It’s no mystery that the decline of the 49ers began when Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan in 2014. Since his departure, the Niners have yet to arrive back on the Super Bowl scene. Quite frankly, nobody believes San Fran can get back to the top of the NFC West for many years to come — especially with the dominant Seahawks in their division.
The 49ers have made serious personnel changes both on and off the field. The great former Safety John Lynch (who by the way should be in the Hall of Fame) is the team’s new General Manager. Fans are hoping his expertise on the gridiron will reciprocate to the front office. Kyle Shanahan was hired as the new head coach and he brings along a ton of experience, including from his father and 2-time Super Bowl head coach, Mike Shanahan. Kyle has developed a reputation around the NFL as an offensive mastermind. He helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl last season as the offensive coordinator and was very creative and effective in his play calling. He will call the plays for the Niners this year along with his coaching duties.
San Francisco made a bunch of moves on the field as well. They had two first-round draft picks this year and grabbed Solomon Thomas to help the D-Line and Reuben Foster to play along side Pro Bowler Navarro Bowman. Bowman is playing with a chip on his shoulder this season, feeling disrespected as one of the best linebackers in the league.
On offense, the Niners picked up Pierre Garcon who will fill the top receiver spot which he held down nicely in Washington. Their most important off season acquisition was Brian Hoyer to play quarterback. Since the Kaepernick debacle and trading away Alex Smith to Kansas City, the 49ers have struggled to find a halfway decent quarterback. Kyle Shanahan thinks Hoyer can be better than decent and has the ability to help the team win games.
San Fran has a pretty good offensive line. They can both pass and run block giving the play time to develop. Carlos Hyde is an underrated RB and should put up over 1,000 rushing yards and even add another 200 in the passing game. Speaking of the passing game, the Niners are thin at wide out. Getting Garcon was a smart move because they need a veteran presence who can still play at a high level. On the other side of Garcon is sprinter Marquis Goodwin. He can take the top off the defense but he needs to improve his route running and learn to create more separation. Kyle Shanahan will coach him up. Mike Lafleur is the Niners WR coach and he has a lot of work to do with a depth chart full of “no-names.”
I like the 49ers’ front seven. They have some talent on the defensive side of the ball. I already mentioned what will be the backbone of this defense with veteran linebacker Navarro Bowman and rookie sensation Reuben Foster. San Francisco has some names you’ll recognize that still have some fuel in the tank. A few examples are DeForest Buckner who had a very promising rookie season in 2016. Arik Armstead is going into his 3rd year starting at DE and the team has high hopes for his ability to make plays. Elvis Dumervil was once a top tier pass rusher in the NFL. At age 33 I doubt he’ll regain that status but his experience will help him and his teammates on and off the field.
The 49ers have a bad secondary. If not for Pro Bowler Eric Reid, the 49ers may as well just rush all 11 players on defense each and every play. Jimmie Ward is a good player and going into his 4th season, the Niners expect Ward to take another step forward. Perhaps one of the best things about the 2017 49ers is that they are a very young team. This means they should have more endurance and stamina than most other teams and these young players will combine their energy with increasing knowledge of the game.
I don’t expect the 49ers to make the postseason this year but I don’t expect them to be as bad as most of these experts say. Hoyer is underrated and has a very good record as a starter especially over the past 3 years. This league journeyman may have found a home in the Bay Area.
Given the division they play in, perhaps the NFC West has the best defenses collectively, I’m not sure if the Niners can get 2 out of 6 against their rivals in Arizona, L.A. and of course Seattle. They will improve on both sides of the ball, but this organization is still a couple years away from returning to contender status.
My Prediction: 49ers Record (6 – 10)