Going into the 2019 season, the San Francisco 49ers and their fans finally have a lot to look forward to. The team just signed former Chargers first-round draft pick Jason Verrett, defensive lineman Dee Ford, and linebacker Kwon Alexander.
As the 49ers management announced at a Thursday press conference, Ford and Alexander happen to come from the same hometown, Aniston, Alabama, and GM John Lynch said, "They're going to really bolster our team. We love everything they bring, the passion they play the game with."
Ford was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs and signed to a five-year deal in exchange for a 2020 draft pick. Alexander was signed to a four-year deal. Alexander, a fourth-round draft pick in 2015, comes from four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All of this is solid news after a couple of pretty terrible seasons. The Niners were punched in the gut, early in the 2018 season, when franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down in week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. He tore his ACL, and coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. understood immediately that the rest of the year would be spent evaluating the team’s talent, going forward. Interestingly enough, the Niners continued to compete in the absence of their starting QB, and even boasted some strong up-and-coming young talent.
Even though Jimmy G. will immediately reclaim his starting job as the team’s signal-caller, there’s something to be said about the effort of backup quarterback Nick Mullens’ effort. In half a season (8 games), the rookie posted more-than-serviceable numbers: 64.2% completion, 13 TD, 10 INT, and 2,277 passing yards. Mullens’ ability to step in and contribute allowed coach Shanahan the opportunity to see his guys compete, while he was busy identifying the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
The second-year tight end had a phenomenal year. On an offense that doesn’t have a go-to wideout, Kittle provided the ole tight end security blanket for each of his three quarterbacks (Garoppolo, Mullens, and C.J. Beathard) and much more. The former Iowa Hawkeye led his team with 88 receptions (136 targets), 1,377 receiving yards, and shared the team lead in touchdown receptions with wide receiver Austin Pettis (5). After his monster season, Kittle was rewarded with his first Pro-Bowl selection. Niner fans should be ecstatic about all of the Jimmy-to-George connections that will be taking place throughout the 2019 season.
D-Line Strength, Depth, and Youth
The headliners of this group include former first-round picks DeForest Buckner (’16) and Arik Armstead (’15). Buckner had the best year of this unit, registering a career high 12 sacks. Armstead, on the other hand, may not have had the gaudy sack numbers (3), but he is using all-around effectiveness to justify his former first-round pick status. As for the rest of the crew, Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair III had 5.5 sacks each, while the Niners’ 2017 first-round choice, Solomon Thomas showed encouraging signs of “figuring it out” by the end of the season. Each of these young men is under 27 years old and have shown plenty of growth while still maintaining room to improve. And I cannot fail to mention pass-rusher extraordinaire Dee Ford, who will add plenty.
If this young talented man can stay on the field in 2019, he’ll probably be a Pro-Bowler. Though he’s listed as having played in 14 games this past season, Breida was constantly banged up. Still, he was able to rack up 814 rushing yards on 153 carries (5.3 average), while hauling in 27 receptions for a solid 261 yards. Perhaps an acquisition of another athletic back could take some of the load off of Breida in 2019, allowing his body to remain intact throughout the grind of the season… a little foreshadowing, maybe?
I would be remiss if I did not include Jimmy G. in this category. Though he still hasn’t played more than six games in a season in his career, there’s no denying the former understudy of Tom Brady possesses the necessary tools to become a force to be reckoned-with in the league. He boasts strong, accurate arm, heightened sense of pocket awareness, solid reads and progression, the ability to use his legs to buy time or scamper for the first down, and the leadership skills required to lead an entire roster into battle on the gridiron. The fans and organization in San Francisco will be anxious to see what an entire season of Garoppolo looks like, come Fall, 2019.
All 49ers fans heard, heading into the 2018 season, was that Marquise Goodwin was poised to have a breakout year. He had found a home in San Francisco, after things didn’t work out in Buffalo, and the conditions were ready to suggest that he would ascend to his place as a serious threat. Well, the season came and went, but Goodwin was utterly disappointing. The aforementioned Dante Pettis actually looked like the best pass-catching option, throughout most of the season, posting this line through 12 games: 27 catches (45 targets), 467 yards, and 5 TDs. GM John Lynch will need to take a serious look at shoring-up the receiving corps, via the draft, in order to maximize the return on the team’s investment in Mr. Garoppolo.
After the disaster that was uber-talented, yet, issue-plagued linebacker Reuben Foster, the Niners really need to find a stud to headline this group. Whether it be through the draft or free agency, Lynch needs to compliment his budding young d-line with a worthy group of backers. As it just so happens, the inking of Kwon Alexander to that four-year deal worth upwards of $54 million is a huge step in the right direction. This free agency splash will slot right into this unit, instantly raising the overall capabilities of Shanahan’s defense.
Running Back Depth
As I discussed earlier, Matt Breida did not hold up well to the excruciating pain of a full NFL season’s-long running back workload. Adding another athlete to the backfield mix would do well to spare Breida some wear and tear, while providing another multidimensional force to aid Jimmy G. Well, those prayers have also been answered, in the form of former Falcon running back Tevin Coleman. He received a two-year deal from the 49ers, who hope Coleman can build off of the opportunity he was given last season, after the Falcons’ running back Devonta Freeman went down with a season-ending injury. In Freeman’s absence, Coleman compiled 800 rushing yards, 276 receiving yards, and nine total touchdowns.
If John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan address the team’s needs through the draft, the 49ers will be in good shape. Bolstering the offensive line and adding some defensive backfield talent will surely be part of the draft plan, but the huge question mark still remains: what do the Niners do with the no. 2 overall pick? Do they take a d-lineman—Joey Bosa, Quinnen Williams, or Josh Allen? Do they seek to add quantity by trading back? Whichever way they go, the 49ers look like they are a couple of pieces away from looking like something special’s brewing, heading into the 2019 season.