Let’s face it, most of the 2017 season has been extremely hard to watch — and that’s putting it nicely. For the majority of the year, there have been seldom moments that caused much excitement as the 49ers started out 0-9 but the results shouldn’t have surprised many people either. In the last offseason, the franchise moved into a full rebuild, constructing one of the largest roster overhauls in NFL history. There was a tremendous amount of positively going into the season — which was expected as after hiring one of the best offensive minds in the league, Kyle Shanahan, as Head Coach. With so much excitement flooding through the fan base, expectations went through the roof. However with such a newly retooled and relatively young team, this outcome should’ve been predicted. Even though there aren’t many players on this team that have achieved eye-popping numbers, there are some individuals that have put up a solid season and will hopefully continue to improve as we head down the final stretch of the 2017-2018 season. .
The 49ers will go into the offseason with a total of nine 2018 NFL Draft picks with four of them being within the first 100 selections. San Francisco will also have a projected league-leading $117.8 million available in cap room for free agency this offseason. This 49ers team suddenly is starting to look at the next few years very differently than the last few. They definitely have the potential to be really good in the future, but we need to remember they are also still rebuilding and this may take some time. On the other hand, if the 49ers are able to bring in some quality free-agents along with another productive solid draft class, they will be able to speed up the turnaround time.
We have now approached the last four games of the season, sadly for some players they won’t have the opportunity to impress the coaching staff and front office due to injury (Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward, etc.). However, there are also many players that will need to step up and show their worth, otherwise they may not be a part of this organization next year. Overall, the team has looked much better in recent weeks going 2-1, but almost no one on this roster is safe and all of the players will continue to be evaluated until the clock hits zero on the final game.
Carlos Hyde |RB|
Hyde’s future has been talked about for a while now, as we are all aware he is in a contract year. 49ers media and fans have discussed if the former second-round pick is worth locking up with a multiple year deal for the last season or two. Carlos is a solid running back that has been one of the only consistent offensive weapons on the roster for the last few seasons. With all of his positives that he has, there are also plenty of negatives. He has shown to not be the flashiest back and has had injury issues. He also has struggled with consistently catching the ball — which is concerning because it could really open up a lot more things for the offense because when he does catch the ball, he has the ability to gain yards after the catch. Hyde has totaled 693 rushing yards on 174 attempts (4.0 YPC). He has added 307 receiving yards on 52 receptions (season projection: 924 rushing + 409 receiving= 1333 total yards).
Now, is that bad? No.
But, is that elite? No.
My question for all of the Faithful is — if Hyde agrees to a cap-friendly contract, would you want the 49ers to re-sign him? My answer is yes, even though he has his share of negatives this is a rebuilding team that can’t afford to let players of his caliber just walk, especially without any other compensation than a compensatory pick. I’ve seen a lot of chatter about not doing that, just letting him leave via free agency and drafting a younger back. I believe that the 49ers might decide to draft one regardless if Hyde is on the team or not. Some people want the team to draft the much touted superstar running back Saquon Barkley out of Penn St. First off I would never say that Barkley isn’t worthy of a top pick because he is arguably the most talented prospect in the upcoming draft and should be selected early, but in my opinion not by the 49ers. There are other very talented running backs that should be available after the first round like Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones II, Derrius Guice, Kerryon Johnson or Sony Michel. In order to continue to rebuild this roster, the team should decide to fill the glaring holes and not replace players that have been productive. The Niners are also very high on running back Matt Breida and presumably Joe Williams as well after selecting him in the fourth round of last years draft (SF also just promoted RB Jeremy McNichols to the active roster [5th Round pick by TB]). Breida has displayed that he can be electrifying once he gets in the open field, I expect to see the speedy back to receive additional snaps in the upcoming weeks (He had a career-high in rushing attempts last week versus Chicago with 15). It will be crucial for Hyde to produce in these final four games, as it could lead to either a new contract or to the end of his 49ers career.
