2017 Niners – Year in Review

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In 2017, Niner fans enjoyed a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year, but it was also the best ever Halloween. Lynch went trick or treating and brought home Jimmy Garoppolo that day.

The Niners started the season with a dismal 0-9 record but finished the season strong winning 6 of the last 7 games for a respectable 6-10 season record. Garoppolo started the last 5 games and won every game. Interestingly enough, before the season started, I predicted that the Niners would win 6 games.

How can one player make the entire team better? Jimmy G has leadership skills both in the locker room and on the field. He makes everyone else better and play with much more confidence. He has the rare ability to scan the entire field quickly, make fast decisions, release the ball quicker than any QB in the NFL, and deliver the ball with precise accuracy.

This link provides some insight into Garoppolo’s talents both off and on the field: John Lynch conversation with Bill Belichick.

The Niner receivers (Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Juszczyk, and George Kittle) all had career years with most of their catches coming in the last 5 games with Jimmy G at QB. Additionally, the O-line gave up much fewer sacks with Jimmy G at QB as he released the ball much quicker.

The biggest signing priority during this off-season is to sign Garoppolo to a long term deal so Lynch and Shanahan can focus on building the team around him.

The Niners will address the 4 major weaknesses on the roster: Pass Rusher, Corner Back, Wide Receiver, and Interior Offensive Line during this off-season. I have every confidence that these gaps will be filled with either high caliber free agents or through the college draft. Let’s look at some options at each position:

Pass Rusher:

Ezekiel Ansal (Lions): Age 28, 6-6, 275 lbs: Ansal has 207 tackles, 44 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries in 5 years.

Melvin Ingram (Chargers): Age 28, 6-2, 248 lbs: A force off the edge, Ingram had another strong season for the Bolts. The outside linebacker finished with 66 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 42 pressures, 23 QB hits, four forced fumbles and four passes defensed in his fifth season.

Demarcus Lawrence (Cowboys): Is very good but has back issues and will cost a fortune. Look for the Cowboys to re-sign him.

Bradley Chubb (NC State): 6-4, 275 lbs: Chubb is the premier pass rusher in this year’s college draft. He will not be available by the time the Niners pick at either #9 or #10 (tbd via coin flip with the Raiders). Their best bet to get a bona fide pass rusher is through free agency.

Harold Landry (Boston College): 6-3, 250 lbs: Landry is a pure speed rusher who racked up 158 tackles, 48 for losses with 25 sacks.

Wide Receiver:

Allen Robinson (Jaguars): Age 24, 6-3, 209 lbs: Tore his ACL in the first game of 2017 and is expected to be fully recovered before the 2018 training camp starts. He lead the league in 2015 with 80 catches, 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns with Blake Bortles at QB. Can you imagine what his stats can be with Garoppolo?

Other free agent receivers include Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams and Sammy Watkins. I feel that Robinson fits the Niner needs best due to his height and speed. He can plug the role of an effective red-zone receiver.

DeAndre Hopkins (Texans): In my opinion, the best WR is the NFL. There is no way that the Texans will let him leave.

Courtland Sutton (SMU): 6-4, 215 lbs: Sutton is the top rated WR in this year’s draft. He may be available to the Niners with their first pick.

Pierre Garcon (Niners): Age 31, 6-1, 211 lbs: Can’t forget about Garcon who went on IR in November. He’ll be back in 2018. If Garoppolo can make Niner receivers have career years in 5 games, can you imagine what kind of year Garcon can have next year?

 

Interior Offensive Line:

Andrew Norwell (Panthers): Age 26, 6-6, 325 lbs: He isn’t a household name, but there isn’t a player with a better blend of physicality and detail in pass protection in the league. Norwell’s improvements in these areas have been key to his jumping into the elite guard ranks this year.

Justin Pugh (Giants): Age 27, 6-5, 311 lbs: Experience at Left Guard and Right Tackle. Versatility to play multiple positions is a plus in Shanahan’s eyes.

