A little more than halfway through the season, it’s safe to say the 49ers’ 2018 campaign hasn’t gone as planned. Finishing last season on a five-game winning streak, there were legitimate expectations San Francisco would compete for a playoff spot this year. Injuries mostly derailed those plans, but the games still need to be played.
The bright side of such a dark season is the coaches would be able to take a good look at and develop their younger players. With the playoffs just about officially out of reach for the 2-8 squad, head coach Kyle Shanahan has said the final half of the season will be for evaluation and to see who will be on the team for 2019.
So after 10 games, here’s my evaluation for the team so far.
The 49ers have had three quarterbacks start for them this year, and none of them have exactly shined. Yes, that means Jimmy Garoppolo, too. Garoppolo only played in three games, and he never completely showed the magic he displayed the previous season. That’s not to say he played poorly or that he wouldn’t have settled in and improved as the season went on, but we can only go off of what we saw before he got hurt. And that was some pretty average QB play.
Admittedly, the majority of this grade comes from C.J. Beathard. Mainly because he’s played the majority of the season (6 G, 5 starts). Beathard has some flashes of competent quarterback play, like for three quarters against the Packers. But he is wildly inconsistent and a sack-taking turnover machine. While he has good games, he is only 1-9 in his career with a plethora of game-losing turnovers. Beathard is a decent backup for a game or two, but he’ll probably never be the guy you depend on to win you games.
Nick Mullens has two games under his belt, and has been serviceable. However, both of his starts came against two of the very worst teams in the league in the Raiders and Giants, so we still don’t know exactly how good he is. Mullens' next game after the bye is against Tampa Bay, and they are giving up a league-worst 32 points per game. He won’t face a true test until the next week after against the Seahawks on the road.
The 49ers have the league’s fourth-best rushing attack at 134 yards per game. This is without their big-free agent signing, Jerick McKinnon. After McKinnon went down, the 49ers signed Alfred Morris, who looked to be the lead back after playing well in the preseason. It turns out that Morris has been mostly ineffective and Matt Breida has been the bell-cow for the 49ers.
Despite constant nagging injuries, Breida has been one of the 49ers’ best players this season. He is third in the league averaging 5.6 yards per carry, while having 40 and 19 more carries than the first and second best, respectively. And before breaking his arm against the Raiders, Raheem Mostert was beginning to come into his own for the first time in his career. He gained 250 of his 261 yards this season in his last four games.
Kyle Juszcyzk is in a league of his own. Both on the 49ers and in the NFL. While most of the league has gone away from fullbacks, the 49ers have embraced theirs, and made him a vital piece of their offense.
Juszcyzk is actually fourth on the team in receiving with 265 yards and one TD. That says more about the quality of receivers the 49ers have, but more on that later. That still shouldn’t take away from what Juszcyzk has done this season.
Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person, Mike McGlinchey. For the first time since the Jim Harbaugh 49ers, the offensive line is not a weakness on the team. On paper, they’re giving up the fifth-most sacks in the league at 31, but some of that can be attributed to Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard holding onto the ball for too long.
They are also allowing the RBs to run for the 4th-most yards in the league. Even with the amount of injuries they’ve suffered on the line, they’ve still been able to play above average as a unit.
The 49ers drafted McGlinchey in the first round this year, and he has been worth the pick and then some. It seems like they drafted a clone of Joe Staley both in play and personality. They also went out and signed Richburg in free agency, making him a top-paid center. And while he has struggled, as a unit they have been playing relatively well.
Compared to the rest of the team, the OL is one of the best groups on the roster.
A C- is a generous grade for this group. But due to the copious amount of injuries they’ve had to deal with, it’s only fair to be a little lenient.
The team's No. 1, Pierre Garçon, was supposed to be the sure-handed veteran that was a safety net for the 49ers’ young quarterbacks. Instead this year he’s had problems with drops and staying on the field. And with all this, he’s still leading the WRs in receptions with 24. That tells us everything we need to know.
Marquise Goodwin has been doing exactly what he was brought in to do. He’s stretching the field and taking the top off the defense. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t done it quite enough. Goodwin only has 17 catches on the season, but is leading the WRs in yards with 339. Goodwin can’t seem to stay healthy and be on the field enough to have an effect on defenses.
Kendrick Bourne has been decent for an undrafted free agent, and probably has played the best when looking at the expectations of each receiver. Dante Pettis has been hurt and somewhat of a disappointment for a second-round pick when he is on the field. Trent Taylor has also had some injury problems, but has been almost nonexistent when he is on the field.
The 49ers are definitely going to need to look to upgrade this position in the offseason.
When I say “tight ends,” I mean George Kittle. Kittle has been an absolute beast this season. He has twice as many receptions as the next best on the team, and has 436 more yards than the next highest receiver. It might be fair to say that they’re force-feeding him the ball, but with how good he is, it makes sense. Kittle is next in line to be one of the elite tight ends in the NFL.
