The 49ers’ lone Pro Bowl selection plays a position the team didn’t have on its roster last season.
Kyle Juszczyk will be the NFC’s fullback in the January game in Orlando, Fla., the first San Francisco fullback to have that honor since Fred Beasley in 2003. Juszczyk represented the AFC last year when he was with the Baltimore Ravens.
Last year Chip Kelly’s receiver-heavy, run-option offense didn’t use a fullback. The 49ers went 2-14 and sent no one to the Pro Bowl, the first time they’d been shut out in the annual all-star game since 2005.
Kicker Robbie Gould, running back Carlos Hyde and offensive tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown were named alternates. Gould on Sunday became the first kicker in NFL history to connect on 15 field goals in a three-game span. His run of success, however, happened largely as Pro Bowl voting was winding down and the Rams Greg Zuerlein was voted in instead.
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Brown is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and would not be able to take part in the Jan. 28 game. His recovery is expected to last five to six months.
The Raiders, meanwhile, had a league-high seven players in the Pro Bowl in 2016. This year that number dropped to four: center Rodney Hudson, guard Kelechi Osemele, tackle Donald Penn and defensive end Khalil Mack. Those four were part of last year’s Pro Bowl group as well.
In addition, linebacker NaVorro Bowman – who spent the first five weeks of the season with San Francisco – quarterback Derek Carr, guard Gabe Jackson, running back Marshawn Lynch, punter Marquette King, and receiver/return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson were named alternates.
The 49ers signed Juszczyk, who spent his first four season with the Ravens, to a four-year, $21 million contract, a huge figure for a position that slowly has been phased out of NFL offenses.
General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan reasoned that because Juszczyk was such a good receiver and could line up as a tight end or even in the slot, he was worth the money. They unofficially dubbed him an “OW” – an offensive weapon.
As the team got off to an 0-9 start, Juszczyk’s signing seemed dubious, and he missed two games with injuries. But like everyone on the roster, Juszczyk has taken off in the last month, including a three-catch performance Dec. 10 in Houston.
His 220 receiving yards rank eighth on the 49ers.
After Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, Juszczyk said that with two games left the team is focused on ramping up to the 2018 season.
“We all look at this like we’re building for that right now,” he said. “Kyle (Shanahan) talked about this week that if we want to be in big games next year and play in playoff games, it starts now. That’s a playoff team, and we’re playing two more playoff teams coming up. We have to get used to this environment and performing against these kind of teams.”