Quenton Nelson (Nortre Dame): 6-5, 329 lbs: The top rated Guard in this year’s draft. He may be off the boards by the time the Niners pick. If both Nelson and/or Courtland Sutton (WR) are available, it’ll be interesting on which guy Shanahan values more. It’ll be heavily dependent upon who they can get in free agency.

Frank Ragnow (Arkansas): 6-5, 319 lbs: The top rated Center in this year’s draft and the #33 overall prospect. He may be an option with the Niner’s 2nd pick.

Joshua Garnett (Niners): Age 23, 6-3, 315 lbs: Can’t dismiss Garnett as a possible starting Guard in 2018. He was a 1st round pick in the 2016 draft and was placed on IR for the entire 2017 season. Apparently, he has transformed his body to better fit the zone blocking technique used by Shanahan’s offense. He stated that he is ready for a “monster” comeback in 2018.

Corner Backs:

Malcom Butler (Patriots) and Trumaine Johnson (Rams) are free agents this year but I feel that they aren’t elite and their asking price will be prohibitive.

Patrick Robinson (Eagles): Age 30, 5-11, 192 lbs: Robinson is tied for the most interceptions on the team with three. He has the most passes defensed, with 15. He has tackled extremely well and given the secondary a gigantic boost with his ability to play in the nickel inside and on the island on the outside.

Rashaan Melvin (Colts): Age 28, 6-2, 194 lbs: He had a breakout season and is the Colts’ number one CB. He is being compared to AJ Bouye of the Jags, an elite CB. The likelihood is the Colts will re-sign him but Lynch may be able to offer a contract that he can’t say “no” to.

E.J. Gaines (Bills): Age 25, 5-11, 190 lbs: In his career, he has 175 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recovered fumbles, 27 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. He may not be a shut-down corner but is very solid.

Joshua Jackson (Iowa), Denzel Ward (Ohio State), and Isaiah Oliver (Colorado) are the top three CB’s in this year’s draft. Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama) is the true #1 rated CB but he is projected to play FS in the NFL. Fitzpatrick will be a top 5 pick so won’t be available to the Niners anyway. I would wait until the 2nd or 3rd round and pick the best available CB still on the board.

With both Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold declaring to enter this year’s draft, this gives the Niners a better chance to draft one of their top players.

The Draft order is:

  • Browns – Needs QB, RB, CB – Pick Baker Mayfield (QB) Oklahoma… A clone of Johnny Manziel so a perfect fit for the Browns.
  • NY Giants – Needs OT, QB, RB – Pick Josh Rosen (QB) UCLA
  • Colts – Needs ILB, OL, Edge – Pick Orlando Brown (OT) Oklahoma
  • Browns – Needs QB, RB, CB – Pick Saquon Barkley (RB) Penn State
  • Broncos – Needs OG, QB, OT – Pick Josh Allen (QB) Wyoming
  • Jets – Needs QB, RB, OT – Pick Sam Darnold (QB) USC
  • Bucaneers – Needs DE, RB, CB – Pick Bradley Chubb (DE) NC State
  • Bears – Needs WR, OL, CB – Pick Minkah Fitzpatrick (S) Alabama
  • (tie) Niners – Needs WR, OL, CB – Pick Quenton Nelson (G) Notre Dame or Courtland Sutton (WR) SMU
  • (tie) Raiders – Needs CB, ILB, OT – Pick Derwin James (S) Florida State

As for the Niners notable free agents:

Carlos Hyde is a solid running back but in all likelihood, he has played his last game as a Niner. Hyde runs hard but he doesn’t have the ability to break tacklers thus is limited in yardage after the first hit. He also has below-average hands as a receiver. Hyde had his best run of the year against the Rams in the final game where he took the entire Rams defense into the end zone from 7 yards out. For that, I am giving him and Eric Reid both game balls. The Niners would be wise to re-sign him at their price. If Hyde finds a better offer, the Niners will not match any offers higher than what they are willing to pay. Matt Breida has been a pleasant surprise. Also, Shanahan drafted Joe Williams from Utah this year but he was placed on IR for the entire year with a bad ankle. He has a history of fumbling so I’m sure they worked with him all year on the practice squad to correct this issue. We’ll have to wait and see how he develops next year.

