This article is part of our Team Previews series.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers addressed most of their pressing needs – pass rush, wideout and running back depth – and while all of those will spur the rebuilding process, Jimmy G's health and performance will be the ultimate indicator as to whether they can finally turn things around after years of ineptitude.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
GAROPPOLO PART DEUX
At this time last year, Jimmy Garoppolo was the starting and ending point for any discussion about the 49ers, and for good reason. The then 26-year-old was coming off a five-game winning streak to end 2017 and had a full offseason to work with one of the league's greater offensive minds in coach Kyle Shanahan. It was expected that the dynamic duo would wreak havoc on opposing defenses, but an ill-advised push from Garoppolo for an extra yard on a Week 3 rushing attempt resulted in a season-ending torn ACL. Knee tendon tears are nothing to scoff at, but medical advancements over the past decade have allowed athletes to recover faster and more completely than ever. Garoppolo already was running and throwing prior to the Super Bowl, and Shanahan has stated that he expects his quarterback to gain medical clearance by the time training camp kicks off, which indeed happened. San Francisco failed to wrangle either of the two elite wideouts (Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr.) that were available via trade after the campaign, but GM John Lynch did invest a pair of high picks on Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd during the 2019 draft. Along with those rookie receivers, Garoppolo's arsenal includes 2018 breakout star George Kittle, the up-and-coming Dante Pettis, Olympian Marquise Goodwin and newcomer Tevin Coleman, among others.
CLUTTERED BACKFIELD UP FOR THE TAKING
Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't the only key 49ers skill-position player to suffer a serious injury in 2018. Running back Jerick McKinnon, the team's biggest free-agent acquisition last year, never saw the field in the regular season, tearing his ACL between the end of the preseason and Week 1. His loss opened the door for 2017 undrafted free agent Matt Breida to prove his worth. And the 24-year-old did just that, playing through a lingering ankle injury en route to 1,075 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in 14 games. Despite both players returning, the 49ers signed Tevin Coleman, a part of the Falcons' potent one-two punch from recent seasons who signed a twoyear contract to reunite with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. McKinnon, Coleman and Breida are similar in that they possess great open-field speed, don't shy from contact and are capable receivers out of the backfield. On the flip side, all three have displayed an inability to endure the rigors of a No. 1 workload for long stretches, so having 1A, 1B and 1C in the house may be a genius front office move. However, being so well stocked at running back could spell disaster from a fantasy standpoint. There's a real chance that each member of the trio cannibalizes the others' potential touches if a clear starter doesn't emerge or no one falls out of the picture during the campaign.
CLEAR PLAN TO IMPROVE DEFENSE
The 49ers defense was near the bottom of the league in many categories last season, giving up 27.2 points per game (28th), recording 37 sacks (T-22nd) and forcing just seven turnovers (dead last). The lack of sacks especially was troubling for a franchise that spent three of its past four first-round picks on the defensive front. In fact, of those three players, DeForest Buckner (the lone interior lineman of the bunch) has been the only one to develop into a pass-rushing threat, busting out for 12 sacks in 2018. GM John Lynch tackled the glaring issue head on this offseason, acquiring edge rusher Dee Ford from the Chiefs. Lynch later used the second overall pick in the draft on defensive end Nick Bosa. The former has two seasons with double-digit sacks to his credit, and while the latter will get after the quarterback as well, he displayed elite disengaging ability to defend the run at Ohio State. The 49ers didn't add much to their secondary outside of talented, but oft-injured, cornerback Jason Verrett and didn't make any notable moves at safety, either. As a result, the front office can judge the unit on its own merits behind a suddenly beefed-up D-line. Assuming the pressure on opposing signal-callers increases, as expected, a corresponding rise in those elusive turnovers may be in the cards.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: George Kittle
Kittle undoubtedly was the brightest beacon of what otherwise was another disappointing year for the 49ers. The tight end's elite speed (4.52 40 time) was notable beforehand, and he developed both as a receiver (88 catches, 1,377 yards) and blocker. The sky should be the limit if Kittle gets a full season with Jimmy Garoppolo.
RISING: Dante Pettis
Pettis came on strong down the stretch with Nick Mullens under center, averaging 84.5 yards and one TD per game between Weeks 12 and 15. With an MCL sprain behind him, Pettis is penciled into the starting lineup.
FALLING: Marquise Goodwin
Just last season, Goodwin was in the rising category, but an injury-marred campaign, inconsistent production and the addition of two talented wide receiver prospects could leave the veteran competing for snaps.
