner in 2019 was Dre Greenlaw.

Herrion was an offensive lineman who died in 2005. He collapsed in the locker room after a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. So 49ers owners Denise and John York established the award to honor Herrion and his contribution to the team.

Since 2005, when Herrion was posthumously given the inaugural award, players like cornerback Tarrell Brown (2007), safeties Eric Reid (2013) and Jaquiski Tartt (2015), linebacker Chris Borland (2014), defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (2016) and quarterback Nick Mullens (2018) have been honored.

For the 2020 edition, I’ll go with Brandon Aiyuk as someone who will step up and immediately make the biggest impact on the team, adding to a cadre of options for Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball to.

Aiyuk could be pushed for this honor by fellow his first-round pick, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina, or could see an undrafted free agent like running back JaMycal Hasty out of Baylor, receiver Chris Finke out of Notre Dame or defensive back Jared Mayden out of Alabama grab the award by stepping out of relative obscurity to make the team.