The 49ers are reborn, entering the 2017 season with a roster unrecognizable to most die hards. But with that stale aura from years past now out of the building, and a mix of fresh blood and new ideas, there are opportunities and breakouts among us. New players and holdover players, rookies and veterans, first-round picks and undrafted bodies, all have a shot to get on the national radar this year.
Given what we've seen in the preseason, and what we've learned about the new offensive and defensive systems, we can gauge how this team might do, as well as who might do well on it. The following is a list of predictions for the 49ers' 2017 campaign, including awards, ranks and record.
OROY: Trent Taylor, WR
This is going to be a close battle with George Kittle and Matt Breida in the fold, but with the vacation of the primary slot role with Jeremy Kerley’s ousting, and the overall low emphasis and time share at tight end in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Taylor is in a position to make serious contributions right away. The rookie from Louisiana Tech, who led the NCAA in yards last year, could finish in the top-three in catches for the 49ers this year. Added to which, Taylor is one of the team’s primary return men, and could be dynamic on special teams.
DROY: Reuben Foster, ILB
This is set to be a two-man race; Foster or defensive lineman Solomon Thomas are sure to claim this award. But with Foster being in more of a space role with expansive duties as a linebacker, he’ll finish with more tackles and likely more splash plays (unless Thomas goes off in the sack category and has a freaky rookie year). Foster was a pick machine in camp, and nearly intercepted Alex Smith in the end zone in his first ever series in his NFL preseason debut. He’s going to be more of a consistent highlight reel, while Thomas does the dirty work in the trenches and logs the occasional sack.
OPOY: Pierre Garcon, WR
Garçon could have 130 catches this year. It was very clear in preseason that Hoyer likes him and that he provided a lot of easy high-percentage throws for the quarterback. Garçon ran a lot of quick, in-breaking routes, working the middle of the field. It was all timing for Hoyer, and he appeared comfortable. With Garçon being the No. 1 WR and playing a tight end type role, he could have a big year, potentially leading in receptions, receiving yards, yards after catch, first downs picked up, touchdown receptions, third-down conversions – he’ll do it all for the passing game.
DPOY: Eric Reid, S
Foster is a real candidate for this award, but three of the most recently matured, entering-their-prime type players on this defense are DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Reid. And the latter looks like the most important to this defense and most improved overall. Reid was everywhere this preseason, in on almost every tackle, and making his presence felt as an extra man in the box. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has also revealed a proclivity for blitzing defensive backs—he even sent Reid on a play that resulted in a sack.
The Pro Bowl banger is a strong candidate to lead the team in tackles and forced fumbles, while adding strikes to the sack and interception columns.
MVP: Carlos Hyde, RB
This is a boom-or-bust pick with his injury history.
But Hyde could have the biggest statistical year relative to his position this season. Running backs have had a wealth of success in Shanahan’s offense. He had five top-10 rushers in nine years as a play-caller, and none of those players were originally billed to have Hyde’s potential. Shanahan turned third-rounder Steve Slaton into a sixth leading rusher; he turned sixth-round pick Alfred Morris into the league’s second-leading rusher in Adrian Peterson’s 2k season; and fourth-round selection Devonta Freeman recently finished in the top 10 twice.
Hyde, a 2014 second-rounder, has very positive metrics to date, looks great when he’s on the field, and has yet to break out. And beyond the rushing, his role is set to expand into the 49ers’ aerial attack. If he has 1,500+ all-purpose yards, like he is capable of doing this year, there is no doubt Hyde should be the team’s MVP.
Most Improved Player: Aaron Lynch, EDGE
Comeback Player of the Year: NaVorro Bowman, ILB
Sixth Man Award: Matt Breida, RB
Pro Bowlers: Joe Staley, DeForest Buckner, Reuben Foster, Kyle Juszczyk
Offense Rank: 23rd
Defense Rank: 15th
Media courtesy AP, YouTube, SF Examiner