The last two decades have been tough for 49ers fans. Since 1999, San Fran had two mini-runs where they made the playoff five times (2001, 2002, 2011, 2012, and 2013) with one Super Bowl appearance. Over this stretch, the 49ers have had eight head coaches. They’ve finished last in the NFC West in each of their last three seasons with a combined 13-35 record. Kyle Shanahan earned his first NFL coaching job after his success running the Falcons’ offense in 2016. He went 6-10 last year. Kyle has ten years of experience as an offensive coordinator while being in the NFL for 14 seasons.
Last year San Francisco moved to 12th in offensive yards after finishing 31st in 2015 and 2016. They scored 331 points (20th), which was only a slight gain over the previous season (309 – 27th). Shanahan will run the offense for the second straight season after helping Atlanta score the most points in the NFL in 2016 (540).
The most significant area of growth in 2017 came on the defensive side of the ball. The 49ers allowed 97 points fewer than 2016 (480 – 32nd) while moving to 25th in points allowed (383) and 24th in yards allowed. Robert Saleh returns for a second season at the defensive coordinator, which was a step up in job after spending the previous three years as the linebacker’s coach for the Jaguars. Saleh has 12 years of coaching experience in the NFL.
The first order of business in the offseason was upgrading the pass-catching ability at running back. San Fran released RB Carlos Hyde while signing RB Jerick McKinnon. Hyde fits the volume/grinder mode. The 49ers hope McKinnon upgrades the explosiveness in the passing game with some value on early downs.
CB Richard Sherman may be near the end of his career, but he’ll be an upgrade to the 49ers secondary. San Fran gave CB Leon Hall his walking papers after failing to live up to his previous skill set over the nine games in a limited role.
San Francisco added C Weston Richburg and G Jonathan Cooper to the offensive line while moving on from G Brandon Fusco. Richburg flashed up in 2015 in all areas, but he missed 12 games last year due to a severe concussion. Cooper has never been a player with winning success in the NFL. Fusco has had an up and down career in the NFL. When at his best, he tends to be league average.
The 49ers brought in Jeff Locke to take over the punting duties. Backup TE Logan Paulson found a new home in Atlanta.
All other moved came at the defensive end position. San Francisco lost DE Tank Carradine and DE Aaron Lynch while taking a dance with DE Jeremiah Attaochu. Carradine was a rotational player with his best success coming in run support. Lynch missed 18 games over the last two seasons after posting 38 tackles and 6.5 sacks with the 49ers in 2015. Attaochu struggled with injuries in the previous two seasons after showing upside in 2015 (55 tackles and six sacks). Attaochu is a former second-round draft pick (2014).
San Fran came out of the 2018 NFL Draft with nine new additions to their roster.
In the first round, the 49ers beefed up their offensive line with T Mike McGlinchey. He has the foundation skill set to be an edge in both the run game and in pass protection. McGlinchey plays with vision with a strong base in his technique. His only early concern is his ability to defeat power players, which will come with more strength and development in his lower half of his body.
The 49ers added two wide receivers in the draft – Dante Pettis (2nd) and Richie James (7th).
Pettis has a volume skill set thanks to his plus route running and reliable hands. His lack of size (6’1″ and 186 lbs.) invites failure vs. press coverage plus some injury risk if asked to do a heavy workload over the middle of the field. He projects as a slot receiver with upside in the return game. Dante will be dangerous in the open field even with questions about his deep speed.
James has a frail look to him based on his size (5’10” and 183 lbs.) and weakness at the NFL combined in the bench press (six reps). His short areas quickness is a positive creating a winning edge off the snap. Richie needs to fine-tune his route running while adding more strength to help win battles against CBs in press coverage.
All other picks in this year’s draft were dictated toward improving the defense. San Francisco added six players to their defense – LB Fred Warner, S Tarvarius Moore, DE Kentavius Street, CB D.J. Reed, S Marcell Harris, and DT Jullian Taylor.
Warner will upgrade the pass coverage at linebacker while coming to the NFL with vision and an excellent feel for the game. His quickness is a plus while lacking the bulk to be an impact player against the run. Fred may be on the sidelines on early downs while needing to improve his motivation on more plays.
Moore may have been overlooked by many teams in this year’s draft. His experience is relatively short, but his talent has intriguing upside thanks to elite speed and coverage skill for the safety position. Tarvarius will have a learning curve in the NFL while needing to get stronger to improve his success vs. the run. His vision will be tested early in the pros due to overthinking when playing off the ball.
Street paved his way to the NFL with his strength. His speed and quickness limit his play ability to early downs against the run. Some offenses in the NFL will use his desire to win with contact to their advantage with delays or screens where his range will be exposed. Last year he blew out his ACL in April leading to his falling in the draft and setting up his debut in 2019.
