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The 2018 season was not on in which the San Francisco 49ers quenched their quest for a sixth Super Bowl trophy and started their John Lynch-, Kyle Shanahan-, Jimmy Garoppolo-fueled dynasty-of-the-decade run. Many fans truly believed this team would be Super Bowl-bound, but those dreams were shaken when Jerick McKinnon stepped on an invisible landmine in practice and Garoppolo’s knee injury in Week 3 against the Chiefs guaranteed that the team would not be climbing that stairway to heaven in 2018.
With that said, the 49ers did play a season, and some players who the team expected to depend on to be leaders faltered on the field and may just watch their team draft their replacement next weekend. The NFL is rough like that. Some believe that McKinnon may have already been replaced due to the signing of Tevin Coleman.
Who underperformed enough in 2018 to see their spot in the starting lineup disappear? Here is a handful:
It’s pretty obvious that Smith has not earned the contract he signed to come across the Bay to Santa Clara. After an injury redshirt his first year for the 49ers, he was not-so-quietly ineffective last year. He put up a PFF grade of 63.4, which put him as the 53rd-ranked linebacker in the NFL. His big problem was his coverage, which PFF graded at 52.5. If Smith plays for the 49ers in 2019, it will be at the Sam LB position, after the addition of Kwon Alexander at Will and Fred Warner Jr.’s emergence as the team’s present and future at Sam LB. The only thing that might keep Smith’s replacement from being drafted next weekend is the shallow talent pool at LB in the draft and the team’s needs at other positions.
Anyone Who Played Free Safety
Everyone knows what happened during free agency. The big addition at free safety did not happen, and the team re-signed Jimmie Ward, a less-than-exciting happening for the 49ers defense in 2019. This position was the kiss of death last season, with Adrian Colbert, Jimmie Ward, D.J.Reed Jr., and Antoine Exum injured or looking completely lost before succumbing to injury. Colbert was the leader in the house and played banged up the whole time he was on the field, and Lynch has stated that he believes in Colbert, but it was right after he stated that he was confident in Ward playing safety as well. Ward fared worse than Colbert, and Reed played better at nickel cornerback. The team could honestly believe in Colbert being that guy long-term, or they could be eyeing Nasir Adderley out of Delaware.
Remember after the 2017 season when everyone thought that Goodwin would take off as the 49ers’ future number-one wide receiver? It feels like a long time ago doesn’t it? Between getting dinged up physically and the absolutely crushing personal tragedies he endured in 2018, his ascension to WR1 has stalled. The Niners drafted Dante Pettis before last year, but it was thought he was brought in to compliment the WR corps that was already in place. After his nearly 1,000-yard season in 2017, Goodwin put up 23 catches 395 yards and 4 touchdowns on 43 targets in 11 games last year.
This has led Shanahan to say that he sees Goodwin filling a lesser role, the Taylor Gabriel role as it’s been called since Shanahan’s days in Atlanta as their offensive coordinator. He has also stated that he isn’t happy with the current state of the WR room. The signing of Jordan Matthews wasn’t for WR1 competition, but it was competition for the Gabriel role. With the plethora of WR the team is bringing in this week for pre-draft visits are all top-quality WRs. Goodwin has definitely already been replaced in the WR1 conversation and it is expected that the Niners draft their new number-one next weekend. Goodwin is actually someone who could possibly be packaged away with another pick in a trade up scenario next weekend, possibly a trade back into the second round to draft his replacement.
Richburg was one of the two big free-agent signings last offseason, and at the time, Shanahan stated that he and McKinnon were the only targets the 49ers went after, meaning he was hand picked to pay center in his offense. His first year in the offense earned him a 51.9 PFF grade, which ranked him as the 33rd-best center in the league. Remember there are only 32 teams and one center playing at a time, meaning a backup center somewhere outperformed Shanahan’s hand picked center. This was a huge drop off from his last full season with the Giants, when he was the highest rated center in the league. The only way he is replaced next weekend is if the Niners draft Garrett Bradbury, or if they make a trade with another team for their current center. Richburg will most likely be starting at center for the 49ers in 2019, but he made this list due to his extremely poor play in 2018.
Solomon Thomas/Arik Armstead
If Quinnen Williams is the number-two pick in the draft for the 49ers next weekend, one of these two players are probably seeing themselves on the trade ticker just like Trent Brown did last year. Due to contract status, Armstead is the more likely individual to be shipped away, but Thomas has performed at a lower level than Armstead since being drafted third overall by the 49ers in 2017. There is room for both of these individuals should the team go with a defensive end/edge rusher at two like Nick Bosa or trade down and pick Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell, or Montez Sweat. These two players will most likely be filling the DT position next to DeForest Buckner, but their play hasn’t kept the team from contemplating drafting Williams as a replacement either (or both).
Honorable Mention: Mike Person, Ahkello Witherspoon, Trent Taylor
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