The 2017 season was a year like none other for the 49ers. After starting 0-9 San Francisco finished the year in style by winning six out of the its last seven games. To top that off they beat three straight playoff teams to finish the year on an incredibly high note.
The year started with so many questions about the direction of the organization. From the absence of a franchise quarterback to a lack of identity, the 49ers were seen as a team that was headed nowhere. However, fans were confident in new coach Kyle Shanahanand his ability to turn around a losing franchise.
It all began when 49ers general manager, John Lynch, traded for New England Patriots backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. It took nearly month after the acquisition for him to eventually get a start but when he did, the level of play by the whole team went up.
Not all games were pretty, such as the 15-14 nail-biter against the Bears, but as the wins piled up the players started to believe in their coach, their quarterback, and themselves. By the time the season ended, the look of enthusiasm from the team said the whole story. The players cannot wait for next year and what this regime has to offer for the future.
What follows is a brief off-season wish list for the 49ers to truly contend for years to come.
No NFL team is ever safe from the off-season. New players come in and free-agents/older players leave. Change is inevitable. The 49ers have had some glaring weaknesses which must be addressed for them to reach their full potential.
The most notable shortcoming was at the guard position. While Garoppolo was able to adjust through the first four games, it was clear in the season finale against the Rams that the pressure was getting to him. It might be wise for the 49ers to draft a guard with one of their first two picks in the draft.
Another key issue for the 49ers is their defensive backfield which routinely let long passes sail over their heads all season. While they did play inspired against the Jaguars by recording 3 interceptions, they played too inconsistent down the stretch. In consecutive games against the Titans and Jaguars, the defense blew double-digit leads.
This year’s National Championship game is a great study of what the 49ers need. Both Alabama and Georgia have excellent offensive lines which routinely enforce its will against opponents. Since both teams come from the, arguably, the best defensive conference in college football, the SEC, there should be some players that are worthy of at least a look for the 49ers defensive backfield.
Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn might be the best offensive line prospect from this game for the 49ers. He started 12 of 13 games in 2016 at left guard and he started every game in 2017 at left tackle. At 6’2” 302 lbs he is an excellent size for guard. He has proven his ability to play multiple positions which can come in handy if there are any injuries on the offensive line.
Alabama’s Bradley Bozeman has started at center the past two seasons. He also played as a reserve guard in 2015. At 6’5” 314 lbs, it is clear that he can physically hold his own in the NFL. While the 49ers are not bad at center, it would not hurt to look at Bozeman as a possible fourth round pick due to his versatility and leadership skills in the trenches.
Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick is regarded as one of the top defensive backs in the country. While he is only a junior, he has already gathered the Chuck Bednarik Award as well as the Jim Thorpe Award. He is also a two time All-American. He had 60 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, eight pass deflections, and one interception for the 2017 season. He has not officially declared for the draft but he has arguably already accomplished all he can accomplish in college. If he declares for the draft, the 49ers should seriously consider drafting him in the first round.
Other Players to Consider:
There is a chance the 49ers will let Carlos Hyde go in free agency. If that is the case then they should look at Georgia’s Nick Chubb. In 2017, he rushed for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns. The only downside to him is that he only had 31 receiving yards. In Shanahan’s system, the running back has to be able to catch the ball. This could be indicative of Georgia’s system which relies heavily on the run. The NFL scouting Combine and Georgia’s Pro Day will shine more light on his ability to catch passes.
While the 49ers do not have a strong cast of receivers, this is not an issue which needs to be addressed early in the draft. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley Jr. is the best receiver between the two teams. He had 967 yards receiving and five touchdown receptions this seasosn. While he is a dynamic play maker, Alabama’s offensive style does not highlight an air attack. Due to this revelation, he should slide down in the draft. The 49ers should at least have a look at him, keeping in mind that Julio Jones also came from Alabama. Jones became the focal point in Shanahan’s offense in Atlanta during its’ Super Bowl run in 2016.
All of these players are good, quality players who have the potential to make a difference with the 49ers. However, the free agent market usually brings a number of players who can make an even bigger difference.
Drafting a player is much different than getting a free agent. A free agent already knows the intricacies of the NFL while a rookie is inexperience at the pro level. Throwing a rookie into the fire too early can destroy his career.
Players such as Ryan Leaf, Robert Griffin III, and Tony Mandarich come to mind. While these players were excellent in college, they were not given any time to develop in the NFL and eventually washed out. Mandarich is the exception because he did play well later in his career, but early on he proved this point beautifully.
Ultimately, it does not matter if these particular players are selected by the 49ers. What matters is that the 49ers obtain the right players. These are just a few examples of players the 49ers should look at during the off-season. Some pieces are in place but there is still much more work which needs to be finished. From one 49er fan to another, this off-season is going to be awesome and I cannot wait for what the future holds.