Reed is another undersized player (5’9” and 188 lbs.) who needs to get stronger to have success in the NFL. His game is built to have an edge in coverage while offering playmaking skills and value in the return game. His motor runs hot while carrying fire in his game in coverage, but he’ll be limited to a slot corner at the next level.
Harris tore his Achilles last year while owning a short resume of starting playing time at Florida. His build (6’1” and 216 lbs.) has an NFL feel while expecting to help in run support. His change of direction speed and coverage skills could be at risk with the 49ers. Marcell will have the most value moving toward the line of scrimmage with questions if asked to cover in the deep passing game.
Taylor has a history of injuries in college, which limited his playing time. His success is built on power, but he lacks the base to handle in the interior of the line vs. players with more mass. Not quite a foundation run defender with limited upside in the pass rush. His best asset will be his ability to disrupt play development.
The 49ers finished 21st in rushing yards (1,662) with 15 rushing TDs and eight runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.1 yards per carry with 25.5 attempts per game.
It’s hard to believe San Fran ranked 9th in the NFL in passing yards (3,925) when considering their talent at WR in 2017. They did struggle to throw TDs (15) with just as many Ints (15). The 49ers had 14 plays over 40 yards, which was third highest total in the league. Their offensive line allowed 43 sacks and 116 QB hits.
LT Joe Staley has a long resume of success in the NFL after getting drafted in the first round in 2007. His game did fade in 2016 after four great seasons, but he regained his elite form last year. Joe played at a high-level in both run and pass blocking. He’ll start 2018 at age 34.
LG Laken Tomlinson showed growth in his third season in the NFL, but he still ranked below the league average with most of his failure coming in pass protection. His game was a liability in all areas in 2015 and 2016 after being drafted in the first round in 2015 by the Lions. San Fran thought enough about his game to sign him to a three-year extension in March.
C Weston Richburg started his career at left guard for the Giants in 2014 after they selected in the second round. He made 31 starts at center in 2015 and 2016 where he had the most success in 2015. He missed 12 games last year with a severe concussion. His best value tends to come in pass protection.
RG Joshua Garnett made 11 starts in his rookie season in 2016 after the 49ers drafted him in the first round, but he struggled in all areas. Garnett is a pure power player who will have the most value in a power run game. He has limitation in pass protection due to questionable foot speed and athletic ability Garnett missed all of 2017 with a knee injury that required surgery last August. Joshua has a lot to prove in his third year in the NFL.
RT Mike McGlinchey will move into the starting line in his rookie season. He should be the future replacement to Joe Staley at left tackle. McGlinchey will upgrade the offensive line in all areas while still having to prove he can handle power defenders.
Based on draft value, San Fran has talent at every slot in their starting lineup on the offensive line. Even with name value, this group still has to live up to expectations. Both tackles will be an edge, and Richburg should be better with the 49ers if he can stay healthy. The key to their upside will be the development and success at both guard positions. Overall, this offensive line has a chance to rank in the top ten in the NFL with a floor of league average.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
San Francisco has four tough matchups (DEN, ARI X 2, and MIN) for their rushing offense leading to a neutral schedule. The best chance to run the ball well should come against the Chargers followed up by two games vs. the Rams and one game against the Giants.
Their pass schedule ranks below the league average as well with three games (DEN, LAC, and MIN) against teams with strength in pass coverage. They have five matchups (TB, NYG, OAK, DET, and KC) vs. teams with some risk in the pass defense.
Game score helped the 49ers rank third in the NFL in pass attempts (607). Surprisingly, San Fran ran the 8th most plays in the league last year. This combination bodes well for the overall offensive production in 2018 with Jimmy Garoppolo now running the team. They have an offensive line with sneaky upside with productive value running in TDs in close.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo – The mystique of Garoppolo was almost cult-like after his trade to the 49ers. Jimmy has seven career starts in the NFL, which all ended in victories. He’s completed 67.3 percent of his passes in the NFL. Over his five starts with San Francisco, Garoppolo passed for 1,560 yards with seven TDs and five Ints while gaining a fantastic 8.8 yards per pass attempt. Defenses only sacked him eight times compared to the 35 sacks taken over the other 11 games. Jimmy passed for over 290 yards in four of his five starts last year with 20 completions over 20 yards with five of those passes gaining 40 yards or longer. Garoppolo had this breakdown in catches, yards, TDs, and targets to RBs (30/294/0 on 39 targets), WRs (64/842/2 on 100 targets), and TEs (23/412/3 on 31 targets) in his first starts. His game is built to react to defenses by using the whole field and all his receiving options. For his Fantasy value, a Fantasy owner has to be fair when reading his passing options. The 49ers lack a true WR1, WR2, and elite TE. They have pass-catching options at RB with a speed WR (Marquise Goodwin) and a couple of possession WRs. I’ll set his bar at 4,000 passing yards with about 25 TDs. I can’t trust Garoppolo as a starting Fantasy QB, but I’m willing to jump on his ride if his receiver corps shows more upside. Jimmy will make the talent around him better, which is a similar path as Tom Brady. Only a QB2 for me in 2018.
