Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

A not so pleasant surprise, but Mr. Underrated deserves his flowers

With no game to preview since the 49ers are on a bye week, let’s look back at the first half of the season and discuss a few individual accolades.

MVP – Christian McCaffrey

Through the first five weeks of the season, it seemed like the 49ers would have two players in the top-5 of the MVP ballots.

Brock Purdy has come back down to earth a bit as he has five interceptions in the past three games with the bulk of those coming in the fourth quarter. When you think MVP, you think “clutch,” and we can’t give Purdy credit for coughing the ball up when it matters the most.

McCaffrey leads the league in rushing yardage and has the most receiving yards among all running backs. He’s combined for 13 total touchdowns.

Two fumbles lost in October are on the forefront of your mind, but McCaffrey is a walking big play who has, in some cases, bailed out the offense with one of his patented explosive plays.

His stats have cooled off during the losing streak, but that’s because teams are loading the box with no Trent Williams or Deebo Samuel. When the 49ers have their full complement of weapons, and defenses have to play the Niners honestly, you could pencil McCaffrey in for over 100 yards from scrimmage and at least one touchdown.

On the podium: Brock Purdy, Brandon Aiyuk

Offensive MVP – Brandon Aiyuk

Kittle ended the month on a heater as he had 149 and 78 receiving yards in his final two games. But he only had one reception in two games this season — likely due to what he was being asked — which makes it difficult to give him the nod over Aiyuk. I will say that, as a blocker, Kittle could pass as an offensive lineman the way he holds up.

I’m putting more weight on the big play and Aiyuk has six receptions of 20+ yards and 18, which is second in the NFL. Aiyuk is tenth in receiving yards, but he did miss one game.

Aiyuk is here because of the value he brings to the offense. It’s one thing to rack up countless meaningless stats in garbage time. Aiyuk has the 10th most first downs in the league, despite running roughly 100 fewer routes than everyone above him not named Tyreek Hill.

Only one player in the NFL has a higher yard per target and reception. When Aiyuk touches the ball, it’s a first down. Eighty-five percent of his catches result in a first down.

Whether you use success rate to judge his efficiency from a down-to-down basis, or EPA to measure Aiyuk’s big play ability, he’s near the top in every category. He’s the offensive MVP for the 49ers.

On the podium: Brock Purdy, George Kittle

Defensive MVP – Nick Bosa

General manager John Lynch, earlier this week on Bosa:

“If you know football, turn on that film. The attention this guy gets, what he does to the guys in front of him… down in, down out, he whoops the guy, and usually, it’s guys because he gets so much attention.”

If you were expecting opposing offenses to let Nick Bosa, the player who ran away with the Defensive MVP a year ago, to let him duplicate that success for the second season in a row, then I have some property in Idaho that I’d like you to purchase.

Bosa is being double-teamed on nearly one out of every three snaps. And that doesn’t count when a running back or tight end is by him to add additional help.

Based on the eye test, Bosa still wins at an obnoxious rate. The metrics back that up as well. Bosa is third in PFF’s win percentage among all positions. He’s third in total pressures and has hit the quarterback five more times than any player in the NFL. Judging him by sacks ignores a lot of Bosa’s production and effectiveness.

He’s still comfortably one of the top three edge rushers in the NFL and the clear-cut defensive MVP for the 49ers.

On the podium: Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave

Most surprising performance – Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw’s tackling

Warner is on pace to have the most missed tackles in his career this season and the highest percentage. He missed 20 tackles all year in 2022. Warner has 15 through eight games.

The same is true for Dre Greenlaw, who missed 22 tackles a season ago, and is up to 16 already. Greenlaw’s highest percentage of missed tackles in a season is 16.3 percent. He’s currently at 23.5 percent.

That is not a Steve Wilks issue.

Not all missed tackles are created equally. Fred or Dre could miss a tackle in the backfield, and that slows down the running back enough or forces him to redirect, and he still loses yards.

But there are enough examples this season of both players flat out whiffing in the hole and their misses leading to a first down.

The tackling, or lack thereof, is the reason San Francisco sits 22nd in rushing DVOA. 26th in EPA per rush and rushing success rate. The defense is struggling to get off the field, and it’s because two of their best players are in position to make the tackle, but simply are not finishing.

That’s by far the biggest surprise when watching this 49ers team in 2023.

On the podium: Tashaun Gipson, the offensive line

Mr. Underrated – Aaron Banks

Losing left guard Aaron Banks to a turf toe injury for a few weeks will not go unnoticed. Banks has been everything and then some for the 49ers. He’s only in his second year as a starter, but you’d have no idea based on his performance.

Trent Williams is among the league leaders in blown block percentage at 1.2 percent. That’s well above league average. Banks sits at 1.2 percent. The former Notre Dame product has a lower blown block percentage against the run than Williams at 1.5 percent, which puts Banks in the top 30 among all offensive lineman for the run and the pass.

Banks has only allowed one “stuff,” or a tackle near the line of scrimmage against the run, and hasn’t allowed a sack.

Losing Banks may force the Niners to use Kittle even more as a blocker. But the offensive line has been stellar this season and Banks, outside of the obvious, is a big reason why.

On the podium: Tashaun Gipson, George Kittle

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About the Author: Insidethe49

Insidethe49 Site Staff

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