The other TEs on the roster have been all but nonexistent. The only thing Garrett Celek has done that I can think of is allowing the ball to bounce off his shoulder on the goal line, right into the hands of a defender. Third-stringer Ross Dwelley only has one catch the entire season, so he hardly factors in either.
In what was supposed to be the strength of the team, the DL has not lived up to expectations. The only player that is playing how they’re supposed to is DeForest Buckner. Buckner already has a career high in sacks with six. He’s also leading the team. The next most is Ronald Blair and Cassius Marsh with 3.5 each.
As a team, the 49ers have 25 sacks. That’s good enough to be tied for 12th in the league with four other teams. But, if you take out the Raiders game, in which the 49ers got eight sacks, that puts them at 17, which knocks them all the way down to 28th. The 49ers are above average when it comes to rush defense, as they are allowing 13th-best 102 yards per game.
With three first-round picks on the DL, the 49ers should be better than they are. Arik Armstead is having a decent year, but isn’t near the game-wrecker the 49ers originally hoped he'd be. Solomon Thomas might be the worst offender because he was a top-three pick. It doesn’t help that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is playing him out of position, but Thomas still needs to play better.
The 49ers don't have a single player that can consistently rush the passer from the edge. Dekoda Watson, Marsh, and Blair are all average to below-average players, to be quite frank. In no way can they be your best pass rushers and expect to be successful.
Fred Warner has been a pleasant surprise at the MIKE. For a third-round rookie, he’s got a lot of responsibility. He is still making rookie mistakes and not exactly taking the league by storm, but he has been solid and should improve as he gets more experience. He is leading the team in tackles with 77, which also good for ninth in the league.
Reuben Foster has not been able to build off his impressive rookie season. He was one of the best linebackers in the league last year, but has ran into quite a sophomore slump. He has been playing injured, which can explain a lot, but he still hasn’t looked the same. The 49ers need him to get healthy and return to his rookie form next season.
Malcolm Smith has finally gotten on the field. He just hasn’t been very good, and definitely hasn’t lived up to the contract the 49ers gave him. San Francisco will undoubtedly look to upgrade the SAM position in the offseason.
The only reason why this grade isn’t a D or an F is because of Richard Sherman. He is singlehandedly holding up this secondary. There were a lot of questions about Sherman turning 30 and coming off an Achilles injury, but he's answered all those questions with stellar play. Any secondary with Sherman in it doesn’t deserve lower than a C.
The other side of the field has been a revolving door of mediocre play. Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward, Greg Mabin, or whoever else have all been below average to awful. Teams don’t even need to throw to Sherman’s side when they know the other side is wide open or the corner will commit a penalty. It’s tough to play well and get a rhythm going when you’re constantly getting subbed out for someone else, so it’s understandable why some of the other corners might be frustrated. But one of these guys needs to step up and say “this spot is mine.”
K’Waun Willams has been average as the nickel corner. You don’t hear his name called a lot, which is a good thing for a cornerback, but he also hasn’t made very many plays this season.
In 10 games this season, the 49ers only have two interceptions. Two. Only the Buccaneers have fewer. That is unacceptable and pitiful. This very problem is confounded by the D-line not getting enough pressure, so it’s just one big mess on the defensive side of the ball.
Again, another revolving door of mediocrity. Injuries have struck the defensive backfield pretty hard, but no matter who is playing, they have been lackluster. Jaquiski Tartt can’t seem to stay on the field, and even when he has been, he hasn’t played up to expectations.
Same for free safety Adrian Colbert, who regressed in six starts this year before landing on IR. His season has arguably been the biggest letdown, due to his play last year and positional importance. It’s not his fault other people started hyping him up and expectations grew, but it's important to remember he was a seventh round pick for a reason. Don’t be surprised if the 49ers look for his replacement next year, whether it be in free agency or the draft.
Special Teams: A
Robbie Gould has been his usual automatic self this year. In a league where a good kicker has become almost invaluable, he’s been one of the best, going 21/22 on the year.
Bradley Pinion has been pretty average, but that’s all you really need out of a punter.
The 49ers as a team have been up and down, but mostly down. But despite the injuries and low level of play across the board, they have been in a lot of games. Learning how to finish is one of the last things bad teams learn before becoming contenders. You can’t expect a team that loses their first-string QB and RB early in the season to compete, and the 49ers have still fought hard all season. They are still making the same mistakes young, bad teams make, and the coaches can only hope the players learn from them.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will be looking to upgrade a lot of these positions in the offseason, and they have the cap space to do it. Perhaps next year with everyone healthy, they’ll be able to make a push and compete for the playoffs.
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