QB C.J. Beathard – Over his last two seasons at Iowa, Beathard passed for 4,738 yards with 34 combined TDs and 15 Ints. His resume doesn’t warrant a third-round pick, and C.J. needs improvement in all areas to develop into starting NFL quarterback. In his first year in the NFL, Beathard went 1-4 with 1,430 passing yards with four TDs and six Ints. He took 19 sacks with a low completion rate (54.9). C.J. added 136 yards rushing with three TDs on 26 carries. He’ll start 2018 as the backup QB in San Fran.
Other Options: Nick Mullens, Jack Heneghans
RB Jerick McKinnon – After a relatively quiet start to his career (1,911 combined yards with seven TDs and 91 catches), McKinnon broke through with his year in the NFL in 2017. He gained 991 combined yards with five TDs and 51 catches while working in a split role with Latavius Murray in Minnesota after the injury to Dalvin Cook. The Vikings gave him 13.7 rushes over seven games midseason, but Jerick gained only 3.8 yards per carry leading to Murray gaining momentum on early downs. McKinnon didn’t have a rushing TDs over his last eight games. He shined in two games as a receiver (6/72 and 7/114). Kyle Shanahan will use two RBs in his offense, and he did rotate two backs in his successful season with Falcons. I only see about ten rushes per game with a chance to catch about four balls each week. With about 225 touches, Jerick projected to gain about 1,150 combined yards with five to seven TDs and about 65 passes. His floor will be reasonable in PPR league due to his pass catching ability.
Update: 8/13/18 > McKinnon gave Fantasy owners a scare on Sunday after his first preseason game when he needed an MRI on his right knee. The news came back positive with just a muscle strain. He looks safe for now, but I would follow his progress closely.
RB Matt Breida – Over three seasons at Georgia Southern, Breida gained 4,304 combined yards with 40 TDs and 22 catches. He’s an undersized back (5’11” and 190 lbs.), but he offers strength and speed (4.38) highlight by his 8.7 yards per rush in 2014 and 7.9 in 2015. A change in coaching staff and injuries at QB led to a disappointing senior year (168/646/3) while gaining only 3.8 yards per rush. Matt gained 645 combined yards in his rookie season with three TDs and 21 catches on 126 combined touches. His biggest weakness came in pass protection, which is an area that Jerick McKinnon excelled in 2017. Even with pass catching ability, Breida may work better as a change of pass runner on early downs where his speed can create big plays. Possible 150 touches for 700+ yards with minimal value in TDs and catches.
Update: 8/13/18 > Breida also suffered a shoulder injury in the 49ers preseason game. He’ll miss the rest of the preseason while expected to be ready for game one.
RB Joe Williams – In his senior year at Utah, Williams had 1,514 combined yards with ten TDs and nine catches. He averaged 6.7 yards per rush and 11.9 yards per catch. His best asset is his top-end speed (4.41) with some short area quickness. His running style is a bit ragged leading to him not running with a smooth glide through traffic with limited wiggle in open field. If he gets a seam, he’ll outrun cornerbacks for long TDs. His pass blocking skills have risk and his resume in the passing look short. He’s the first RB chosen by the new head coach who wants speed to be part of the offensive game plane. Change of pace option on early downs, but he’s a step behind his competition after missing all of 2017 with an ankle injury.
RB Jeremy McNichols – Over the last two years at Boise State, McNichols combined for 3,960 yards with 53 TDs and 88 catches. He suffered a torn labrum in February of 2017 that required surgery. Jeremy will offer third down ability when healthy. If healthy, McNichols was expected to be drafted in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. Last year Tampa waived him before the start of the season leading to the 49ers adding him to the practice squad. His game projects to be higher than both Breida and Williams, which makes him a dark horse for early-down carries in San Fran. Player to watch this summer.
Other Options: Jeffery Wilson
WR Pierre Garcon – After a couple of down years, Pierre had his second season with over 1,000 yards receiving in 2016. He caught 79 of his 114 targets (69.3 percent) for 1,041 yards and three TDs. His final stats look attractive, but Garcon only had one game with over 100 yards receiving (Week 11 – 6/116/1). He had between five and seven catches in ten games with three double-digit target games. Over the last seven full seasons in the NFL, Pierre has over 65 catches six times and over 750 yards receiving in six years. He has 37 career TDs in 140 games played with his career high being six TDs in three different seasons. Last year in San Fran, Garcon caught 40 of his 67 targets for 500 yards with no TDs. He missed playing with Jimmy Garoppolo while being on pace for 80 catches and 1,000 yards. His season ended in Week 8 with a neck injury. Last season the WRs on the 49ers caught 182 passes for 2,530 yards and six TDs on 331 targets. The change in QB will help the WR chances plus improve the catch total with better accuracy. Pierre appears to be healthy while starting the year at age 32. Solid floor of 80+ catches for 1,100+ yards with a handful of TDs.
