2018 Season Review: 4-12 (3rd in NFC West)
The 49ers had high expectations going into 2018, they were a trendy pick to make the playoffs and even win the NFC West. They ended 2017 going 5-0 after turning the starting QB role over to Jimmy Garoppolo. Combine that with adding Jerick McKinnon, and another year of Garoppolo learning with Shanahan and the Niners were poised for a playoff run.
Those expectations were short lived though, in Week 3 at Kansas City Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL and everything went downhill from there. Even with Garoppolo, I’m not sure this team was ready to make a playoff run. Maybe they would have won something like 7 or 8 games but this team had holes all over.
After Garoppolo went down the Niners turned to CJ Betheard and Nick Mullens at QB, those guys combined for three wins the rest of the year and this team even lost to the Arizona Cardinals twice. The two also combined for 21 TDS and 17 INTs in 13 games starting. The offense though, wasn’t the worst part about this team. Although the passing game wasn’t effective the backup QBs, and the WR corps being weak, the Niners offense still managed to score some points behind an unbelievable year by TE George Kittle.
George Kittle finished the year with 88 receptions on 136 targets with 1,377 yards and 5 TDs. He had one of the best statistical years ever for a TE and going into 2019, he is the top TE in the league not only in fantasy, but actual football. The problem is, the next best receiver for the Niners finished with only 42 receptions and 487 yards. That was Kendrick Bourne. The Niners had no offensive threats outside of Kittle. The running game was good for stretches of the season, Matt Brieda in 14 games had 814 yards rushing and 261 receiving with 5 TDs. Brieda is not a starting RB in this league and that’s why they signed Tevin Coleman in the offseason.
The Niners offense struggled all year, they only managed to score 21.7 points per game and they only had 7 total rushing TDs all year. They also threw 20 INTs and had 31 total fumbles which is just horrid. Their offense gave their defense no help, and their defense gave their offense no help as we’ll discuss next.
What pops out right away is the Niners only forced 7 turnovers all season, including just TWO interceptions – that is god awful. The Niners were also tied for 22nd in the league with only 37 sacks, and they were 5th worse in the league in scoring defense giving up 27.2 points per game. The Niners drafted guys like Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, they brought in Richard Sherman but none of those additions helped the Niners stop people from scoring. Their rushing and passing defenses were ranked similar (15th and 11th overall), but their pass defense like I said only accounted for two INTs, and only had 39 pass deflections, that was 9 worse than the next team the Detroit Lions who had 48. As far as pass rushing, the 37 sacks were bad and they were ranked 16th in QB Hits. Rushing defense, they gave up 113.4 yards per game which was good for 15th in the league.
Going into the 2019 off season, the Niners needed a lot of help. Offensively, getting their Garropolo back is going to boost the offense up, but on defense they needed to address a lot of issue. Time to look at what the Niners did this off season.
Key-Off Season Acquisitions
Dee Ford (OLB, acquired via trade with the Kansas City Chiefs)
Ford was given a 5 year deal for $87.5 million after the trade with the Chiefs, which was the reason the Chiefs didn’t want to keep him – they didn’t want to pay him that much. Ford earned a Pro Bowl selections his past year as he had 13 sacks, and forced seven fumbles. The move from a 3-4 to 4-3 in Kansas City could have also prompted this move from the Chiefs. Either way, the Niners are getting major help on the d-line. Ford will start right away and will look to bolster that defensive line for the Niners. Hopefully he stays on sides.
ILB Kwon Alexander (4 years, $54 Million)
49ers might have overpaid here but they got the guy they wanted. Alexander was a very good player for the Buccaneers that struggled to stay healthy. In four years in the league, he only played all 16 games in his second year. Last year in only six games he forced two fumbles, 1 sack, 45 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 2 QB hits. Alexander tore is ACL last year so its unsure when he’ll be back for the Niners, but they hope once he hits the field he’ll help a defense that was last in the league in turnovers.
