49ers training camp: 4 winners, 2 losers after first week

If someone wins, that mean someone else has to lose, right?
San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
San Francisco 49ers Training Camp / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages
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4 biggest winners from first week of 49ers training camp

DT Javon Kinlaw

After appearing in only 10 games combined over the last two seasons because of injury, Kinlaw isn't a player the 49ers should count upon, and they went out and paid former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave a lot of money to make up for Kinlaw's lack of impact.

It'd be understandable why the criticism would mentally wear Kinlaw down. But, according to fellow defensive tackle Arik Armstead (h/t 49ers Webzone), Kinlaw is in a great place right now:

"JK has been balling. It's been great to see his progress and his process. I dealt with injuries early in my career and really couldn't find my footing. Once I was able to string along some good health, I was able to play some good football. And he's been looking amazing. He's healthy, and he's been dominating."

The Niners opted not to pick up Kinlaw's fifth-year option for 2024, meaning he's entering a contract year and appears to be using the motivation to his advantage.

WR Brandon Aiyuk

Deebo Samuel might be San Francisco's most popular wide receiver, but he's not the team's best at that position.

Nope. That's Brandon Aiyuk.

Aiyuk is clearly the top route runner on the team, and even Sports Illustrated's Grant Cohn showered the fourth-year pro with the kind of praise rarely reserved for anyone but the best:

"I've covered some great 49ers wide receivers in their prime -- Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Deebo Samuel, to name a few. Right now, Aiyuk is the best 49ers wide receiver I've ever seen in person on the practice field. He's unstoppable."

Aiyuk promised a massive season in 2023, and it sure looks as if he's backing up the talk.

WR Danny Gray

A year ago, San Francisco drafted wide receiver Danny Gray in the third round because of his breakneck speed. Unfortunately, all that translated into was the speedster recording one reception for 10 yards on seven targets during the regular season.

Gray didn't make much of a rookie-year impact for a number of reasons, including an inability to run complex routes and not being much of a blocker.

Either way, he needed a sense of urgency heading into year two.

While Aiyuk is the No. 1 offensive player for the 49ers through one week of camp, Gray might be the one who has made up the most ground, even earning some serious praise from general manager John Lynch:

"Danny’s always shown a want to go make those blocks and things. Now he’s taking his game to the next level and we’re starting to see it. I know he gets frustrated because he feels like he can run and if they can just get it out there, he can run by anyone. But he’s doing his job over and over and my experience in the league, when you’re doing it over and over and doing things the right way, it will start to show up on the field. And we’re starting to see glimpses."

Gray, who was on the fringes of making the 53-man roster, is looking like he'll be a necessary part of the depth chart based on his first week of practices.

QB Sam Darnold

If you were to tell anyone else outside the 49ers organization and fanbase that quarterback Sam Darnold, who already flamed out with two different teams after being selected No. 3 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, was having a solid training camp with the Niners, they probably wouldn't believe you.

Or they would, simply because San Francisco is the best context in which Darnold has played to date.

Granted, Darnold's roster spot is pretty safe after the 49ers gave him $3.5 million guaranteed during the offseason, but he actually has come around during camp practices, too,

Had Darnold flamed out and looked terrible, it wouldn't have been shocking. The Niners would have been criticized for giving the quarterback that much guaranteed money, and that'd be it.

Instead, it appears as if Darnold is coming along nicely.