• Matt Barr

Finding Inspiration From Within: Comparing the 2018 49ers to the 2012 49ers

Image Credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press

Nearly six years ago, the San Francisco 49ers were preparing to battle the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Of the 53 players on the active Super Bowl roster, only Joe Staley and Garrett Celek remain a part of the franchise. For the fifth consecutive season, the 49ers have ended the season without a playoff berth. Here’s a look at how the 2018 49ers would stack up against the 2012 roster.


The 2012 Playoffs were an exhibition of QB Colin Kaepernick and his ability to take the league by storm. After torching the Packers in the divisional round, he led a huge comeback against the Atlanta Falcons to get the 49ers to the big game. His playstyle was new, and the 49ers were utilizing his legs as much as his arm to attain success. His backup was the former first overall pick Alex Smith who had his starting role usurped after he suffered a concussion. It was the best the 49ers’ quarterback room had looked since Steve Young was suiting up in red and gold.

The 2018 49ers quarterbacks are a mystery. An extremely tough pill to swallow for fans is that the 49ers really do not understand what they have in Jimmy Garoppolo. He has played less than 8 games and is coming off a complete ACL tear. Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard took over after Garoppolo went down and were both hit or miss. It remains to be seen if all three QBs will be brought back next season.

Advantage: Kaepernick and Smith by default

Running Backs

Frank Gore may go down as one of the best players in NFL history to not lift a Lombardi Trophy over his head. His stellar running and unmatched pass protection were pivotal in getting the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Bruce Miller rounded out the rest of the backfield and all played key roles down the stretch.

Jerick McKinnon was signed as a pricey free agent and didn’t see the field after he tore his ACL on the final walkthrough of the offseason. Matt Breida performed admirably all year but was also in and out of the lineup with a myriad of injuries. Kyle Juszczyk is the offensive weapon that Kyle Shanahan advertised when he was brought in prior to the 2017 season.

Advantage: The Inconvenient Truth is that Frank Gore gets the nod

Wide Receivers

Far and away the weakest group on the 2012 roster that trotted out Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins. Crabtree was the only legitimate and consistent target for Kaepernick while the rest of the group was underwhelming or past their prime.

One of the weaker groups for the 2018 team as well, this year the 49ers suited up Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor. Garcon has been a disappointment and the rest of the group struggled with injuries throughout the season. Pettis did return from injury to put together a solid rookie year. This group struggled as the quarterbacks struggled.

Advantage: Crabtree broke 1,100 receiving yards while no one in 2018 had more than 500

Tight Ends

Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker made for one of the best one-two punches at tight end in the league. Both could stretch the field vertically and blocked extremely well in the run game. That said, both players also struggled with drops.

George Kittle is arguably the best tight end in the league right now. He set the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season without much help around him in the passing game. Kittle is electric after the catch and logged multiple plays over 70 yards. His run blocking was also among the best from a tight end. Garrett Celek is a replaceable as a backup.

Advantage: Kittle had more yards than Davis and Walker combined with worse QB play

Offensive Line

The 2012 49ers’ OL was the stuff of legends. Hell, the San Francisco Zoo named a rhinoceros after RG Alex Boone. The group started all 19 games together and barely missed any snaps. They dictated how many games went in the trenches and dominated the line of scrimmage.

This year’s OL exceeded all expectations coming in. Staley is still a stalwart and Mike McGlinchey proved he was worth the ninth overall pick. Despite overperforming, they were still a middle of the road offensive line.

Advantage: 2012 by a landslide

Defensive Line

Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga were a group to be feared. Smith, “The Cowboy,” was Aaron Donald before Aaron Donald was in the league. He dominated tackles, guards and centers even through double and triple-teams. McDonald and Sopoaga were afterthoughts among one of the greatest front sevens in NFL history.

DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas all come with first round pedigrees but only Buckner was able to produce at a high level. D.J. Jones played admirably as the nose tackle after taking over for Earl Mitchell who has already been shown the door.

Advantage: Justin Smith is enough to carry this group


Patrick Willis. Navorro Bowman. Ahmad Brooks. Aldon Smith on the wagon. Enough said.

Fred Warner proved to be a draft steal when he led the 49ers with 124 combined tackles. Elijah Lee filled in after the Reuben Foster fiasco and played relatively well. Malcolm Smith was drastically overpaid for his production.

Advantage: Do you even have to ask?


The weakest portion of the Vic Fangio defense, the secondary relied on the pass rush to get home so that they would not be exposed. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner were the strength of the group. Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown did put together the best years of their careers in San Francisco but were still rather average.

Richard Sherman has crossed over from the Dark Side to join the 49ers and their young defensive backfield. Sherman played very well but the same can not be said for the rest of the group. Injuries plagued both the safety and cornerback positions and they were able to muster only two interceptions the whole season.

Advantage: The group that didn’t set the record for least interceptions in a season

Special Teams

David Akers had a big leg but continually struggled with accuracy and Andy Lee is the best punter in team history.

Robbie Gould is as automatic as it comes from a kicker and Bradley Pinion has a booming leg but is inconsistent.

Advantage: Akers missed way too many kicks. Gould takes this one for the 2018 squad.


Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman and Vic Fangio made up the core of a coaching staff that performed a lightning quick turnaround of a downtrodden franchise. Fangio was the head of a tenacious defense and Harbaugh used the read-option to his advantage. However, this offense will always be remembered for their play-calls from the five-yard line.

Kyle Shanahan has been a revelation of an offensive mind. He is innovative and knows how to maximize the potential out of his players. Robert Saleh brought in the Seattle defensive scheme, but it has not had the same success as the Pacific Northwest. Admittedly, these coaches inherited a roster with far less talent than Harbaugh and his staff.

Advantage: Vic Fangio’s defense more than covers Greg Roman’s anemic offense

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