32 Teams in 32 Days: San Francisco 49ers

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A New Regime Means a New Beginning

The San Francisco 49ers have been regarded as one of the premier NFL franchises but have struggled mightily the last couple of seasons. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh left to coach at his alma mater Michigan and the Niners’  “ground and pound” play style seemed to leave with him. QB Colin Kaepernick did not look like himself anymore and we obviously know what came next. After two abysmal campaigns including a 2-14 mark a year ago, the coaching staff and general manager said goodbye to San Francisco. In an effort to bring the Niners back to relevancy, the franchise brought in former Bucs Safety and FOX Analyst John Lynch as General Manager and former Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan as the new Head Coach. Lynch has never been a GM but is respected by many as a great football mind while Shanahan led the Falcons to one of the best statistical offensive seasons in NFL history. The two will have a lot of work turning this roster into a contender.

There is no scenario where the 49ers make the playoffs this season to me. However, there are pieces on both offense and defense that if coached properly could turn heads. Kyle Shanahan’s offense won’t have the firepower he had in Atlanta but he has a capable quarterback in Brian Hoyer as well as a solid running back to lean on in Carlos Hyde. The defense will have to improve dramatically from a year ago and find their old form. Their draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft are good building blocks for their rebuild.

The Offense 

As Shanahan searches for his QB of the future, Brian Hoyer is certainly capable of running his system. Hoyer has been slightly underrated mostly due to his awful playoff game against the Chiefs when playing for the Texans. Playoffs aside, he is an average quarterback who can execute the offense and bring some leadership to a young team. Behind him are Matt Barkley and 3rd Round Pick C.J. Beathard; both are capable of improving under the tutelage of Shanahan.

The offensive line should look exactly the same as last season which is good and bad. While Joe Staley at left tackle is getting older, the rest of the line should improve from a bottom tier unit last season. All hope of an improvement will be hinged on another year of building chemistry. 

The run game will be very important for San Fran and Carlos Hyde has been one of the few bright spots in recent years. When healthy, Hyde shows flashes of a top 10 runner utilizing his power effectively. I would say he is a top 15 running back right now. Free agent acquisition Tim Hightower and 4th Round Pick Joe Williams will be behind Hyde. Don’t forget about fullback Kyle Juszczyk who came over from Baltimore. He will be able to add another dimension to this offense with his blocking and catching ability.

The receivers are not great for the Niners as Pierre Garcon will be the number one receiver and one trick pony Marquise Goodwin will start beside him. While they are not bad players, there isn’t a go-to receiver on this roster. Behind them are three unimpressive wideouts in Jeremy Kerley, Aldrick Robinson, and Louis Murphy. At Tight End, Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek look to be the key contributors. All in all, the receiving core is below average but I expect Shanahan to make them look like an average group.   

 The Defense

The defensive line has massive potential with the last three first round picks being used on Defensive Linemen. First Round Pick Solomon Thomas at DE, All-Rookie and 2016 1st Round DT DeForest Buckner, and 2015 First Round DE Arik Armstead could someday be keeping quarterbacks up at night. Earl Mitchell formerly of the Miami Dolphins comes in to play DT and round out the unit.

Ahmad Brooks only has a little bit left in the tank and will need to find a resurgence to help this linebacking core succeed in 2017-2018. NaVorro Bowman is now completely healthy and ready to prove he can still play at a high level. The Niners stole Reuben Foster late in the First Round of the draft and will now allow him to learn under the two veterans. Along with Solomon Thomas, Foster will be a building block of the rebuilt defense.

 Safeties Eric Reid and Jimmie Ward highlight the below average secondary. Most of the blame has to go on the corners who played very poorly a year ago. Starters Dontae Johnson and Rashard Robinson need to improve dramatically and 3rd Round Pick Ahkello Witherspoon will need to give them something.

Team Schedule and Season Outlook

Best Case Scenario: 6-10

I was split on this between 6 or 7 wins but decided to go with 6 simply due to the fact that this schedule is difficult. Even if the Niners can get solid play from Hoyer and the youngsters, there are only a couple of “gimme” games. This would still be an excellent turnaround from a two win team.

Worst Case Scenario: 2-14

If all of the young players struggle initially, it could be a long year. Last year’s Niners squad only beat the Rams, a team that can’t possibly play that bad offensively next season. Along with the tough schedule, it could be difficult to win even with an improved roster.

My Predictions   

 Week 1: vs Carolina

Result: L (0-1)

Week 2: @ Seattle

Result: L (0-2)

Week 3: vs Los Angeles Rams

Result: W (1-2)

Week 4: @ Arizona

Result: L (1-3)

Week 5: @ Indianapolis

Result: L (1-4)

Week 6: @ Washington

Result: L (1-5)

Week 7: vs Dallas

Result: L (1-6)

Week 8: @ Philadelphia

Result: L (1-7)

Week 9: vs Arizona

Result: L (1-8)

Week 10: vs New York Giants

Result: L (1-9)

Week 11: BYE

Week 12: vs Seattle

Result: W (2-9)

Week 13: @ Chicago

Result: W (3-9)

Week 14: @ Houston

Result: L (3-10)

Week 15: vs Tennessee 

Result: L (3-11)

Week 16: vs Jacksonville

Result: W (4-11)

Week 17: @ Los Angeles Rams

Result: L (4-12)

Not a lot of people will believe me based on this record prediction but I really like what the Niners are doing. I think this GM-Head Coach combination will be very good in due time. Additionally, it is unfair to think San Francisco can get back to the playoffs one year after only being able to beat the Rams. This year’s roster is only marginally better but the coaching staff could help.  I probably would have this team around 6-10 but that midseason stretch facing the NFC East and Arizona twice is just brutal. All in all, the defense appears to have some cornerstone players and a franchise QB should be available in next year’s draft. I think John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are just getting started. 



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