When the 49ers take the field for the season finale on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, the offense will barely resemble the unit that opened the season.
The offensive line will be the same that opened the season on Sept. 9 against the Minnesota Vikings, but there are few familiar faces among the team’s skill positions.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been out since tearing his ACL in Week 3. Running back Alfred Morris started just one game before Matt Breida took over. But, now, Breida is not available, either.
The 49ers’ top three wide receivers when the season opened were Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis. Those players are injured and will not be available on Sunday.
Instead, such players as quarterback Nick Mullens, running back Jeff Wilson Jr., wide receivers Kendrick Bourne, Steven Dunbar Jr., Max McCaffrey and others will take center stage for the 49ers.
Here are four 49ers to watch on Sunday against the NFC West champion Rams:
WR Kendrick Bourne
Coach Kyle Shanahan said he believes Goodwin will be more effective in the future in a specialized role, rather than as an every-down player. Goodwin’s consistency has been an issue, and that’s where Bourne needs to get better, too.
“He’s been more consistent with his feet,” Shanahan said of Bourne. “Sometimes he gets excited and slips a little bit and he’s done a better job staying up. His hands, I think everyone can see, even when he’s covered, he steps to the ball, he has aggressive hands.
”He’s a big guy out there, because of his hands and the way he attacks the ball and he’s fearless going over the middle. I know our quarterbacks really like throwing to him.”
Bourne came to the 49ers last season as an undrafted rookie from Eastern Washington. He is second on the 49ers behind tight end George Kittle with 37 receptions for 428 yards and three touchdowns.
TE George Kittle
Kittle has already set the franchise record for most receiving yards for a tight end. And with 79 catches for 1,228 yards, Kittle is just three receptions shy of Eric Johnson’s team record for receptions from a tight end.
Moreover, Kittle is within striking distance of Rob Gronkowski’s NFL record for receiving yards from a tight end. Gronkowski had 1,327 yards in 2011. But Kansas City’s Travis Kelce could get there first. Kelce enters the Chiefs game against the Raiders on Sunday with 1,274 receiving yards.
QB Nick Mullens
The first-year player from Southern Mississippi has shown this season that he is capable of being an NFL starting quarterback. He has one final shot as the 49ers’ starter until he goes to a reserve role indefinitely.
There is no competition for the 49ers’ starting QB job. Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers’ future starter. Mullens likely heads into the offseason with an edge over C.J. Beathard for the backup job, based on his high level of play in the second half of the season.
If things go as planned next season, this might be the last time we see Mullens in a meaningful game in a long time.
DL Arik Armstead
The 49ers have a decision to make in the months after this game: Do they retain Armstead for next season on a one-year, $9 million contract as part of the fifth-year option?
The coaching staff has been impressed with Armstead’s work on base downs as a run defender. He has room to get better as a pass rusher, but he has not shown the quick-twitch ability to bring down quarterbacks.
It’s a big price to pay for a player who does not have a regular role on passing downs, but the 49ers have the salary cap space. Armstead can leave a good final impression with a strong showing against the division champions on Sunday.
This post was originally posted at http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/49ers-Rams-Week-17-NFL-503686311.html.