The 49ers head into this coming NFL season with a newfound energy, expecting a real change in their organizational trajectory under the leadership of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. Improvements and breakouts are expected across the roster, which could lead to awards and recognition being dished out in Santa Clara.
Here's a look at who may be in line for NFL awards and recognition by year's end...
Rushing Title: Carlos Hyde
Under Shanahan’s nine seasons as an offensive coordinator, five players have finished as top-10 rushers; two seasons were top-5 (Alfred Morris, second in 2012 & fourth in 2013). Hyde, who turns 26 before Week 3 of the regular season, is the best running back prospect Shanahan has ever inherited. Slimmed down, in a perfect scheme, and as motivated as ever, if Hyde can remain healthy, he could be poised for a massive year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Reuben Foster
Linebackers have the easier of the defensive transitions going from college to the pros; akin to the running back on offense. Foster, a top-five prospect out of Alabama with an elite NFL ceiling, has a chance to lead the league in tackles, and make splash plays in coverage and on pass-rush snaps. If he stuffs the stat sheet and helps restore the identity of the 49ers’ once-vaunted defense, Foster could earn this award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Solomon Thomas
Thomas was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and the second defender taken, only after Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett. So far, he’s been every bit the player he was at Stanford, showing up big in training camp and in Week 1 of preseason. Thomas has looked unblockable, regardless of where he’s lined up. If this carries over into the season, he may have a Pro Bowl caliber year and take home the DROY award.
Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan
Rookie head coaches are always in contention for this award, simply because they have a chance to grab people’s attention with a turnaround – or at the very least exceeding expectations with a team that had previously been stuck in a rut. Shanahan has as good a chance as any rookie coach in recent memory. The 49ers offense has been drowning for years now; and he comes in with a chance to bring functionality back to San Francisco and get career years out of several players with his lauded scheme.
Comeback Player of the Year: NaVorro Bowman
Bowman, a four-time All-Pro linebacker, only started four games last year before tearing his Achilles tendon against the Cowboys on October 2. He still tallied 24 tackles, a sack and an interception in that short span, post-multi-ligament tear. While Bowman may not be the player he once was, he’s still a top-5 inside linebacker in the NFL. And with a new defensive cast around the veteran to alleviate some of the burden, Bowman may remind the AP voters of his greatness in 2017.
Media courtesy Getty Images, Press Democrat, ESPN, AP