Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
In the midst of another disappointing season for the 49ers, they find themselves with the worst record in the league. Despite the terrible record and the potential to be drafting first overall, there are some bright spots.
With Pro Bowl voting underway, there should be multiple Niners elected for the second year in a row. Rising stars such as George Kittle, Matt Breida and Mike McGlinchey could join veterans such as Joe Staley, Richard Sherman and DeForest Buckner on the Pro Bowl roster. With Sherman, Kittle and Staley pretty much locks for another appearance; with a couple more, the team with the worst record in football could be very well represented.
Looking back on this disastrous season, the overall grade for the team will not be good. You can probably slap the 49ers as a whole with a D- grade, or worse. Luckily, the offense and defense are going in opposite directions. The 49ers defense as a whole has been their Achilles heel all season long. Aside from a few players, the rest of the defense will not grade out well at all.
The offensive side of the ball is a completely different story. After Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 3, how did anyone expect the offense to function as well as it has?
George Kittle, TE
The biggest storyline of the season has been the explosion of future Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle. He showed flashes last season, so we all knew Kittle was on the rise, but to this level? It’s been made clear that Kittle ranks up as one of the league's best tight-ends, alongside the injured Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. Kittle is on pace for well over 1,000 yards, steamrolling opposing defenses week in and week out, and he leads the 49ers in receptions and yards and is the most dynamic playmaker on offense. Grabbing the attention of everyone in the league, Kittle has placed himself in the conversation as one of the league's best.
Matt Breida, RB
After Jerick McKinnon went down before Week 1, the 49ers backfield was one big question mark. We saw some nice runs from Breida down the stretch last season and we knew he could be a solid change-of-pace running back, but nobody expected this. The only thing keeping Breida from getting an A grade is his health. Breida is averaging 5.6 yards per carry (among the league’s best) on 113 attempts, for 632 yards and three rushing touchdowns. An undersized running back, Breida has been so explosive breaking off big runs every game. Coming into this season, there were concerns over Breida’s ball-catching ability. This offseason and in training camp, Breida worked hard on catching and it’s shown so far in 2018. The 49ers signed McKinnon to be that stud pass-catching back, who was expected to catch well over sixty balls out of the backfield. Breida is nowhere near those numbers, but he’s caught 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers are not flashy, but Breida has not had an issue with drops at all this season. Looking forward to next season, the combination of Breida and McKinnon could give the Niners one of the most shift and dynamic backfields in the league.
Mike McGlinchey, RT
I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised when the 49ers drafted McGlinchey ninth overall . Outside of Quenton Nelson, no other lineman was expected to be drafted in the Top 10. Not only has Mike McGlinchey lived up to the post-draft hype, he’s exceeded everyone's expectations. Outperforming the consensus “best lineman” in the draft in Nelson, McGlinchey ranks up amongst some of the best tackles in the league, working opposite of Joe Staley. It is clear that McGlinchey was drafted to replace the aging veteran when he decides to retire. With what we’ve seen in year one, we can be certain that the left side of the offensive line will be secure for years to come.
Pierre Garcon, WR
If healthy, Pierre Garcon was expected to grab a hold of the number one receiver spot in the 49ers offense. Garcon was on pace for a solid year in 2017, before getting hurt, and had some high expectations coming into 2018. Not having the chance to play with Jimmy Garoppolo down the stretch last season, Garcon came into this year needing to develop a quick chemistry with the Niners’ new quarterback. Not only has he failed to develop a connection with Garoppolo, he has not been the go-to guy for any of the three quarterbacks this season. With just 24 receptions for 286 yards and one score, he’s been far from reliable this season.
Marquise Goodwin, WR
After a breakout season last year, everyone wanted to see what Goodwin had in store for year two. Battling injuries all year long, Goodwin has not been inserted into the offense like we thought he would, catching just17 balls for 339 yards and four touchdowns, while making some big plays throughout. His big-play ability has been key this season, with some long touchdowns coming in some big moments. His numbers will not be anywhere near what they were last season, but Goodwin will grade out well only because of his play he’s shown when healthy.
C.J. Beathard, QB
Poor C.J. Beathard has been a human punching bag ever since he took his first snap last season. Between the sacks and fumbles and hits, C.J. Beathard has been beaten to a pulp in the NFL. If only toughness was all you needed to be a good quarterback in this league. We’ve heard time and time again about Beathard’s toughness, but at what point do we stop focusing on that? It's clear that Beathard is a capable enough quarterback to keep his team in the game, but he lacks the ability to close out a game and put his team over the top. With plenty of fumbles and turnovers, there's no way C.J. Beathard can grade out well this season. He’s gained a lot of respect from coaches, players and fans, but if only respect was enough to win actual football games.
Nick Mullens, QB
The kid who took the league by storm a couple of weeks ago, Nick Mullens has boosted the 49ers back into relevancy this season. With the slaughter of the Raiders on Thursday Night Football, Mullens swooped in and grabbed the starting job from C.J. Beathard very quickly. His follow-up performance was not bad, but nowhere near his near-perfect outing against the Raiders. What makes the Mullens Mania so much fun is that it seems oddly familiar to the Garoppolo hype from last season. Mullens seems to make everyone on the field, including the defense, better when he’s under centere. Of course it's been only two games and a very, very small sample size, but so far Nick Mullens has put together the best quarterback play this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
Technically, if we’re including Nick Mullens in this, we have to include Garoppolo. Playing just two and a half games this season, we got to see what the 49ers looked like with their star quarterback. Before the injury, Garoppolo and the Niners did not look great. Getting sacked repeatedly and receivers dropping big passes, the Niners were unable to click under Garoppolo. Instead of looking like a franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo looked like a rich-man’s C.J. Beathard before his horrific injury.
A lost season for the Niners is all but meaningless. With the emergence of key players, the Niners have a lot to look forward to next season. It's clear that the team still needs a stud receiver, because George Kittle can't do it all. With a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo, a healthy Jerick McKinnon and a bolstered roster for next year, the 49ers are primed to break out next year if everything goes according to plan.
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