Are 49ers true contenders in 2021 or just pretenders?

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers against the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers against the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Nick Bosa, Aaron Rodgers, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers
Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers sacks Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Are the 49ers Contenders or Pretenders?

While there is certainly much to question, the 2021 San Francisco 49ers should not be looked at as pretenders. While the 49ers may have some question marks and some weak points, this team is built to weather the storm.

Here’s a breakdown of reasons why, and some talking points on the reasons why some might think they’re not truly contenders.

The 49ers have started the season with injuries at some key positions (more on that later), running back and cornerback being the most glaring positions of need.

Yes, the loss of both Raheem Mostert and Jason Verrett hurt the team. Losing them is less than ideal but luckily they are at positions that the team has insulated through excellent offensive schemes and a loaded defensive front.

Through an innovative run game, Kyle Shanahan has always been able to make average running backs play at an elite level. On the defensive side, the Niners have an exceptional defensive line, linebacking corps, and above-average safeties. While the current cornerback situation is not ideal, with the rest of the defense playing at a high level, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans should be able to have his defense limit big plays.

An important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback for the 49ers. If Jimmy Garoppolo retains his position as the starter it is likely because he is healthy and playing at a high level. If rookie Trey Lance takes over, the team will have a physically gifted quarterback with extreme upside learning while playing with a talented team.

As long as Kyle Shanahan balances the game plan in a way that keeps the team playing consistently, the SF 49ers will be poised to contend this year regardless of who is under center.

Emmanuel Moseley, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (41) Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers injuries are an ongoing issue

Let’s cut right to the chase – injuries. For what feels like years and years now, the San Francisco 49ers have been seemingly cursed with injuries. Of course, the worst of those years came in 2020, when factoring total games lost from starters, they averaged 10 starters lost for the season. Seven of those starters were lost on the defense alone but more on that later.

In fact, according to Football Outsiders, the 2019 49ers suffered the 2nd-worst injury season over the last 20 years. This was particularly harsh considering the team was expected to be a wrecking ball in 2020.

And, yet again, the 49ers are barely heading into Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season and the team is already suffering injuries. Both starting cornerbacks are injured, with star cornerback Jason Verrett, out for the year.

On the offensive side speed demon, running back Raheem Mostert is also out for the year. This loss is made worse considering that the 49ers lost almost all of their running back depth in the first two games. All of that before one even considers that starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo was lost for most of the 2020 season missing ten games.

This begs the following questions – since injuries usually beget more injuries per Football Outsiders, is the team destined to be hampered by more injuries in 2021? Are once-dominant players slowed down by prior injuries?

It is too early to tell but so far the health of the team seems to be on the decline through two games.