Interior Offensive Line
The offensive line has been fairly shaky throughout this whole season and has arguably cost the team multiple games. Some of the issues have to do with multiple injuries, but even when taking that into consideration, this might be the weakest position group on the roster. Joe Staley and Trent Brown are going nowhere as they are solid tackles. However, the rest of the group is very much in question. One of the biggest questions marks for next years group is youngster Josh Garnett. The former first-round pick has missed the entire 2017 season after being placed on injured/reserve. There were reports that the team elected to put him on season-ending I/R instead of with the option to return, hoping that he can transition his body to better fit the 49ers outside-zone rushing scheme. Even with a returning (and hopefully improved) Garnett, the team will look to strengthen the interior of their offensive line. The two starting guards have been: former first-rounder Laken Tomlinson, who was brought in from the Detroit Lions but hasn’t performed well enough to be considered starter material moving forward. Brandon Fusco is the second current starting guard, and he will be a free-agent at the end of the season. Veteran center Daniel Kilgore has shown flashes of being solid, but nowhere consistently enough to warrant a guaranteed roster spot and he will also be a free-agent in the spring. The addition of new starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should bode well for optimism of an improved offensive line because of his quick release and ability to avoid pressure while in the pocket. The remaining games will be vital to each one of their futures with the team, as there a few solid options in the upcoming draft if the team decides to invest a high pick in a stud lineman like Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson or Ohio State’s center Billy Price. Even though neither would be the sexiest pick, it might be a smart pick for the team looking in the direction to help shore up the line and protect their newly acquired franchise quarterback.
Pierre Garçon is an extremely solid receiver and was having a really productive season (40 receptions for 500 yards in only 8 games with a 82.5 PFF season grade) before hurting his neck and being placed on Injured/Reserve. He is expected to return next year and should be a great benefactor from steadier quarterback play. Unfortunately, it is a really difficult injury to try to predict if there will be any potential future complications. The two receivers that have been rewarded most by Garcon’s absence have been Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor (R). For his career, Goodwin has been regarded as mainly just a deep threat, but he has shown to have the potential to be a much more complete receiver than that. Trent Taylor is viewed as a shifty slot receiver — which he absolutely is and he should continue to produce more consistently for the remainder of the season and beyond.
If you look past the questionable return of veteran Garçon, a rookie, and a speedster who has the capability of taking the top off of a defense, the team is still lacking a true #1 receiver. There could be a few intriguing names in free-agency this year for example: Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, Terrelle Pryor and Sammy Watkins just to name a few. There is also a handful of incoming talent that should be available in the 2018 NFL Draft. Names such as Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton and James Washington should all be near the top of teams draft boards. Odds are that General Manager John Lynch won’t decide to use a top pick on a receiver, but it is critical for the 49ers to add some play-makers to the offense to help utilize Kyle Shanahan’s genius mind to its full potential. Even if you look past finding a true starter (#1 receiver ability) the 49ers will absolutely need to add more depth at the position, as they currently have veteran Louis Murphy as a starter. Kendrick Bourne, Aldrick Robinson and Victor Bolden Jr are the teams current reserve wideouts. Murphy, Bourne and Robinson have received additional playing time recently, but have not taken advantage of it unfortunately. These young, unproven receivers should continue to see the field for the rest of the season and will need to capitalize in the upcoming games to have an opportunity of a roster spot and a future with the team.
After a slow start to his first season in the NFL, rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has not only locked down a starter job on the team, but he has performed well enough (minus the typical rookie mistakes) for the team to feel comfortable dealing their old #1 corner, Rashard Robinson, to the New York Jets. Once the 49ers decided to trade Rashard Robinson, Ahkello took the reigns and has steadily improved (77.9 PFF season grade). Starting opposite of Witherspoon has been Dontae Johnson, who is in a contract year. Johnson has been decent but he has also been too inconsistent to be a viable, every-down option. K’Waun Williams has played primary in the slot position throughout the season. He has had his ups and downs but has played well enough to have a roster spot next year. The team would be wise to look to add depth to the position and ultimately improve the unit as a whole. The current reserves are Leon Hall and Greg Maybin, who look to be just roster fillers unless they can quickly make a grand impression. There could be a few free-agent options (if they make it on the market) such as Trumaine Johnson (LAR) and Malcolm Butler (NE). Some intriguing draft prospects at the position this year are Minkah Fitzpatrick (ALA), Joshua Jackson (IA), Denzel Ward (OSU) and Tarvarus McFadden (FSU).
There are several different scenarios that may play out throughout the secondary, especially if you also include the safety position. The 49ers must decide if they want to re-sign veteran safety Eric Reid and what they envision on doing with Jimmie Ward. Ward made the transition to safety this season, and seemed to be picking it up well — the problem with his future is that he’s oft-injured and the defensive backfield has become more crowded with the emergence of rookie Adrian Colbert. The team could always decide to move Ward back to cornerback to add some more depth at that position, but that is just speculation as of now. Ward will not be able to make anymore of an impression on the field, as he landed on season- ending Injured/Reserve. Reid on the other hand, will have the remaining games of this season to showcase his abilities in hopes of landing a long-term extension.
Please leave your comments below or hit me up on Twitter and tell me who you think is fighting for a future roster spot and which players that you don’t want back regardless of performance in the final four games.