2 ‘Under the Radar’ 49ers Among Quartet Who Will Decide NFC Title


Getty Jauan Jennings and Christian McCaffrey celebrate a touchdown on January 14, 2023.

The analysts and NFL executives have spoken: It’s not Brock Purdy, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle or Christian McCaffrey who they believe are the quartet the San Francisco 49ers need to have the heaviest reliance on for Sunday, January 29.

All four will have their roles and chances of dynamic plays. But it’s a different foursome who Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report, Heavy contributor and former NFL general manager Randy Mueller and one NFC personnel executive all pointed who have the greater chance to greatly impact the NFC Championship game versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Including two “under the radar” ones Gagnon pointed out who are capable of altering the early conference title showdown.

The 2 ‘Under the Radar’ 49ers

Gagnon unveiled his list on Wednesday, January 25 of the guys who aren’t household names for their team, but are capable of providing a larger impact for S.F. than what many believe: Wide receiver Jauan Jennings and outside linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair.

Gagnon wrote this on the towering option Jennings:

“The 49ers offense is loaded with talented weapons, and at this point a quarterback can’t be considered “under the radar,” even if they’re a rookie seventh-round draft pick. But there is one guy Brock Purdy might target Sunday who could be an unexpected hero in the event that the Eagles successfully focus on Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk.

That’d be Jauan Jennings, who quietly went over 400 yards in a limited role in 2022 after also quietly scoring a handful of touchdowns in his first healthy pro season in 2021.

The Eagles had the No. 1 pass D in terms of DVOA this year, but they ranked in the bottom 12 at covering receivers who weren’t considered by Football Outsiders to be No. 1 or No. 2 wideouts in opposing offenses. That could give Jennings a chance to do something special Sunday.”

As for Al-Shaair, Gagnon feels that star linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw “will have their hands full” with the Eagles’ plethora of weapons in both the ground and air attack. Which prompted Gagnon to describe why Al-Shaair will be needed more heavily:

“With Jalen Hurts at the center of it all, the Eagles also have the league’s top running game in terms of DVOA. Slowing down Hurts, Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell has to be the 49ers’ top priority in the NFC title game, which could put a lot on the only non-star starting linebacker and arguably the least known member of the San Francisco front seven, Azeez Al-Shaair.

Al-Shaair had a triple-digit-tackle 2021 season in San Francisco but lost a couple of months to a knee injury this year and has only started to get back into his former groove in recent weeks.

Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw will have their hands full in that process, but those two are critical cogs in covering backs, tight ends and receivers. There will likely be times in which Al-Shaair will be left with the task of containing the mobile Hurts, and those times could very well decide who represents the NFC in Super Bowl LVII.”

Jennings and Al-Shaair have made impactful plays in the past for the 49ers before — Jennings with his two-touchdown game in the 2021 season finale versus the Los Angeles Rams with a playoff berth on the line, then Al-Shaair recently flattening Ezekiel Elliot on the botched final play by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional round win. But they’re the “under the radar” 49ers who can help decide who wins Sunday.

‘Hall of Fame Candidate’ Can Help Decide S.F. Win

Meanwhile, two more known 49ers were chosen by two executives, including a retired one, as the Niners who can greatly impact the NFC title game.

And the choice for Randy Mueller, the 2000 NFL Executive of The Year and Heavy contributor?

“Trent Williams,” Mueller told Heavy’s NFL senior reporter Matt Lombardo Friday, January 27. “His strength power and anchor to go with very good balance and athleticism. He’s probably a Hall of Fame candidate.”

Williams will have to protect Purdy from a pass rush that has an astonishing 70 sacks. However, the Eagles’ offensive line has this tenacious one to deal with: Nick Bosa, the league’s sack leader.

“He’s got it all. Elite strength, speed, power, bend,” an NFC Personnel Executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Lombardo.

And Bosa will spearhead a 49ers pass rush against an Eagles line protection that has surrendered 44 sacks.

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