For the past four seasons, no more than two 49ers were initially selected to the Pro Bowl, the league’s version of the All-Star game. In 2016, San Francisco was even snubbed.
That’s not surprising, considering that the Bay Area team has not had a winning season since 2013.
But, after the 49ers finished last year on a very promising note and upgraded their roster in the off-season, there is optimism that this surging team will be a legitimate playoff contender and have several Pro Bowlers suit up for the NFC in 2018.
So, which 49ers do I think have a good chance of earning the honor next season? Check out my picks below.
JIMMY GAROPPOLO, QUARTERBACK
Now that San Francisco has made him the third highest paid player in the NFL, all eyes will be on the 26-year-old to prove he is worthy of the big contract. With only 7 games as a starter under his belt, that’s not a huge amount of statistical evidence to measure Garoppolo’s potential for success. But, the stats we do have are remarkable. Pro Football Focus recently predicted he will officially launch himself into elite status if his performance stays on the same trajectory.There’s nothing to suggest he won’t do it as he learns the 49ers playbook and adjusts to the new system.
KYLE JUSZCZYK, FULLBACK
This five-year veteran has made the Pro Bowl twice. Once with the Baltimore Ravens (2016) and the other during his first year with the 49ers (2017)when he became the first fullback in franchise history to do so since Fred Beasley in 2003. The former Harvard grad is very versatile and a blocking weapon who had limited opportunities to show his potential during his four years with Baltimore. But, after his first season with San Francisco, he was able to expand upon his role more. When Garoppolo showed up midseason, Juszczyk’s numbers really improved. He’s considered one of the best at his position in the league and may just be ready for a real breakout season in 2018.
DEFOREST BUCKNER, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The 6’7, 300-pound defensive tackle ended up in the top ten Pro Bowl voting for his position in 2017, as respect for his talent is mounting. In two seasons with the 49ers, Buckner played in 31 games, had 134 tackles (88 solo), 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumbles recovered and 6 passes defended. He’s also considered elite by Pro Football Focus who dubbed him a “pass-rush stud”and ranked him 38th overall in their 101 top players list from the 2017 NFL season. Going into his third season, Sports Illustrated recently said he could be a “dark horse Defensive Player of the Year”.
JOE STALEY, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
A 49er for all of his 11 seasons, Staley is the longest-tenured player on the team and a six-time Pro Bowler. The veteran offensive lineman is also a cornerstone piece of the offense and an integral part of the locker room. And, while he’s getting ready to turn 34 years old in August, he’s still strong, tough and a good influence on the team’s newest first round draft pick and fellow o-lineman Mike McGlinchey. Staley should continue to dominate up front and provide leadership to this young team. It’s why he’ll stay in contention as a Pro Bowl pick for years to come.
RICHARD SHERMAN, CORNERBACK
Is he past his prime or not? That is the end-all, be-all question for this Seahawk defector who will spend his first season with his former team’s rival in 2018. Despite issues with his Achilles last season, this four-time Pro Bowler (2013-2016) should at least provide some flashes of his prior dominance for the 49ers. It’s too early to tell how much he will be capable of playing and if he returns to commanding form. But, if he’s healthy, we can’t rule out that the Stanford grad will shine and be a legit option for Pro Bowl voters.
PIERRE GARCON, WIDE RECEIVER
He’s soon to be 32 years old and has played ten years in the league so far. But, Garcon has never been named to the Pro Bowl. Does that mean it’s never going to happen for him? Not necessarily. In 2013 with the Redskins he was a close contender for the Pro Bowl, as he was targeted 181 times, had 113 receptions for 1,346 yards and finished the season as the receptions leader. In 2017, his first with the 49ers, Garcon was on his way to his third 1,000-yard season before getting injured (neck). Word is now that he’s been healthy all spring and making headway in building chemistry with Garoppolo. I like the potential of what these two could do together and how it could turn the consistent Garcon into a potential Pro Bowler.
ROBBIE GOULD, KICKER
This 13-year veteran made the Pro Bowl after his second season in the NFL (2006) and at 35 years old is still going strong. He ranks fifth best in field goal percentage amongst active kickers (86.89%) and finished his first season with San Francisco in 2017 with the most field goals made (39). Going forward, Garoppolo will help move the ball down the field more resulting in fewer field goals for Gould. But, if the 49ers make it to the post season, they’ll need his clutch foot to get through the close games and his accuracy to give them an edge. I have a feeling he’ll continue to deliver big-time and stand out as one of the league’s best kickers which could get him to his second career Pro Bowl.
REUBEN FOSTER, LINEBACKER
There have been injury issues and off-the field personal chaos to distract us away from the tremendous potential of this 24-year-old linebacker out of Alabama. But, the promise of his game-changing talent is there. During his rookie 2017 season in 10 games and only 553 snaps, Foster proved his worth as an athletic, aggressive, explosive run stopper. Only time will tell if he remains healthy and stays out of trouble. If he does, he could make a real difference and vault himself up past the 59th spot of PFF’s 101 top list and straight into the Pro Bowl.
Adrian Colbert, Safety. When injuries took down multiple players on defense, the 24-year-old rookie defensive back was asked to step in at safety and did a great job. So good, he showed that instinct and hard work could turn him into one of the highest graded safeties in the league at year’s end.
The 49ers also went 6-0 when he started at free safety. There’s still a lot for him to learn, but as last year’s surprise, he may turn into a real force. It’ll be fun watching his continued development, possibly into a Pro Bowler one day.
Jaquiski Tartt, Safety. Before he broke his forearm during Week 9 last season, this third-year player was having a breakout season. Ranked tenth at his position, he was on track to beat his previous tackles totals his first two seasons (61 and 65) and was having the best year of his career. During the offseason, the 49ers rewarded Tartt’s efforts with a two-year contract. He may be a holdover from the former general manager Trent Baalke’s drafts, but the 26-year-old shows great promise and should improve even more with Richard Sherman providing leadership as a mentor.
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