Readjusted Expectations For 49ers Sophomore Players


Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

Before the season began, I set reasonable expectations for the 49ers second year players and predicted the impact they would make on the young roster. With the season more than half complete and the team coming out of the bye, I am readjusting outlooks for the rest of the year and beyond.

Solomon Thomas

Original Expectation:

Thomas would show why the 49ers took him with the third overall pick.

Readjusted:

Thomas has once again been a massive disappointment for this defensive front. His lone sack on the season came as a product of being the closest players the Raiders’ QB Derek Carr as he ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. Thomas has been solid against the run, however, he is not living up to the billing of the third overall pick at all. Unless something clicks for Thomas moving forward, its difficult to see him as anything other than a bust.

Reuben Foster

Original Expectation:

Turn a tremendous rookie campaign into a Pro Bowl second year.

Readjusted:

Following his two-game suspension to begin the year, Foster returned rusty and did not appear to be playing at the same level he did as a rookie. Injuries have hampered him all season long. At times it looked as if Foster was chasing after running backs without using one of his arms at all. As a result, his tackling has regressed. It may be hard to judge how talented Foster is until he is back at full strength. Foster should combine with rookie linebacker Fred Warner to form a strong, three down linebacking tandem next season.

Ahkello Witherspoon

Original Expectation:

Build on successes from late last season and emerge as a top-20 cornerback.

Readjusted:

Witherspoon has been picked on all season long. With fellow cornerback Richard Sherman returning to his All-Pro form, teams have been able to focus on Witherspoon and exploit his inexperience. Repeatedly benched, Witherspoon, much like the rest of the defense, has regressed significantly after finishing last year strong. The secondary will be a group the 49ers look to upgrade in the offseason, leaving Witherspoon to fight for playing time in 2019.

C.J. Beathard

Original Expectation:

Beathard won’t touch the football significantly unless injury strikes incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Adjusted:

Catastrophe struck in Week 3 against the Chiefs when Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL. Beathard stepped into the starting role and proved that he is a tough son of a gun. Toughness aside, his lack of pocket awareness and inability to orchestrate the offense has head coach Kyle Shanahan comfortable sticking with QB Nick Mullens moving forward. Beathard could be dangled as trade bait for a team looking for a backup QB with starting experience. Other than that, he will struggle to make the roster in 2019.

Joe Williams

Original Expectation:

Williams will struggle to make the team among a crowded backfield.

Adjusted:

Williams was cut during the preseason and never picked up with anyone else. His NFL career is most likely finished.

George Kittle

Original Expectation:

Assuming he can stay healthy, Kittle should develop into a top-10 tight end in the league.

Adjusted:

Kittle is the driving force of Shanahan’s offense. He leads the team in receptions, yards and is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions. Kittle is becoming a household name and integrating himself with the likes of Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz as one of the best tight ends in the league. Perhaps the most impressive part is he is performing so well despite catching passes from three different quarterbacks in ten games. Kittle is sure to be a focal point of this offense for the foreseeable future.

Trent Taylor

Original Expectation:

Taylor will resume his duties as the slot receiver and carve out a key role in the offense.

Adjusted:

Taylor has been hampered by a back injury all season long. He has been healthy enough to dress for games but has seen a significant drop in his snaps. He has managed only 19 catches for 150 yards and one score. Another player to suffer when Jimmy Garoppolo went down, Taylor will look to bounce back next season and finally lock down the slot position.

D.J. Jones

Original Expectation:

Rotational role with a logjam ahead of him in the depth chart.

Adjusted:

Jones, who primarily plays nose tackle, has been a healthy scratch for a majority of the games. When he does dress, his snaps are limited. His two total tackles are less than TE Garret Celek (4) and WR Pierre Garcon (3) on the season. Jones’ roster spot in 2019 is far from guaranteed.

Pita Taumoepenu

Original Expectation:

Training camp will determine if he has the chops to jump up in the depth chart.

Readjusted:

Taumoepenu has spent the entire season on the 49ers’ practice squad. Another player whose roster spot is in question for next season.

Adrian Colbert

Original Expectation:

Develop into a Pro Bowl safety and form one of the better safety duos alongside Jaquiski Tartt.

Readjusted:

During an ugly loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Colbert suffered an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve. Before that, he was not playing at a Pro Bowl level. Poor tackling, bad angles and miscommunications on defense led to his regression. Once thought to be the centerfielder that Shanahan could build the secondary around, he will need to return to his rookie form to stay in the rotation.

Matt Breida

Original Expectation:

Breida should serve as RB Jerick McKinnon’s primary backup but still see an uptick in rushing and receiving numbers.

Readjusted:

McKinnon may not return next season as the starter. Breida has exceeded all expectations so far by rushing for 632 yards and three touchdowns on a team without many weapons on the outside. Among running backs with at least 100 carries, he leads the league at 5.6 yards per carry. Breida has also developed well in the passing game, adding two more scores. He has struggled with some nagging injuries but when healthy, stacks up among the best running backs in the league. He and McKinnon could form a formidable backfield for Shanahan to manipulate next season.

Kendrick Bourne

Original Expectation:

Bourne will have to find his niche in the receiving corps but should put up respectable numbers.

Readjusted:

Bourne has been one of the few receivers to stay healthy for the whole season. His 23 catches are tied with fullback Kyle Juszczyk for third on the team and he is tied with Kittle at three touchdown receptions. Bourne is a nice receiver to have on the roster but does not do anything particularly great. He is a steady option that flashes moments of explosiveness. If he continues to improve, he should be able to join Breida as another 2017 UDFA to make the roster for a third year in a row.

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