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SANTA CLARA — The thing that infuriated Raiders fans about Arden Key happens to be the same thing that caused him to keep the faith after signing with the 49ers.

Key, 25, was a third-round draft pick in 2018 by Oakland but was a close-but-no-cigar pass rusher, getting within breathing distance of making big plays but seldom closing the deal.

“Watching film, it was like, ‘Damn, I’m so close,’ ” Key said Wednesday as the 49ers (5-5) prepared to host the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12 at Levi’s Stadium. “That’s what kept me going. You’re just an inch away, a fingertip away.”

The owner of three sacks in 37 games with 10 starts with the Raiders, Key has three in the last three weeks for the 49ers. He’s given the 49ers another pass rusher to go with Nick Bosa with Dee Ford sidelined and is enjoying his new surroundings immensely.

“Coaching is everything,” Key said. “It starts from the top. They make sure we as athletes have everything we need to succeed and play fast on Sunday. It’s a players-first organization. If a player is feeling kind of tired body-wise coaches will see that and let us get our legs back under us. Coaches will listen if we see something when we come to the sideline, we can talk about it and get it corrected.”

Key is doing much of his damage as an inside rusher as the 49ers shuffle their rotation and alignments to get the best matchups. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Key is lean for an inside player but has long arms and can be troublesome for a 300-pound interior player to engage.

“One thing that Arden has that you can’t coach is length,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “Arden has very long arms, which allows him to be able to get to the quarterback and get him down. I mean, he’s rushing inside on guards. I think that’s probably his best suit.”

Key doesn’t disagree.

“I’m quicker than most guys inside,” Key said. “When the center’s sliding inside and when I’ve got my one-on-one, then I have to win it.”

Key, who said he was surprised to learn his sack total over the last three games equaled his entire sack total with the Raiders, attributes his recent run to better down-and-distance situations and more chances to rush the passer.

“More opportunities. We’re able to stop the run in able to be able to rush the passer,” On third-and-2, third-and-3 you don’t get the opportunity to pass rush, but third-or-6 and more you get that chance.” Arden Key (99) arrives a split-second after teammate Maxx Crosby (98) sacks Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. AP Photo

Key admits to a temporary loss of confidence with the Raiders. He probably played too much as a rookie defensive end who weighed less than 230 pounds because of depth issues and finished with a single sack. He had two sacks in 2019, but missed the last eight games on injured reserve with a broken foot.

“I did lose a little bit of confidence,” Key said. “I was having my success at LSU and was talked about then, but in the first couple of years in the league, not really a blink from Arden Key. It did something to me a little bit but I never quit working, never quit fighting and now I’m here.”

Last season, Key played in 14 games with no starts, played 45 percent of the snaps and didn’t record a single sack. In the Raiders’ Week 16 loss against Miami, his personal foul against Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (on the same play in which a blown coverage allowed a 34-yard gain) put the Dolphins in position for a game-winning field goal.

Key was fined $6,752 and it was pretty much his last act as a Raider. In the offseason, Key and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst were waived and both were signed by the 49ers. Hurst continues to rehab from a calf injury. Related Articles

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As Key learned a new system, he continued to make gradual improvements, according to middle linebacker Fred Warner.

“He’s progressed through training camp, preseason and through the regular season,” Warner said. “His effort I think is one of the best of the entire group. That’s going to translate. He’s practicing hard, playing hard. When we do those things, big plays are going to come.”

During training camp, Key told reporters he was more happy than disappointed to be cut by the Raiders, saying it was a bad fit in terms of the system. Yet he remains in contact with some former teammates.

“I definitely have friends over there and we talk, sometimes twice a week, some more than others,” Key said. “But we still have that relationship.”

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CNBC Survey: 81% of adults with student loans say they’ve had to delay key life milestones

More than 45 million Americans collectively owe over $1.7 trillion in student debt. 

Economists say this mounting total worsens generational inequality, slows economic growth and exacerbates racial disparities. On a micro-economic level, borrowers also face serious consequences in their day-to-day lives. 

According to CNBC + Acorn's recently released Invest in You Student Loan Survey conducted by Momentive, 81% of people with student loans say they've had to delay one or more key life milestones because of their debt. Momentive surveyed 5,162 American adults between Jan 10 and Jan 13 online to better understand the impact of student debt. 

The survey found that among student loan borrowers, 42% delay paying off other loans, 40% delay investing money, 38% delay saving for retirement, 35% delay travel, 33% delay buying a home, 16% delay having a baby, 14% delay getting married and 12% delay finding a new job. 

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"Student loan debt prevents family formation, it prevents people from making decisions about their life, about purchasing a home, about buying their first car, about getting married, about having children," lists Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. "And that wasn't the purpose of student loan debt. Student loan debt was supposed to be good debt — the type that you take out so that you can invest in your human capital formation so that you can live your life afterward — and it's morphed into something much more insidious."

Momentive researchers found that the most common sacrifices made by borrowers varied slightly by age. For instance, those aged 35-64 were most likely to delay paying off other loans, while borrowers under 35 were most likely to delay buying a home or investing. 

More from Invest in You:
Majority of borrowers say taking on federal student loan debt is not worth it, survey finds
Most Americans want Biden to prioritize student loan forgiveness, survey says
Student loan holders are more likely to be women and people of color

"The weight of student loans is a cloud that weighs over every financial decision, from your daily coffee to your big life decisions," says Braxton Brewington, press secretary for The Debt Collective, a union organization that represents student debt holders. "So many people say they would start a business if they did not have student debt. So many people delay getting married because they don't want their partner to take on the debt."

Brewington says he has even spoken with borrowers who have rationed medication because of their student loan burden.

This dynamic in which student loan borrowers can't save for the future, or for emergencies, makes for a less stable society, says Smith. 

Paying off student debt "first affects your ability to get the standard things that are often required to transition into adulthood: a house, a car and a family," she says. "That's what happens immediately. But on the back end of that… you often end up living on a razor's edge. Because if there's any eventuality, anything that happens outside of your equilibrium, you run the risk of bankruptcy."

And for many people hoping to compete in the modern economy, attending college and taking on student loan debt can feel unavoidable. 

VIDEO3:3703:37Five ways to get your employer to pay off your student loansInvest in You: Ready. Set. Grow.

"On the one hand, here's student debt, it's a burden around your neck, it's this anchor that's weighing you down for the next X amount of years," says Smith. "And we also know that for the past 40 years or so, at least since the advent of the personalized computer, education has been the arbiter of economic mobility and economic freedom."

She continues, "and so you're often essentially walking a tightrope between recognizing what needs to be done and understanding that there may be horrible consequences."

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CHECK OUT: Millennial mom whose passive income side hustle brings in $12,500/month: My goal was 'to quit a full-time job and work for myself' with Acorns+CNBC

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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