San Francisco 49ers

Former 49ers top pick poised for breakout? These players enter season high on intrigue

Arik Armstead, middle, reported to training camp at less than 275 pounds, the lightest he’s been since his junior year at Pleasant Grove High School.
Arik Armstead, middle, reported to training camp at less than 275 pounds, the lightest he’s been since his junior year at Pleasant Grove High School. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The Bee’s Matt Barrows breaks down five 49ers to watch this season:

Arik Armstead, DL

The former first-round pick seems comfortable in his new role, which calls for him to rush from the edge on early downs and to slide inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. Armstead is lighter – and quicker – than he’s been since he played at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove. He also is fully recovered from a shoulder injury that’s nagged him since he was a prep star and which finally landed him on injured reserve last season. He’s entering his third year in the league. Fans and coaches are looking for a breakout season.

C.J. Beathard, QB

Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick in 2012, started one game at the end of his rookie season in Washington, a 38-21 win against Cleveland in which he threw two touchdowns and had a 104.4 passer rating. How many games can Beathard, a third-round pick in April, expect to play? It will depend, of course, on Brian Hoyer’s health and effectiveness. But should Hoyer struggle, Beathard’s preseason play has suggested he won’t be overwhelmed by the NFL stage.

George Kittle, TE

Perhaps the baseline for Kittle is former Stanford tight end Austin Hooper, who had 19 catches, 271 receiving yards and three touchdowns as a rookie last year in an Atlanta Falcons offense run by Kyle Shanahan. Then again, maybe we should expect more from Kittle after his head-turning offseason and preseason. His blocking ability will earn him playing time early on. His hands and quick routes will get him attention in the passing game.

Trent Brown, RT

He has the size and skills to be one of the top tackles – right or left – in the NFL, a throwback to a time two decades ago when linemen like Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace and Walter Jones dominated the trenches. But to this point Brown has been merely above average. He looks like a Pro Bowler one moment, just another guy the next. He’s entering his third season, one in which he must learn consistency. If he does, he’s likely to be richly rewarded.

Matt Breida, RB

Breida went undrafted out of Georgia Southern, but he was more impressive than Joe Williams, a fourth-round draft pick, from spring practices through the preseason. Breida is the fastest running back on the roster but has plenty of experience running between the tackles and is tough for his size. He’s been better-than-expected in the passing game and offers a nice complement to Carlos Hyde. A strong season by Breida – or any other young runner – could prompt the team to move on from Hyde next season. He’s scheduled for free agency in March.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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