49ers roster: 5 most important defensive players entering 2021

Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward (20) Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

While the best ones are easy to rank out, these five 49ers defensive players are clearly the most important as the team prepares for the 2021 season.

It’s not hard to point out the San Francisco 49ers‘ two best defensive players heading into 2021.

EDGE Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner easily fall into that category, and ranking one over the other is a mere matter of preference. Warner is a first-team All-Pro, while Bosa is the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year whose follow-up campaign was cut short because of an ACL tear.

True, both players are vitally important, too. But being important to the Niners defense goes far beyond just being one of the best players within the league.

San Francisco is expected to see some shifts under first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, meaning he’ll need to identify some of his cornerstone pieces heading into the upcoming season.

Should be easy enough, right?

Perhaps. But let’s take a deeper dive and evaluate the five most crucial players for Ryans and the 49ers defense this season, starting off with the eraser in the secondary, free safety Jimmie Ward.

49ers Most Important Defender No. 5: Safety Jimmie Ward

The pure stats might not jump out at you, and the fact he hasn’t recorded an interception at all since Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach in 2017 probably means Ward won’t receive anywhere near as much publicity as other top defensive backs around the league.

But don’t let that fool you. Ward is exceptionally important as the Niners’ last line of defense.

Provided he stays healthy, Ward might have to take on a more vital role this season and not just as a defensive captain and leader, which he’s already starting to do.

Ryans is likely to employ a lot more man coverage this season, meaning Ward will have to cover up different kinds of mistakes when receiving targets simply get past defensive backs in step-for-step coverage.

This calls for more reactive skills rather than pure anticipation in zone situations, meaning Ward’s responsibilities are going to increase even more than just by being the elder statesman within San Francisco’s defensive backfield.