There’s a lot of optimism for the San Francisco 49ers ahead of the 2020 NFL season, and for good reason.
For one, the team showed they’re were legitimate Super Bowl contenders, falling just short of the Kansas City Chiefs in a 31-20 loss.
For two, the team seems to only be getting better over the offseason. Tight end George Kittle signed his blockbuster deal Thursday, the team has brought in two contributors in the form of DE Dion Jordan and TE Jordan Reed, and made the most of DeForest Buckner’s departure by selecting DT Javon Kinlaw in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
However, this doesn’t even touch on the players coming back from injury, which includes the likes of wide receiver Trent Taylor as well as 2018 Pro Bowl pass-rusher Dee Ford.
Ford was able to play in 14 games for San Francisco last season, but was hindered by knee and hamstring injuries. Speaking to local media on Thursday, Ford said the best is yet to come.
In some ways, Ford is correct. 2019 was a decently productive season, but not up to his or the 49ers expectations.
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What’s likely most impressive about Ford is that he started on just two occasions and was constantly battling injuries, but still produced 7.5 sacks from a backup and limited position.
That’s not a bad return by any means, but when you look at the former Chief’s production in Kansas City, its clear that the potential for a massive 2020 is there.
In 2018, the defensive end racked up 13 sacks and a league-leading seven forced fumbles as he made his first-ever Pro Bowl selection.
In his only other season with double-digit starts, 2016, Ford also put up 10 sacks, which just goes to prove that, when the former Auburn Tiger can get on the field consistently, he produces consistently.
In some ways, one could say that Ford should have produced what he did in a limited 2019 season, and coming off the bench for most of his snaps could be responsible for an uptick in the frequency of his sacks.
But what does that mean for 2020?
Expectations for 2020
To put it simply, Ford needs to stay healthy and produce from the 49ers’ franchise perspective.
Set to make just over $17 million in 2020, Ford has to prove he is a cost-effective option for San Francisco during 2020 and beyond. Otherwise, the weird feeling of a non-starter defensive end making more money than George Kittle will continue, even with the tight end’s new deal.
However, the good news is that, as mentioned, Ford produces whenever he hits the field. And with a gang like DE Nick Bosa, DL Arik Armstead, Kinlaw and others, Ford won’t have to worry much about being singled out and locked down by opposing offenses.
With that in mind, a reasonable bar for Ford would be 9 sacks in 2020. The ceiling is considerably higher, there’s a very real chance that the former Chief could hit somewhere close to a sack a game.
But until then, a small but significant uptick in production would mean a lot, and make the 49ers defensive line even more dominant than it already is.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.