SANTA CLARA -- Typically, we try to get a less-heralded player onto our list of 49ers to watch.
But, hey, this is the 49ers’ first prime-time game of the season. And the big players should shine under the lights for a national television audience.
The 49ers opened the season with wins at Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Rams. On Thursday at 5:15 p.m., they kick off their home opener at Levi’s Stadium against the New York Giants.
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Here is a look at the star power the 49ers will try to rely upon to lead them to a third straight victory to begin the 2023 NFL regular season:
5, QB Brock Purdy
This is the closest thing to a potential bounce-back game in Brock Purdy’s short NFL career.
His stat sheet was better than the opposition, the Rams' Matthew Stafford, but Purdy missed three deep throws in Week 2.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are 10-0 in games in which Purdy has played the majority of the snaps since taking over for injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13 of last season. He has experienced plenty of success during that time.
His misses in Week 2 were out of the ordinary.
“We've done it in the past and it's something that you learn from but not dwell on and let it affect your game moving forward,” Purdy said. “So that's where I'm at with that, and I'm excited to get going for Thursday.”
The 49ers' offense has taken off with Purdy at the controls. With 30 or more points against the Giants, the 49ers would open the season with three games of 30 points or more for only the third time in franchise history and the first time since 1992.
4, DE Nick Bosa
There is little question Nick Bosa was behind at the opening of the season because of his 44-day holdout from training camp in order to secure his record-setting contract extension.
“It's going to come,” 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “You saw the effort there, you saw the push across the board with those guys.”
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is one of the most athletic quarterbacks the 49ers will face this season. He moves around a lot and will look to run.
Jones will also give the 49ers’ pass rush opportunities to throw him for sacks.
“We just have to keep him in the pocket,” Bosa said. “He's going to try and get out any chance he gets, so just trying to close it in on him and be good in our rush lanes and we could have a good day."
Bosa has a team-leading nine pressures through two games, according to PFF. He will look to get in the sack column on Thursday night.
3, TE George Kittle
The 49ers listed receiver Brandon Aiyuk as “questionable” due to a shoulder injury. We might go so far as to say that the likelihood is Aiyuk does not play.
Even if he’s out there, Aiyuk might see just spot duty and his effectiveness could be limited.
Therefore, this is a game in which Deebo Samuel will get even more attention on the outside. And that should provide an opportunity for tight end George Kittle to take on a greater role in the passing game.
Kittle has six receptions for 49 yards in the first two games. He took off last season after Purdy entered the lineup, catching seven touchdown passes in the final four regular-season games.
It is time for Purdy to spend more time looking in Kittle’s direction.
2, LB Fred Warner
The Giants will not have the services of running back Saquon Barkley, who is out with an ankle sprain.
Barkley is New York’s leading rusher. But just 12 yards behind him is Jones, the scrambling quarterback who led the Giants to the playoffs last season and signed a four-year, $160 million contract extension in March.
Warner will have a huge task on Thursday night. He will have a lot of the responsibilities of covering Giants tight end Darren Waller, the team’s top pass-catcher. And he will also be tracking Jones to make sure he does not get far when he breaks out of the pocket.
This is the kind of game for which Warner was made.
1, RB Christian McCaffrey
Yes, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan took the blame for Christian McCaffrey playing every snap of Week 2 against the Rams while backup Elijah Mitchell did not even get off the sideline.
But, also, who can blame him?
McCaffrey is the 49ers’ best player on offense. He leads the NFL with 42 rushing attempts for 268 yards. He needs 58 rushing yards against the Giants to surpass Garrison Hearst (1998) for the most yards rushing through three games in franchise history.
Moreover, McCaffrey has scored a touchdown in 11 straight games, including the postseason. A touchdown Thursday will tie Jerry Rice (1987) for the franchise record of consecutive games with a touchdown.
McCaffrey is a dual-threat running back. The 49ers could try to get him in space more often in the passing game. He caught six passes for 36 yards in the first two games.