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The San Francisco 49ers’ rebuild was never intended to be a quick turnaround. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were given matching six-year contracts to take a team with very little talent and turn them into a contender. At the end of the 2017 season, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s dominance accelerated the timetable and his ACL tear in 2018 slammed on the brakes. All of a sudden, all the faults that Garoppolo and the finely tuned offense seemed to cover up were glaring. Now that the regime has had three full offseasons and Garoppolo is set to return, what 2018 weaknesses now appear to be strengths?
When asked about why the team had not pursued edge rushers aggressively before the 2018 season, Kyle Shanahan infamously said, “You’ve got to be pretty good to beat out [DL Cassius] Marsh.” This proved to be a disastrous line of thinking as the 49ers defense was unable to generate much of a pass rush outside of DL DeForest Buckner. With 12 sacks on the year, Buckner was responsible for nearly a third of the team’s sack total. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he was facing consistent double teams due to the lack of pressure off the edge.
2019 should change that dramatically as John Lynch was extremely aggressive in the acquisition of former Kansas City Chiefs DE Dee Ford and the drafting of DE Nick Bosa. Ford racked up 13 sacks and led the NFL with seven forced fumbles while Bosa was considered by many to be the best player available in the 2019 NFL Draft. Opposing teams now must gameplan for how to handle a defensive line laden with former first-round picks and talent across every position. QBs will no longer have extended amount of time to pick apart the secondary, which will also benefit the young core of safeties and cornerbacks.
Running Back Depth
Jerick McKinnon was to be a major focal point of Shanahan’s offense last season. He was brought in on a lucrative free agent deal to act not only as a running back but also as a pass catcher. When McKinnon tore his ACL before Week 1, the 49ers were forced to rely on a crop of unproven or over-the-hill running backs. Matt Breida proved to be extremely competent in the outside zone scheme and Raheem Mostert rose above his usual special-teams role to morph into a capable back. As the season rolled along though, injuries stacked up, veteran Alfred Morris showed he was not up to the task and the lack of talented depth reared its ugly head.
Fast forward to now and the 49ers depth chart at running back looks very different. The returns of McKinnon and Mostert will be welcomed with open arms by the offense. They also added former Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman to the mix. Coleman comes with previous experience playing in Kyle Shanahan’s system and is the versatile type of weapon that he covets. A three-headed monster in Breida, McKinnon and Coleman is possibly the deepest such backfield in the league.
Wide Receiver Depth
It is no secret that the 49ers have lacked a true alpha wide receiver in their prime since T.O. left town in 2003. Anquan Boldin was the closest to being that player but he was beyond his prime years by the time he suited up in red and gold. 2018 was much of the same as the previous 15 seasons. Injuries hobbled multiple players, including Pierre Garcon and Trent Taylor, rendering both ineffective for much of the season. Marquise Goodwin had to step away from the team to attend to personal matters. This left rookie Dante Pettis and second-year undrafted free agent Kendrick Bourne as the mainstays in the offense. The carousel at quarterback did not do any of the receivers any favors, either.
Outside of the pass rush, receiver was the most focused-on position for the front office during this offseason. Jordan Matthews was brought in on a one-year prove-it deal after some inconsistent play in Philadelphia. Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd were also drafted in the second and third rounds, respectively, of the 2019 NFL draft. With Trent Taylor already impressing in OTAs, the 49ers are going to be forced to make some tough decisions when it comes to trimming the roster. It would not be shocking to see any of the receivers that are let go landing with another team and garnering playing time. This is not something that the Bay Area has seen in many a year.
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