49ers roster: 4 best things that surprised us most in 2021

Eli Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Eli Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Arden Key, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key (98) Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

No. 2: Arden Key has turned into a quality pass-rusher

Understandably, Nick Bosa has been the focal point of San Francisco’s pass rush with 15 sacks entering Week 18. And while the 49ers were hoping to get something, anything out of fellow EDGE Dee Ford, Ford’s own back issues prevented him from appearing in more than just six games this season.

The Niners needed to get a complementary pass rush and were struggling to do so for much of the year.

One of those low-profile offseason free-agent pickups, grabbing former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Arden Key, has proven to be a massive boost. Key, who flamed out with the Raiders after notching just three sacks over his first three years as a pro, has turned into a quality San Francisco pass-rusher, made even more apparent by his move to the inside of the defensive line.

With six sacks (officially) on the season, Key has set a new career-best mark in that department, further justifying how D-line coach Kris Kocurek can get the most out of in-the-trench players.

Key is also a free agent this offseason and might be in line to cash in on his recent success.

From the 49ers’ perspective, they’ll likely hope he sees what he has with his new squad and is willing to re-sign on a team-friendly deal.