The 49ers are days away from opening their second season under the watches of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. With cuts finalized on Saturday, and another layer of talent added through free agency and the draft, their 2018 roster is now set and open to evaluation. Following up on last year’s predictions, we're back to float some guesses on who the outstanding performers may be, and how San Francisco will finish this season.
The predictions include Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and of course, MVP. We’re also bringing back the most improved, comeback player and sixth man awards.
The "value"of these selections is based on snaps, positional importance, depth, and projected volume/impact.
OROY: Mike McGlinchey, OT
While Dante Pettis seems like the popular pick here, McGlinchey is going to be a Week 1 starter and come up with the most snaps of the rookie class. And judging by his reputation and play so far—plus the fact that he'll give Jimmy Garoppolo the time he needs in the pocket and open up the run game—he’s likely to be the 49ers' most valuable rookie. McGlinchey's off-the-ball impact throughout the season should ultimately be greater than the contributions of Pettis or Richie James.
DROY: Fred Warner, LB
This isn’t a stretch as Warner was the 49ers' first defensive selection and a top-75 pick in the 2018 draft. He's looking like part of the Week 1 starting LB group in Rueben Foster's absence, and it's very possible he doesn't get knocked down the depth chart after that. Warner looked like a plug-and-play option for them in preseason, showing up each play like an instinctive linebacker would. The rookie was sound defending the run, pass and finishing tackles. His ability in coverage will also keep him on the field this season when the 49ers are in sub packages, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he had a turnover or two. All in all, picking up the slack for Foster and potentially making an impact in 16(+) games, Warner should be their most valuable defensive rookie.
OPOY: Marquise Goodwin, WR
All signs point to Goodwin lighting the NFL on fire with Jimmy Garoppolo this year. The ball is going to be in the air a lot, and with their chemistry, Goodwin appears to be emerging as the go-to on offense. He arrived as a No. 2 and the primary deep threat, but he’s looking like an all-around playmaker and top wide receiver for the 49ers; one that can high point, catch passes over the middle and be used out of the backfield on some of Shanahan's trickier plays. He was third in yards per reception last year (17.2), and picked up right where he left off this preseason, looking near-unguardable at times. Goodwin truly could be set up for a major year.
DPOY: DeForest Buckner, DL
If a homegrown All-Pro finally emerges from the roster this year, it's likely to be Buckner. He's among the NFL's most physically gifted and dominant specimens, and he's gotten better from a technical standpoint each season. He's the type of player whose peak is "unstoppable." This is his second year in the same defense, the 49ers are experimenting with him out at defensive end, and also strategizing ways to get him 1-on-1s with the help of new pass-rush specialist Chris Kiffin. That, plus the fact that his contract is coming up, and this could wind up being a career year for Buckner, potentially giving the 49ers their first double-digit sack season from a defender since 2012.
MVP: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
The 49ers will go as far as Garoppolo takes them. He's the face of the franchise, one of seven NFL quarterbacks with a $100 million contract, and Shanahan has an advanced system and likes to air it out. The 49ers in 2018 also have eight games against top-15 defenses from last year; games that will for the most part come down to the quarterback. His performances will dictate the outcome of most games and thus the season. That said, the upside of Garoppolo—in this offensive system, with this cast, alongside Shanahan—is not just 49ers MVP, but potentially puts him in the mix for NFL MVP.
Most Improved Player: Solomon Thomas, DL
Comeback Player of the Year: Joshua Garnett, G
Sixth Man Award: Dante Pettis, WR/R
Pro Bowlers: Joe Staley, Richard Sherman, Reuben Foster, Kyle Juszczyk, Jimmy Garoppolo
Offense Rank: 8th
Defense Rank: 15th
Media courtesy AP Images, San Francisco 49ers