RB Tevin Coleman (2 years, $8.5 Million)
This one is no surprise. Although the 49ers signed Jerick McKinnon to a four-year $30 million dollar deal, Tevin Coleman is probably the favorite to start for the 49ers. Because of McKinnon going on the IR last year due to a tore ACL. The reason this signing is no surprise is because Coleman had his best years with Kyle Shanahan as OC in Atlanta. Coleman has starting RB potential but was behind Devonta Freeman for his whole career, it was only a matter of time before he left. Coleman should get more carries than McKinnon even when McKinnon gets healthy, but they should be a good 1-2 punch for the 49ers.
CB Jason Verrett (1 year, $3 Million)
This could be a very SNEAKY good and cheap signing. Verrett tore his Achilles last year but when healthy in San Diego Verrett was a top corner in the league. He is a very good good player that did make one pro bowl. The Niners took a gamble on him this offseason, albeit a cheap one, hoping he finds his form again and becomes a stud. The Niners had good luck with Richard Sherman coming off injury, if Verrett can get back to his normal level then the Niners could have one of the best CB combos in the league.
2019 NFL Draft
Round 1 Pick #2: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams were regarded as the two best players in this draft, so the Niners were going to get one of those guys. They decided to go with Bosa who will also provide more pass rush and QB pressures than a guy like Williams would at DT>. Bosa decided to quit on his team and only played three games in 2018, but in 2017 he was a stud. In 14 games for Ohio State he finished with 34 tackles, 16 TFL, 8.5 sacks, and two pass deflections. Much like his brother Joey down in Los Angeles, Nick is looked as a game changer on the defensive end. So far its looking like former first round pick Solomon Thomas isn’t living up to his expectations. Hopefully for the Niners, putting Bosa on the other end of the line with Dee Ford? This defensive line could be nasty.
Round 2, Pick #36: Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
The Niners receiving core was terrible so it’s no wonder the next two guys here are WRs. The first was Deebo Samuel out of South Carolina. If Deebo didn’t get hurt in 2017, he might have come out last year but he came back in 2018 to prove he was still one of the best WRs in college football. In 12 games last year Deebo finished with 62 receptions for 882 yards and 11 TDs. He was also a very good kick returner for the Gamecocks. He had only one as a freshman, and 2 as a junior, but combined in his college career Samuel had 42 returns for 1,219 yards and 4 TDs. He did not do much punt returning for the Gamecocks but that doesn’t mean the Niners won’t test him out back there. At only 5’11 and 214 pounds Samuel is a smaller guy, but I’d expect Shanahan to use him in a multitude of ways, just like the next guy we’ll look at.
Round 3, Pick #67: Jalen Hurd, WR, Baylor
Jalen Hurd is just a straight up great athlete, and if you don’t know his college career well then you’re in luck cause we’re going over it so you realize what type of player the Niners are getting. First of all, Hurd is big boy at 6’4″, 227 pounds. He started his career at the University of Tennessee as a running back. As a Freshman he started for Tennessee and played in 13 games, producing 899 yards rushing, 5 TDs, 35 receptions for 221 yards and two more TDs. His sophomore year he had 1,285 yards rushing and 12 TDs, with 190 yards receiving and 2 TDs. Hurd played in 7 games for Tennessee before abruptly announcing he was leaving the team. This was when Butch Jones was the head coach so no surprise. Remember Alvin Kamara came from Tennessee, did you hear of him much in college? No. Hurd probably made the right decision, ended up at Baylor where they switched him to WR and in 2018 he had 69 receptions for 946 yards and 4 TDs, along with 48 rushes for 209 yards and 3 TDS. He could very well be the steal of the draft. Shanahan is going to use this kid all over the field and I’m excited to watch him.
Key-Off Season Departures
Really no big one to talk about here. On offense the Niners have let Pierre Garcon and Alfred Morris walk, both guys are getting older and didn’t produce much last year.