Eric Reid was also a good Niner but he is almost certain to be released. The Niners’ 7th round pick this year, Adrian Colbert, is the long term solution at Strong Safety and Jaquiski Tartt will be the starter at Free Safety. For the last 4 games, the Niners have been playing Reid at a pseudo-Linebacker. His tackling skills are outstanding and he does have a keen nose sniffing out run plays. He had an outstanding game against the Rams in the final game with a game high 6 solo tackles and also deserves a game ball. At his stage in his career, he is a fast linebacker but a slow safety. I’ve heard that he doesn’t like playing linebacker. The Niners should bring him back only on their terms and their price.

Aaron Lynch is a goner. He never got into shape and wound up on the inactive list for the last three games of the year.

Tank Carradine played really well in the 2nd half of this year as a solid Defensive Tackle. The Niners should re-sign him.

Brock Coyle also played really well at jinebacker playing next to Rueben Foster. The Niners should also re-sign him. With Malcolm Smith returning next year, the Niners should have a very solid set of linebackers. Smith was on IR for the entire year after he tore his pectoral muscle in training camp. If you recall, Malcolm Smith was the Super Bowl MVP when the Seahawks won in 2013. Smith was also the player who intercepted the pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the last seconds of the 2013 NFC Championship game after Richard Sherman tipped the ball. As a side-bar, Kaepernick had his mind made up to throw to Crabtree regardless of whether he was open or not. A good QB would have seen that he was covered like a blanket and go through his progressions. Anquan Boldin was wide open by 10 yards on the left side of the end-zone but Kaepernick didn’t even look that way. The transfer of power from the Niners to the Seahawks was completed on that single play.

Depending on who the Niners can add via free agency or the draft will affect anyone on the current roster whether they are free agents or not, especially if they came to the team under Baalke.

Three Baalke players picked in the 1st round fit into the “keep or let go” category.

Arik Armstead (DT) hasn’t shown growth and appears to be let go. I believe the Niners will give him a final chance and see how he does in training camp. It’ll be a critical off-season for Armstead.

Joshua Garnett (OG) didn’t have a good freshman year and last year, he had knee surgery. But, it appears that he has worked really hard at transforming his body to take the rigors of the NFL. Training camp will tell the real story of his progression.

Jimmie Ward (CB/S) is a very skilled athlete but has been injured every year since being drafted in the 1st round in 2014. He is in his 5th year so if the Niners keep him, his salary will quadruple to over $8.5 million. The Niners like him as a Safety so if they keep him, they’ll have Colbert, Tartt, and Ward which may be a wise decision (Strength in Numbers… where have you heard that before???). He also has the versatility to play either CB or S (Versatility… where have you heard that before???). I believe the Niners will bring him back but sign him to a 1 year deal (2 at the most).

No matter what, it’ll be an exciting off-season so see who Lynch and Shanahan want to keep and who they will bring in via free agency and the draft. With all of the positive energy going into the off-season, free agents will be much more interested in looking at the Niners as a serious contender for their services.

Niner fans must trust Lynch and Shanahan to do the right things to improve the team. In one year, they have already made dramatic improvements to the point that they will be competing for the NFC West title with the Rams in 2018.

 

Final season ending This-n-That’s:

  • The Harbaughs didn’t enjoy their New Years.
  • Niner fans who wanted them to tank to get a higher draft pick aren’t fans. As it turns out, they will get their guy drafting at either #9 or #10 anyway. And because they finished strong, the likelihood that free agents will consider coming to SF improved dramatically.
  • Even though the Eagles finished with the #1 seed in the playoffs, their fans are extremely nervous. Exemplifies how important the QB is to a team.
  • The Patriots keep rolling with Brady at the helm. This year, they traded QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts and he has been their starting QB all year. They also traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the Niners and he will be their long term QB. Exemplifies how important the GM and HC is to a team especially if they are kept for the long haul.
  • Can’t wait to go see the Niners vs Chucky Gruden and the Raiders at Levi Stadium next year.
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