In the third year of the Lynch/Shanahan era, the 49ers are ready to make some noise, open some eyes, turn some heads, and surprise NFL analysts who are ranking this team in the lower quadrant.
Shanahan and Lynch both have been clear and consistent about saying that the cut to the 53 man roster this year will be the toughest that they have faced. They are also saying that the decisions will be hard but this is a very good problem to have as this translates to the deepest roster that they have ever had.
This year, Shanahan has the luxury of saying that they will look at all options including making decisions on who they think will be on the field more than some better players who have a history of injuries.
Lynch is fielding calls from other NFL teams about the depth of their Defensive Line. They will be cutting D-Line players who could be potential starters on other teams.
Richard Sherman has stated that this year’s Defense compared to last year is like night and day.
During the off season, the Niners addressed their weaknesses in a very big way. Their lack of a pass rush was their achilles heel and the lack of impact wide receivers was also evident.
Trading for Dee Ford and drafting Nick Bosa as pass rushers along with an already strong D-Line will have a huge positive impact in this and future years. I wrote an article during the off season about “Wouldn’t it be nice to see Dee Ford in a Niner Uniform?” They didn’t stop there… They also added Kwon Alexander as our weak side LB and Jason Verrett as a potential starting CB. Alexander was the heart and soul of the Buccaneers defense. Verrett has had a history of injuries but when healthy, he was an All-Pro. The Niners drafted a LB out of Arkansas, Dre Greenlaw, who is an absolute heat seeker. He has shown very well in training camp and in the pre-season games. Kentavious Street (DL), whom the Niners drafted in 2018 but didn’t play last year due to an ACL, looks healthy and proving that the Niners made a good investment in him last year.
The Niners also improved their WR position by drafting Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd this year. Both look strong and versatile. Samuel is fast, strong and can play any of the WR positions and also can be used on special teams as a Punt or Kick-off returner. Hurd was a big running back who punished defenders and converted to a WR in his final year of college. So, Shanahan can use him in any number of ways. He, along with Kittle will create nightmare miss-matches for the opposing defense.
Shanahan loves players who are versatile as they give him weapons that the opposing team has a difficult time matching up with. Another impact player that he added to the team is Tevin Coleman at RB. Coleman played for Shanahan at Atlanta and had career numbers when Shanahan ran their Offense. He is fast, runs over defenders, and has soft hands so is a receiving weapon out of the backfield.
And, most importantly, Jimmy Garoppolo is back at QB after recovering from an ACL. He looked rusty in his first pre-season outing but looked like the old Jimmy G that we know in his last outing vs the KC Chiefs.
Below is the Niner depth chart as of August 20. There are a few oddities about the chart and I’ll comment on my take on who may or may not make the team.
QB’s: Shanahan stated that he will keep 3 QB’s but his statement came after the shocking Andrew Luck retirement announcement. The Colts will be in the market for a QB so by keeping all three, the Niners have some trading leverage instead of releasing one and the Colts picking up that player for free. My belief is that they will start the season with two with the backup being Nick Mullens.
RB’s: It is odd that Jerrick McKinnon isn’t even listed so his return from last year’s ACL has not progressed well enough. The Niners made a very wise decision to bring in Tevin Coleman. Additionally, Jeff Wilson has looked remarkably strong as he added 15 pounds of muscle. Along with Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, the Niners have the fastest set of RB’s in the league.
WR’s: Trent Taylor may start the year on IR but he will join the team when he gets healthy. Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd are locks but the other choices are very interesting. Kendrick Bourne can make spectacular catches but drop the easy ones. Many are saying that Marquise Goodwin is a lock but one can’t overlook Richie James making the team as he is more versatile than Goodwin in that he can return punts and kick-offs. Shanahan is giving Dante Pettis plenty of tough love as Pettis is not playing to his potential. He was a high second round draft pick last year and the Niners gave up a third round pick to move up to draft him so it will be highly unlikely that Shanahan will give up on him. But, Pettis is playing like he is a bubble player.
TE’s: George Kittle will have a monster year with Garoppolo throwing to him and Shanahan calling plays. Look for Ross Dwelley and Kaden Smith to make the team. They are have solid camps.
OL: With the loss of Shon Coleman for the entire 2019 season due to a badly fractured ankle, the Niners depth at Offense Tackle got significantly weaker. Daniel Brunskill, Sam Young and Justin Skule will have to step up and prove themselves to be worthy backups to Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. The guy on the bubble is Joshua Garnett, a former first round pick. Garnett has been injury prone and is one of those players that Shanahan was referring to when he made the comment that he may select a player who he trusts can be on the field more than others who have a history of injuries.
DL’s: Lynch said that he is fielding calls from other teams about his D-line personnel. My take is that Lynch should do whatever he can to deal Arik Armstead and/or Soloman Thomas. Armstead has never lived up to his first round pick potential. Although Soloman Thomas has been living a very difficult life since his sister committed suicide, the fact is that he has also played like a bubble player.
LB’s: I like this group very much. Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander may bring back memories of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. The others that are playing really well are Dre Greenlaw, David Mayo and Azeez Al-Shaair. It may be time to move on from Malcolm Smith who also has a long history with injuries.
CB’s and NB’s: Richard Sherman is another year removed from his achilles injury and says he feels stronger than ever. At the other CB position, Ahkello Witherspoon, is a much improved player from last year. However, if Jason Verrett is healthy, look to see him as the other starting CB. At Nickel Back, K’Wuan Willimans will be the starter. There will be a battle for the backup with D.J. Reed and Emmanuel Moseley.
SS’s and FS’s: Jaquiski Tartt will start at SS and Jimmy Ward, who isn’t even listed below, will start at FS. Ward is returning from a broken collar bone. He is another good player with a history of injuries but he is a lock to make the team as he is versatile enough to play CB and NB as well as FS. Look to Tarvarious Moore and Marcell Harris to also make the team.
I am predicting that at the end of the year, the Niners will be in the Top 10 on both Offense and Defense. That is a loud cry from where they ended up the last three years.