2016 NFL Season Preview: San Francisco 49ers

Free agent additions: G Zane Beadles

Free agent departures: RB Reggie Bush, WR Anquan Boldin, G Alex Boone

Early Draft selections: DE/DT DeForest Buckner, G Joshua Garnett, CB Will Redmond, CB Rashard Robinson, DE Ronald Blair, OT John Theus
Offense: As recently as January 2013, the 49ers were 10 yards away from winning the Super Bowl. Now, they have to resort to starting Blaine Gabbert. They still have Colin Kaepernick of course, but it seems the rest of the league has caught on to his tricks, so if Kaepernick does not become more of a film junkie, he will continue to ride the bench. There’s not much to say about Gabbert, as this picture tells the whole story:gabberteyesclosed

The running back, Carlos Hyde, is coming back from a stress fracture and is reportedly in good shape. It’s hard to tell how successful he will be in the NFL. He came running out of the gate with 168 rush yards and 2 TDs in week 1 against the Vikings last year, but that was his only 100-yard game of the year (he was injured in week 7).

The receivers are easily the team’s weakness. Their best wideout, Torrey Smith, chased the money and predictably flopped, accumulating only 663 receiving yards and 4 TDs. Their other receivers are named Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, and DeAndrew White, who I’ve never even heard of.

Like the Browns, the 49ers best player is their left tackle, Joe Staley. At guard, Alex Boone left in free agency, and he will be replaced with Joshua Garnett, the player they took at #28 overall in the draft. The center, Daniel Kilgore, played very poorly last year. RG Andrew Tiller is serviceable, while at right tackle, some good fortune came the 49ers way, as Anthony Davis came out of retirement.

 

Defense: Chip Kelly is the new coach, and luckily for the 49ers, they ran a 3-4 defense before he got there, so there won’t be any scheme changes. The 49ers had a decent run defense last year, allowing 4.0 yards per rush to opponents. San Francisco’s best unit would be the defensive line. Arik Armstead, their 2015 first round pick, had a decent rookie season, and is reportedly “killing it” in training camp this year. With the #7 overall pick this year, the 49ers selected DeForest Buckner. He was considered a steal, and some thought he was a better prospect than #3 pick Joey Bosa. In the middle, the 49ers have Ian Williams, who does a very nice job of stopping the run.

Unfortunately, it only gets worse from here. San Francisco’s best edge rusher is Aaron Lynch, but he will miss the first 4 games of the season for failing a drug test. The 49ers will try to replace him with either Ahmad Brooks (getting old), Corey Lemonier, or Eli Harold. The latter two have not made much of an impact in the NFL to date, but Harold was only a rookie last year.

On the inside, Navorro Bowman, just signed a 4 year, $44M extension. Bowman returned last year after a very awful knee injury caused him to miss the entire 2014 season, but looked like a shell of his former self. Maybe an extra offseason of recovery will help, but he probably will never be the excellent coverage linebacker from before. The other starter will probably be Michael Wilhoite, another linebacker who struggles in coverage.

The secondary good either. Jimmie Ward was the team’s top cornerback in 2015, and he was just an average nickel. The 49ers plan to use him outside this season, so he could be an upgrade over what they had there last year. Ward figures to start across from Tramaine Brock, with Dontae Johnson taking his old spot. Brock is an average No. 2 corner, while Johnson is coming off a disappointing season. Third-round rookie Will Redmond might be able to provide quality depth.

San Francisco has more of a dilemma at safety, where Eric Reid is the only capable player. Reid is a decent player, but his partner, Antoine Bethea, was awful this past year. It’s fair to wonder if Bethea, now 32, is going to keep getting worse. He’s coming off a season-ending chest injury. Jaquiski Tartt, chosen in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, stepped in relief of Bethea, but was even worse.

 

Special teams, schedule, and intangibles: New Levi’s stadium has had a lot of empty seats, an unwanted tradition that will most likely continue this year. The 49ers have gone 8-8 there since it opened.

Kicker Phil Dawson may be 41 years old, but he’s still getting it done. He went 24-27 last season while going 3-3 from 50+.

Longtime punter Andy Lee was traded for a 2017 7th round pick last offseason. His replacement, Brad Pinion, was 23rd in net average compared to Lee’s 15th.

The 49ers have a chance to open the season with a win at home over the Rams, but then play at Carolina, at Seattle, Dallas, Arizona, and at Buffalo. A 1-5 or even an 0-6 start seems likely. After that, the only winnable games I see would be against the Saints, Bucs, Dolphins (10 AM start), Bears (10 AM start), and Falcons. It’s going to get ugly.

 

Position Ratings (out of 5 stars):

49ers stars

Summary: Am I going to bring up Madden again? Yes. The 49ers do not have a single player rated above 90 in this year’s version. Of course, Madden ratings don’t tell much of the story, but it’s pretty clear that the overall talent level of this team is quite low.  Chip Kelly’s gimmicks may lead to a few wins, but points will be very hard to come by. The only silver lining is that the 49ers still own their first round pick next year. Might as well start looking for a place now, Deshaun.

 

Prediction: 3-13 (4th NFC West)

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