San Francisco 49ers season preview: Shanahan should lead Niners to playoffs

Ever since offensive wizard Kyle Shanahan and ex-safety John Lynch arrived in the Bay there has been an optimistic aura surrounding the San Francisco 49ers.

Perhaps tied in to the way Shanahan plays football or the emergence of Jimmy Garoppolo or just the sunny California weather. However, after a rough second season which saw the Niners suffer heartbreaking injuries, the shine has somewhat drifted away from ‘Shana-Lynch’ and their venture in San Fran. Nevertheless, there are still many things to discuss and get excited about for Niner fans this upcoming season.

Offence

A top of every Niner fan’s wish list this year is for Jimmy Garoppolo to stay healthy. Garoppolo got off to a promising start last season and was leading a gutsy comeback against the Chiefs in Arrowhead before his ACL blew out. Garoppolo’s poise, lightning fast release and short to medium accuracy are perfect for Shanahan’s offence. At age 27, it is now time for Jimmy G to step into the role he’s been gearing up for his entire NFL career.

At wide-out the 49ers possess a litany of options but not a lot of versatility. Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne are all smaller receivers with explosive RAC ability (Run After Catch). Jalen Hurd is a larger, more versatile player who will see plenty of targets in the red zone due to his 6’3 frame.

George Kittle, arguably the best tight end in football, will be entering his third season in the NFL with hopes to build on his immense breakout year which included breaking the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season- 1,377.

The running-back position is a similar story. Each player holds the same archetype as the next.

Matt Breida, Jerick McKinnon, Raheem Mostert and new addition Tevin Coleman are all backs with top-notch speed and elusiveness, as well as the ability operate as pass catching third down backs. However, Jerick McKinnon could find himself a surprise cut candidate as problems with his knee persist into this upcoming season. Kyle Juszczyk will continue his role as best full back in the league.

The offensive line will continue to be middle of the pack with bright spots veteran Joe Staley and sophomore Mike McGlinchey returning at the tackle positions. The interior of the line is respectable with veterans Laken Tomlinson LG, Ben Garland C and Mike Person RG.


Defence

The 49ers front seven is much improved from last season.

DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Soloman Thomas all return along with new additions premium pass rusher Dee Ford, acquired in a trade with the Chiefs, and Nick Bosa – this year’s first round pick.

The Niner’s d-line now boasts four first round picks. Buckner is the stand out of the bunch, registering 12 sacks last season from the nose tackle position. Armstead is a beast in run defence. Thomas has shown flashes but has largely been played in the wrong position until this upcoming season.

The praise for Bosa coming out of training camp has been off the charts. If Bosa can stay healthy (due to miss the entire preseason) then there is no doubt he can take this league by storm.

At the linebacker position, sophomore Fred Warner will be taking over at MIKE (middle) linebacker, Warner has been showing real signs of becoming what Reuben Foster promised to be. Super Bowl 48 MVP Malcolm Smith will take over at the SAM (strong-side) position joined by new addition Kwon Alexander at the WILL-side (weak-side) linebacker role. Fifth round rookie Dre Greenlaw has impressed in camp and is sure to see meaningful snaps this season at SAM. Keep an eye out for Fred Warner and Greenlaw as breakout candidates at the linebacker position.

The strength and depth the 49ers hold at the d-lineman and linebacker positions unfortunately cannot be applied to the secondary. Richard Sherman returns but will be lining up alongside either Akhello Witherspoon who struggled in his second season or Jason Verrett, the highly skilled veteran with bones made out of glass.

At the safety position, Jaquiski Tartt is a definite starter for the SS role. Tartt is a discount version of Kam Chancellor who also struggles with injuries. At FS Adrian Colbert and Tarvarius Moore are battling for the starting spot. In Robert Saleh’s Seahawks inspired cover 3 defence, the lone high safety is key to the success of the scheme.

With the SS playing closer to the box, the FS will have both seams of the field to cover. Whereas both Moore and Colbert are athletic and hungry youngsters, their inexperience could be a major problem. It took someone with the pedigree of Earl Thomas for the cover 3 shell defence to be truly efficient in Seattle. Unfortunately, the Niners can’t boast that same luxury.

Head coach/schedule/division

Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius. There is no doubt about that. Any murmurings that Shanahan is on the ‘hot-seat’ should be immediately disregarded. Over half the NFL would kill to have Shanahan in their building. Shanahan’s play-action, pace and space based scheme is one of the most efficient in the NFL. He made Chad Kroeger look-a-like C.J. Beathard a decent back-up and undrafted Nick Mullens look like the 32nd best quarterback in the league. For the QB the read is already made for them, eliminating half the work. For the running back the holes are carefully cut open for them due to the zone rushing scheme.

Notable victories Shanahan spear-headed without Garoppolo include a 34-3 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football, as well as a home field victory against fierce rivals the Seattle Seahawks, a feat not accomplished since 2014. Shanahan also was responsible for getting George Kittle, his only offensive weapon at that point in the season, 1,377 receiving yards on the year.

The Niners schedule is a difficult one. The easier teams on the Niner’s schedule include the Buccaneers, Bengals, Cardinals and Redskins. Tougher teams include: Steelers, Browns, Rams x2, Panthers, Seahawks x2, Packers, Ravens and Falcons. Tough.

Inside the NFC West, the Rams are still top dog coming off a Super Bowl appearance. The Seahawks continue their semi-rebuild but are always dangerous under coach Pete Carroll and QB1 Russell Wilson. The Cardinals are expected to be division pushovers with their first year QB and head coach. The Niners should come second in the NFC West.

Conclusion

Your best ability is availability. This rings true for a lot of NFL teams, but none so much as the San Francisco 49ers.

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This will be the second consecutive season the 49ers will be a lot of fans’ and analysts dark horse pick for the play offs and with good reason. This is a talented roster with tonnes of upside, however, nothing is guaranteed in the NFL and if this team is once again snake-bitten by injuries then 4-12 is a real possibility. With the tough teams on the schedule, for the Niners to succeed they have to remain healthy.

Leaving this season preview on a positive note, a lot of older Niner fans will have the memories of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana lifting Lombardi’s echoing around in their minds when looking at Shanahan and Garoppolo.

Likelihood of making the playoffs: Likely

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About Matthew Bowen 55 Articles
Matthew is a history student at Swansea University. He is an avid supporter of the San Francisco 49ers and Liverpool FC. Twitter: @MatthewJBowen7

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