Week 12 of the 2017-2018 season has passed and with it the San Francisco 49ers bye week. When I first sat down, I attempted to make a Top 25 of 49ers players. As it turns out, though, this is harder than it looks. Not simply because a lot of players aren’t that good, but rather because so many players have already played. The 49ers suffered a plethora of injuries, so even players basically signed off the street could have been included. In an attempt to shorten the list again, I only included players who have played a minimum of 40% of the snaps, with some exceptions. I divided the remaining players into 4 tiers, as explained here:
- Great: These players should make the Pro Bowl sooner or later.
- Good: These players are starters or showed the promise to develop into them.
- Solid: These players are either starters who underperformed or should be mere backups/rotational players.
- Bad: These players are not worth keeping around. These players probably bounce from team to team to either start for horrible teams or provide a bad backup option.
*I still counted players who have been placed on Injured Reserve, but excluded players who have been cut or traded, so don’t expect NaVorro Bowman or Brian Hoyer on this list.*
Without further ado, let’s dive into this.
Tier 1: Great
This is a pretty exclusive tier to rank in, yet still five players made it. DeForest Buckner has been everything as advertised, playing at an All-Pro level in only his second season. He is by far the 49ers best player. Not far behind are Jaquiski Tartt and Reuben Foster. Foster has missed a lot of time because of injury, but he is back now and playing exceptionally well for a guy who has only played 28 percent of the snaps of his rookie season (you know I couldn’t make him an honorable mention). Tartt started out well, filling in seamlessly for Jimmie Ward at the Free Safety spot. But also at Strong Safety he showed his potential. It is too bad he misses the rest of the season due to his broken arm. The two remaining players here are Trent Brown and Carlos Hyde. While Brown had his fair share of mental errors and struggles in the run game, he still had his bright spots there and excelled in pass protection, regularly shutting down the pass rush to his side. Opposing pass rushers regularly moved to the other side of the field because they couldn’t get anywhere near the quarterback when facing Brown. GM John Lynch should extend him sooner rather than later. While we are talking extensions: Carlos Hyde, in a contract season, is playing exactly like a player in a contract season. He slimmed down before the season, yet still runs as angry and efficient as ever, and is even now frequently used in the pass game. He had his best day in the home game against Arizona, catching 9 out of 11 targets for 84 yards. I know many fans are pounding the table for Saquon Barkley (PSU), but a 1-2 punch of Breida and Hyde can still do a ton of damage.
Tier 2: Good
Now it gets a little bit crowdy because of all the injuries I mentioned in the beginning. The only one who played almost every snap and was good here is OL Brandon Fusco. Other than him, there have been starters who now are on Injured Reserve like Arik Armstead who has been a great run defender, Pierre Garçon the solid veteran acquisition or Jimmie Ward who could finally show his potential at his natural position, players who missed significant playing time like Solomon Thomas, George Kittle – two good, yet developmental rookies – or Eric Reid. Then there is Garrett Celek whose role got bigger again because of Kittle’s absence or Ahkello Witherspoon, who is emerging now after Rashard Robinson was traded to the Jets. Players like Ronald Blair or Tank Carradine have come back from IR and showed why they should be on the team. And then there are rotational players or players depth players deserving of a mention here, players who had to start for a while and did a good job like Adrian Colbert, Leger Douzable, Matt Breida, Kyle Juszczyk or Elvis Dumervil. But for one reason or another, they all deserve to be listed here.
Tier 3: Solid
Let’s face it, this franchise is still in rebuilding mode which means there are still a ton of players who in general should be rotational players or backups. And as it always is, there are better players underperforming. This is true for the longest-tenured 49er, Joe Staley. While still solid, he has been in a decline over the past couple of years. I would still view him as an under-performer, not as a backup level type of player. Against the Rams, for example, he put on a clinic and played like the top-five tackle many still see him as. However, most of the guys on this list are players who have either specific strengths or just are solid overall, but not much more. Marquise Goodwin for example has improved a tad over the course of the season, but still is a WR3/WR4, or at least should be, but is not because of, you guessed it — injuries. Trent Taylor showed lots of promise in the slot and as punt returner, but struggled in other areas and is currently nursing a broken rib. Brock Coyle emerged as the starting Mike Linebacker after NaVorro Bowman’s release, but is the living embodiment of the word solid. Other players in this tier are Aldrick Robinson, Dontae Johnson, K’Waun Williams and Earl Mitchell. As much as I like Casey Jarrett (CJ) Beathard, he also belongs here. He plays consistently according to the pressure he faces. If he is rushed, he falls apart. As long as he has time, though, he showed he can play in this league. This is stereotypical for most backup quarterbacks in this league. Lastly, I also put Kendrick Bourne here. He has only played a few snaps compared to the rest, but all the snaps he played he showed why Kyle Shanahan handpicked him after the draft as UDFA, as he was the go-to guy on 3rd-down in the win against the New York Giants.
Tier 4: Bad or Worse
Despite all the things I said earlier, I am pleased to see this tier being very short. Daniel Kilgore had his moments, but those were rather the exception than the norm. Overall, he struggled against almost every opponent and makes Center a big need in the next offseason. Yet, he still managed not to be the worst offensive lineman on this team. Right to his left, both Zane Beadles and Laken Tomlinson started all season. Beadles is not even a solid backup anymore, he is straight up horrible. While Tomlinson is not as bad as Beadles, he still is one of the worst starting Left Guards the NFL has to offer. One can only hope that Joshua Garnett, last year’s second first-round pick, can solidify this spot on the line once he returns from injury next season. Last but not least, this list is rounded up by Aaron Lynch, as much as this saddens me. He is a very talented player, but much like Eddie Lacy, his best two years have been his first two years in the league. After that he struggled with weight and discipline and even this season, he couldn’t stay healthy. He is simply not producing on any level and has not been for two and a half years now.
You are probably thinking right about now — wait, there are guys missing! You are right. I did not want these players to be forgotten among the many names I just ranked, so they get a separate shout-out, since special teams is tough to rank compared to both offense and defense. Robbie Gould has been good this season. He only missed one field goal attempt (@WSH, 47yd) and one PAT (LAR). He also had an attempt blocked by the Eagles, but that is hardly his fault. Bradley Pinion is finally a good punter. He had a bad rookie season and improved from that last year, but he has taken another step forward. He can also show off his big leg on kickoffs as he regularly forced touchbacks, as Shanahan instructs. One guy who never gets any recognition is the long snapper, Kyle Nelson. Which usually is a good thing because then you know he is good at his job. However, long snappers are people too, so just be glad we have a good one. Two other players I need to mention are Raheem Mostert and Elijah Lee. Both do outstanding jobs on special teams and regularly prevent any big returns. They are a big reason why this unit is as good as it is.
If you examine the ranking and the players now, you will see that most of the players in the Good or Great category are still on their rookie contracts. And vice versa a lot of the worse players are veterans, who should not have a long-term future on this team. So, this is something to be encouraged about, the roster should dramatically improve over the next two years. And then possibly led by newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who did not make the list because we only have 3 plays to judge him by so far. Come back and check with me on where Garoppolo ranks after his first start with the 49ers — Sunday in his hometown, Chicago.