SLEEPER: Deebo Samuel
Samuel doesn't own the breakaway speed that Goodwin does, but he isn't a slouch, posting a 4.48 40 time at the combine. Considered a polished route runner, Samuel has a path to immediate targets as a rookie.
KEY JOB BATTLE – STARTING WIDEOUTS
The wide receiver position in San Francisco may be as fluid as we have seen heading into a season in quite some time. The speedy Marquise Goodwin was expected to elevate himself into a starting-caliber wide receiver last season, and while he showed flashes at times – a huge Monday Night Football game against Packers comes to mind – injuries and inconsistent production may have proved that he's best used as a gadget wideout. While the veteran remains an option to start Week 1, the wideout we'd place our money on locking up a starting job is sophomore receiver Dante Pettis. The 23-year-old had injury problems of his own last year, but he put together a four-week stretch (17 receptions, 338 yards and four touchdowns) at the end of the campaign that flashed the upside the 49ers envisioned when they selected him in the second round of the 2018 draft. The second and third-round picks used on Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, respectively, in this year's draft throws a couple of wrenches into the mix. The latter is more of a project who may be better suited for the slot, but Samuel is polished and athletic enough to wrestle away a starting job from Goodwin right off the bat. The 49ers have shown that they are willing to take things slow with rookie wideouts – i.e. Pettis last season – so we could see Samuel start the year in a smaller role before being unleashed later. The rookie is still worth a flyer based on potential alone, especially if he can quickly develop a rapport with Jimmy Garoppolo in camp. Hurd is best left for deeper and keeper formats until we see exactly how Kyle Shanahan plans to deploy the Swiss army knife (he was recruited as an RB, can line up at TE and played lots of slot in college). Kendrick Bourne (who arguably had the most consistent season of all 49ers wide receivers last year), Jordan Matthews and Trent Taylor are also worth mentioning, with Taylor being a candidate to begin the year as the team's starting slot man.
TEVIN COLEMAN – RB (from Falcons)
Enlists in a multi-headed running back corps.
NICK BOSA – DE (Rd. 1, No. 2 – Ohio State)
One of the draft's top prospects immediately boosts the defense.
KWON ALEXANDER – LB (from Buccaneers)
Possesses the talent to replace Reuben Foster, sans character issues.
DEE FORD – DE (from Chiefs)
Teams up with Bosa to improve a perennially poor pass rush.
DEEBO SAMUEL – WR (Rd. 2, No. 36 – South Carolina)
Has the athleticism and route-running ability to push for a starting job.
JALEN HURD – WR (Rd. 3, No. 67 – Baylor)
Unique talent with a big frame (6-5, 226) and experience at WR and RB.
PIERRE GARCON – WR (FA)
The team opted for a youth movement at wideout after a down year.
ALFRED MORRIS – RB (FA)
A 3.9 YPC, the signing of Tevin Coleman led the team to move on.
THE INJURY FRONT
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB – There's no question that Garoppolo's Week 3 knee injury was the biggest blow suffered by the 49ers last season. The signal-caller's recovery will be the biggest storyline in San Francisco as the regular season approaches. Early reports were that Garoppolo was recovering on schedule with over nine months of recovery time under his belt for an ACL injury, giving him close to a year (the back end of the timetable) by the time the regular season starts. Backup Nick Mullens performed well down the stretch last season, but with Garoppolo poised for a full workload at the start of training camp, a Week 1 appearance appears likely.
Jerick McKinnon, RB – Like Garoppolo, McKinnon also suffered a season-ending ACL injury, although his happened during training camp. Unlike his quarterback, the 27-year-old may not be on track a full recovery by the start of the 2019 season after suffering a setback and beginning training camp on the PUP list. Hurting McKinnon's cause further, once healthy, is a cramped backfield. The 49ers brought in talented free agent Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida's strong play in McKinnon's absence last year has put him in the mix for touches as well. The former may be the early favorite to lead the team in snaps based on a combination of health and proven NFL production, but expect McKinnon to involved in weekly game plans eventually, albeit in a smaller projected role than he had heading into the 2018 season.
Kwon Alexander, LB – Alexander is the third key cog for the 49ers that is coming off of a torn ACL. Like his comrades, the 24-year-old is projected to be ready for the start of the season, barring any setbacks. Rookie linebacker Fred Warner did an impressive job filling in at the Mike following Reuben Foster's early-season release due to off-field conduct. With a proven young star like Alexander on board, the 49ers can slide Warner over to the weak side and let their new defensive acquisition patrol the middle. Alexander should immediately resume his status as an IDP factor after averaging 132.2 tackles per 16 games with Tampa Bay.