2019 Season Outlook
The Niners had plenty of hype going into the 2018 season and everything fell apart on an injury. However, Garropolo doesn’t play defense and I’m not sure a healthy QB would have vaulted this team to the playoffs in the NFC last year.
2019 has a lot of promise for the Niners. They’ll get Garropolo back and barring another injury he should play at a pro bowl type level. The Niners on have an established and good offensive line that Shanahan can trust to do whatever he wants to go along with Garropolo. They also addressed their offensive problems by signing Tevin Coleman and drafting for that side of the ball. Those additions alone should boost this offense to move than 21.7 PPG.
The main aspect the Niners need to change in 2019 to be successful is the turnovers. They threw 20 INTs last year, if Garropolo does that in 2019 the Niners are missing the playoffs. The Niners only had 2 INTS last year, they do that again they’ll be picking in the top half of the draft again. The Niners need to VASTLY improve on the turnover battle in 2019 to contend for a playoff spot.
The defensive should be remarkably better, especially that d-line. With Ford and Bosa rushing the passer the Niners should rank in the top half of the league in sacks, QB hits, and QB pressures. Those two guys will also take pressure off of Solomon Thomas who can maybe produce better as a backup guy. Kwon Alexander once healthy will lead this team from the middle, and they added to their secondary. I don’t envision a top 5 or 10 defense from the Niners, but around that 15 mark should easily be doable for this squad on paper.
The question also begs, at what point are John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan on the hot seat. Shanahan was the hot hire a few years ago and with Lynch this team has made moves to make fans excite but no results have come. If the Niners have another disappointing year, 2020 will be a win or get year for both of them.
The NFC West gets to play the AFC North and the NFL South this year. Two tough divisions that could hold this team back from the playoffs for a second year in a row.
The Niners this year got a few prime-time games. They get two Monday Night Football games, in week 5 at home against the Cleveland Browns, and in week 10 at home against the Seattle Seahawks. They also get what is becoming their annual Thursday Night Game at Arizona in Week 9. The late afternoon slot may not be a “prime-time” game but I would say the main game is. They really have two more chances for that in Week 3 vs the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Week 12 vs the Green Bay Packers.
Their schedule is pretty balanced as far as home and away goes, they never have more than two games in a row at home or on the road. The real struggle with the Niners schedule is their bye week which is early in Week 4. Most teams want that bye week later on in the season to get healthy and re-charge. The Niners get the shitty early season slot. Take a look at their full schedule below.
Fantasy Player You Want
George Kittle is the obvious answer here, but I’m going to go with WR Dante Pettis. Pettis was a rookie from Washington last year and played in 12 games finishing with 27 catches for 467 yards and 5 TDs. He is a great route runner and should turn into the #1 WR for the Niners barring one of the rookies having a coming out party. The Niners receivers won’t be too sought after, I think you could get Pettis as a solid WR3 or Flex guy and he has the potential to get 1,000 yards with a healthy Garropolo.
Fantasy Player to Avoid
I’m gonna go with their RBs, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon. Although I expect Coleman to get more of the carriers, people are going to overreact to Coleman’s success with Atlanta and think he’ll do that weekly, and McKinnons success he had with Minnesota two years ago. This is all about where you’re drafting these guys though. If you can get Coleman in the 6th round or later then I’d jump on it. But taking him with one of your first five picks is a stretch for me.
The Niners should be ALOT better with just Garropolo coming back. The problem is the Rams and Seahawks are not going anywhere. They play two tough divisions that will each have 3 teams fighting for the playoffs. Having said that, I could see this team clicking and winning the NFC West this year. Everybody was high on them last year and it was a year or two, too early. Do I think they’ll win the NFC West? No. But would I be surprised if this team did? Nope. I love the additions this teams made so I’ll say the ceiling for Niners is 10 games.
They won’t get worse than 4-12. I’m gonna say the Niners will win at least 6 games this year. A competitive division and tough schedule could hold this team back one more year before they are really ready to make that playoff push.