A preview of the San Francisco 49ers ahead of the 2018 season.
Check back every day for a new 2018 team preview in this year’s NFL power rankings countdown.
Today’s team is the San Francisco 49ers.
19. San Francisco 49ers
Keegan’s highest rated player: Weston Richburg, center
Biggest strength: Jimmy Garoppolo
Biggest weakness: Guard
Best offseason move: Extending Jimmy Garoppolo
Worst offseason move: Not finding long-term options at guard
Game to circle on calendar: Week 7, vs. Los Angeles Rams
Breakout candidate: Dante Pettis, wide receiver
Key players in contract years: Aldrick Robinson, Jonathan Cooper, Eli Harold, Jimmie Ward, Robbie Gould and Bradley Pinion
This will be the best offense the 49ers have had in a few years. The main reason for this is Jimmy Garoppolo, who excelled in the games he played in last season. The loss of Carlos Hyde won’t help, but new running back acquisition Jerick McKinnon is a versatile player with many intangibles.
Garoppolo is still a year or two away from being considered at top 10 quarterback, but expect him to still move in the right direction this season. Garoppolo is already polished as a passer, and he spent about three years learning from the best in New England. He will prove he is a franchise quarterback this season.
The 49ers lost Hyde in the offseason, which means they will be without a dominant workhorse back. McKinnon isn’t the same type of player as Hyde, as McKinnon excels more as a receiving threat, but this newfound versatility could help this offense. Don’t underestimate fullback Kyle Juszczyk; he will be one of the few fullback contributors across the NFL this season.
San Francisco’s receiving corps has the right mix of veteran and young talent. Pierre Garcon isn’t quite the player he was in the Robert Griffin III days back in Washington, but he will be a leader while also being a reliable receiving option.
A few other 49ers receivers will also be reliable contributors this season. Names such as Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson will help out on the receiving side, while also taking pressure off rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis, who was one of the best receivers in his draft class.
George Kittle is a reliable tight end. He had a solid rookie season and will look to build on that. Garrett Celek provides reliable depth at tight end, and will be a decent option to turn to if Kittle struggles in year two.
The 49ers’ offensive line should be stable at every position with the exception of guard. Joe Staley is still a reliable tackle, even though he will be 34 at the start of the regular season. Rookie offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey will excel at right tackle this season. New acquisition Weston Richburg will dominate at center as well.
The problem with this offensive line lies at both guard positions. I am not very impressed with Laken Tomlinson or Jonathan Cooper, and there are concerns about Joshua Garnett‘s health. This position will be a weak link for the 49ers this season, especially if Garnett’s health concerns linger into the regular season.
A lot of the 49ers’ early draft capital has been spent on defense in recent years, with first-round picks such as Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, but this defense still has a lot of work left to do.
San Francisco’s defensive line has three first-round picks on it, but it’s still underwhelming. The biggest difference-maker on the line will be Thomas, who could take a big second-year leap. Buckner will be a reliable contributor as well.
The 49ers’ linebacking corps will be strong, especially with Foster up the middle, although his suspension could lead to some issues at the position early in the season. The 49ers will also benefit from having Malcolm Smith finally healthy, as he missed all of last season with a pectoral injury. A guy on this team to watch early in the year with Foster out is rookie linebacker Fred Warner.
The team upgraded at cornerback when they signed Richard Sherman, but downgraded at safety when they couldn’t get a deal done with Eric Reid. The 49ers need to find another cornerback to pair with Sherman, as Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams are not reliable options at that spot.
The situation at safety is even worse without Reid; this team lacks talent at either position in the secondary.
Coaching staff/front office preview
I was skeptical when the 49ers first hired John Lynch as general manager, due to his inexperience as an executive, but so far he has proven everyone who doubted him wrong. Lynch fleeced New England in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, and his first two draft picks as general manger — Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster — have impressed. The 49ers are finally moving on the right track, and Lynch is a key reason for this.
Now he is showing his ability as a guru with Garoppolo, who excelled under Shanahan’s system last season. Shanahan is one of the brightest young minds in football, and it is only a matter of time before he becomes one of the best coaches in the game.
Overall outlook for 2018
This 49ers team will improve from previous seasons, but is still a year or two away from becoming serious playoff contenders.
20. Indianapolis Colts
21. Detroit Lions
22. Arizona Cardinals
23. Chicago Bears
24. Oakland Raiders
25. Baltimore Ravens
26. Washington Redskins
27. Cleveland Browns
28. Buffalo Bills
29. New York Jets
30. Cincinnati Bengals
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers