2018 was another disappointing year for the 49ers. After losing Jimmy Garoppolo to a Week 3 ACL injury, a combination of CJ Beathard and Nick Mullens at QB could only muster another 3 wins in the season as San Francisco finished with the 2nd worst record in football.
Despite that poor 2018 record, the coaching staff remains the same. Kyle Shanahan goes into his 3rd year with a bit to prove. He is regarded as one of the brighter offensive minds in the league, but that has yet to translate into wins in his young head coaching career. Similarly to the Rams, the 49ers don’t have a de facto Offensive Coordinator in their ranks, with Shanahan overseeing the offense and calling plays on Sundays. Robert Saleh also returns at Defensive Coordinator for his 3rd year. His unit finished in the top half of teams in yards allowed in 2018, but they allowed 435 points, which was only good for 28th in the league.
The 49ers were active in free agency, but it was their trade for Kansas City pass rusher Dee Ford that was their biggest move of the offseason. Ford had a career year in 2018 with 13 sacks and, after the trade, San Fran rewarded him with a 5-year $85.5 million contract. Ford had been franchise tagged by the Chiefs, so the offer was a necessity. GM John Lynch will be hoping that Ford’s 2018 was not just a one off after splashing big cash on him. The 49ers signed former Tampa Bay LB Kwon Alexander to fill a hole left at the second level by the troubled Reuben Foster who was cut in 2018 due to off field issues. He was given a 4-year deal worth $54 million. Alexander is coming off an ACL injury in 2018, so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Their other headline move was the signing of former Atlanta Falcon RB Tevin Coleman. The 49ers have a bit of a logjam at RB, but you would imagine that Coleman is going to see a lot of the ball after impressing in Atlanta.
The 49ers had the honour of selecting 2nd overall in the Draft after their poor 2018 and selected Ohio State pass rusher Nick Bosa with that pick. Nick is the younger brother of Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa and will be looking to make a similar impact to his sibling in the league. Some analysts had Nick as the best player in this Draft and also viewed him as being better than his brother coming into the NFL. Injuries may be something to keep an eye on, though. He played just 3 games in his final year at college and his brother has had similar injury issues. Their next two picks saw them address the WR group with the selections of Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. Samuel had his best year in college in 2018, scoring 11 times. Hurd only played one year at receiver after converting from running back, but Shanahan obviously saw something that he liked in Hurd. Both will look to provide solid options for the returning Garoppolo. The 49ers rounded out their class with Mitch Wishnowsky (a punter in the 4th round!), LB Dre Greenlaw, TE Kaden Smith and OT Justin Skule.
The offense has yet to fully reach its potential under Shanahan, although it doesn’t help when your QB can’t stay healthy. Since moving to San Francisco in an October 2017 trade, Garoppolo has featured in just 9 games. He has shown flashes of being a good QB, but unless he can stay on the field, the 49ers are always going to be picking early in the Draft. They will also be hoping for more production from their RB group with the incoming Tevin Coleman and also the returning Jerick McKinnon who missed the entirety of the 2018 campaign after signing earlier that year. Those two are also able to catch the ball out of the backfield, which is a feature of the Shanahan offense. The WR group is relatively young and inexperienced and lacks a real star name. Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews, Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor are the veterans who Shanahan will be hoping can step up and become reliable targets for his QB. Their best offensive player is undoubtedly George Kittle at tight end. In only his 2nd year in the league, he broke the record for most receiving yards in a season with 1,377, a record he set in Week 17 against the Rams. It will be a tough ask to replicate those numbers, but Kittle is likely to have another great year in 2019. The TE group also features the experienced Garrett Celek and recently signed Levine Toilolo. The 49ers have a solid offensive line group that is led by veteran Joe Staley at LT. 2nd year man Mike McGlinchey protect the right side and Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg and Mike Person will look to keep the pocket clean for Garoppolo and create holes for the RB’s.
The 49ers defense played better than their record showed in 2018, but due to a struggling offense they were dragged down a bit. The 49ers have talented players upfront, with the likes of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and now Bosa and Ford trying to hunt down opposing QB’s. The addition of Ford and Bosa will help this group generate more sacks, but they’ll need help from the offense to keep them off the field for longer periods of time to make sure they are fresh for the full 60 minutes. Kwon Alexander should slot straight in to join Fred Warner and Malcolm Smith at the second level of the San Francisco defense. The group has a lot of speed and range, but they have known to miss tackles which is going to create lots of problems for them. The unquestioned leader of the secondary is veteran Richard Sherman. He returns for his 2nd year as a 49er after spending all of his career in Seattle previously. Sherman is likely to be joined in the defensive backfield by Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward and Jaquisky Tartt. Newly recruited Jason Verrett could also see some playing time if he is over his injury problems that saw him miss a lot of time with the Chargers.
This is a huge year for both Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. They will probably be praying to every God they can to try and keep the injury bug away from the Bay Area in 2019. The only chance they have is if Jimmy Garoppolo can stay healthy, otherwise, they may find themselves out of a job for 2020.