Things change quickly in the NFL. By mid-November the San Francisco 49ers were 0-9, fearing the worst. So it comes as a surprise to many that the 49ers are not-so dark horses for the 2018/19 playoffs.
It is impossible to talk about the ‘Niners without mentioning their great hope- Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo is undefeated as a starter, not just for his current team but in his whole career. Although, critics may point out Garoppolo’s meagre 7-5 TD:INT ratio, it is important to remember that sport is far more than just analytics. Just by observing the team under Garoppolo it is clear to see the effect the QB had on not only the offence, but the entire roster – culminating in their impressive end to the season.
2017 Season Review
Before Garoppolo burst on to the scene in early December the 49ers were 0-9. There’s an old cliched saying in the NFL- you are what your record says you are. The 49ers were a lot better than their 0-9 record suggested.
Between Weeks 2 and 6, the 49ers lost five games by a combined total of 14 points. These games included back to back losses in overtime and a 39-41 shoot-out against the L.A. Rams. If Garoppolo is steering the ship instead of an inept Brian Hoyer and a unprepared C.J. Beatherd maybe the ‘Niners would have achieved a Wildcard place.
When bringing up the 49ers in off-season chatter 99% of the attention goes to Jimmy Garoppolo. But there is talent dotted all around this roster.
GM starlet John Lynch hit it out of the park in his first draft class. Solomon Thomas flashed his potential, Reuben Foster, despite some off-season trouble, looks like a future all-pro, George Kittle, Adrian Colbert and Trent Taylor all late-round steals.
Deforest Buckner is primed to break out and announce himself on the big stage. In 2017 Buckner led the NFC in QB hits with 19. If Buckner can turn hits into sacks then he will join the elite of the NFL.
Looking towards 2018
Lynch looks to make it two successful drafts in two years. Mike McGlinchey appears to be a responsible and smart pick in an awkward first-round for any team not after a quarter-back. A productive 2nd and 3rd round followed for Lynch as he selected WR Dante Pettis, an explosive return man capable of achieving extreme separation, and LB Fred Warner, a solid linebacker capable of playing off the ball.
In free agency, the ‘Niners signed half-back Jerick McKinnon, but were devastated when the speedy former Viking went down with a serious injury in training camp. It was clear to see that Shanahan is attempting to emulate the Falcon’s backfield of the 2016 season. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman prospered thanks to Shanahan’s zone stretch run scheme.
Perhaps the most notable off-season move in the entire league was Richard Sherman’s switch from the Seattle Seahawks to the San Francisco 49ers. At first glance this is a move that should excite any ‘Niner fan, however upon closer inspection this isn’t the Richard Sherman of years past. Sherman is coming off an Achilles tear and is the wrong side of 30. However, the all-pro corner can bring much experience and coaching wisdom to this young ‘Niner defence.
The future looks bright for the San Francisco 49ers, head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch are acting perfectly in tandem as they enter year two of their five year contracts. The dark days of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly seem but a distant dream.. or nightmare.
Best case scenario: The Rams and Sean McVay hit a sophomore slump, the Seahawks dynasty is well and truly done with Pete Carroll leaving the rains after a tumultuous season and the Arizona Cardinals struggle to get going under rookie head coach Steven Wilks. The Niners under Garoppolo’s safe stewardship and Shanahan’s offensive genius finish 10-6 and reach the NFC Championship game.
Worst case scenario: Garoppolo crumbles under the pressure, injuries deplete the roster and Jed York sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong and recreates the Harbaugh situation with Shanahan. The Rams are not pretenders and push on to become a superpower, not only in the NFC but the entire NFL. Pete Carroll digs in and proves his ability as a head coach, guiding a lacklustre Seahawks roster to the play-offs. Russell Wilson wins MVP. Steve Wilks and the Cardinals laugh off the idea that they’re ‘rebuilding’ Larry Fitzgerald has a last hurrah with the help from David Johnson who cements himself as the best back in the league.
Prediction: The project is not yet complete, and the NFL will see that. As much as we Niner fans don’t want to believe this- Garropolo’s perfect record as a starter will come to an end and the Niners may not make the play-offs. However, Shanahan’s offensive genius along with Robert Salah’s underestimated defence will attract the attention of many. The Niners will finish 10-6 and clinch a play-off spot finishing second in a tough NFC West.