WR Dante Pettis – Over four seasons at Washington, Pettis caught 163 passes for 2,256 yards and 24 TDs. His best season came in 2016 (53/822/15) as a junior. His quickness and open field ability point to much higher upside than Marquise Goodwin with both players lacking the frame to defeat physical corners. Dante will upgrade the punt return game while showing the ability to set up defenders while getting them flatfooted. He won’t beat a CB with his deep speed alone, but his route running and quickness will create big separation on double moves. Pettis has a DeSean Jackson feel while lacking the explosives on the outside. His hands grade well, but he won’t make a huge impact until he adds more bulk and strength. Possible 50 catches for 600 yards with some value in TDs.
WR Marquise Goodwin – Goodwin entered 2017 with ten career starts over four seasons with the Bills. In his 39 games played, he had 49 catches for 780 yards and six TDs on 111 targets. His catch rate (44.1) was a huge problem. For the first time in his career, Marquise stayed healthy for all 16 games last year leading to 56 catches for 962 yards and two TDs on 105 targets. He had three games with over 100 yards receiving (5/116, 6/106, and 10/114) with two of those game coming with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at QB. Over the last five games of the year, Goodwin caught 29 passes for 384 yards and one TD on 43 targets. I’d love to believe in his upside, but his injury past and lack of college resume (120/1364/7 over four seasons at Texas) paint a trap picture. I’m sure he’ll be over drafted in 2018, which make him an easy avoid for me.
WR Trent Taylor – In each year at Louisiana Tech, Taylor had growth in his game and production. In his junior year, Trent caught 99 passes for 1,282 yards with nine TDs. The next season his game exploded to a whole different level (136/1803/2). He’s an undersized receiver (5’8” and 181 lbs.) with questionable speed (4.63) leading to unusual skill set. His quickness and short area route running give him a chance to play in the slot while the ability to break a tackle with elusiveness in the open field. His lack of size invites durability concerns even with some toughness to his game. If he was 5’10” and 200 Lbs., Trent would have drawn more interest in the draft as he stature and style would have a lot in common with Julian Edelman. Possession type WR with a chance to offer value in his first year in the league. In 2017, he caught 43 of his 60 passes for 430 yards and two TDs with his best success coming Week 13 (6/92). In the offseason, Trent had minor back surgery which puts him on track for training camp. This season he’ll push his way over 50 catches with 500+ yards and short TDs.
Other Options: Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, Aldrick Robinson, Victor Bolden, Max McCaffrey
TE George Kittle – Over his junior and senior seasons at Iowa, Kittle caught 42 passes for 604 yards and ten TDs. He’ll bring speed to the TE position with some blocking skills (struggled in both run and pass blocking in 2017). The 49ers saw enough of Kittle last summer to ship Vance McDonald out of town, which created a better than expected opportunity. He caught 43 of his 63 targets for 515 yards and two TDs while delivering eight catches of 20 yards or more. George finished with two games of value (7/83/1 and 4/100) while splitting time at tight end over his last nine games played. This season he should push his way to 55+ catches for 600+ yards with a handful of TEs. Kittle is TE2 in PPR leagues with some upside.
Update: 8/13/18 > Kittle suffered a shoulder injury in the 49ers preseason game. He’ll miss the rest of the preseason while expected to be ready for game one.
Other Options: Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini, Ross Dwelley, Cole Wick
K Robbie Gould – In 2016, Gould failed to win the starting kicking job in Chicago. The Giants picked him up after Week 6 leading to a dreary season due to lack of chances. Robbie made all ten of field goals, which came from 49 yards or less. Last year with the 49ers, Robbie led the NFL in field goals (39) with 41 attempts. He made all four of his chances from 50 yards or longer. In his career, Gould has an 86.9 percent success rate while making 27 of 35 opportunities from 50 yards or more. San Fran scored 31 TDs in 2017, which led to 72 combined scoring chances. The 49ers should be more productive in TDs this year with regression Gould’s field goal chances. Solid leg with some matchup value.
The 49ers have four games (DET, TB and ARI X 2) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball in 2017, but the Cardinals will be much better with David Johnson back in the starting lineup. They have three mid-level games against the Rams (2) and the Vikings.
San Fran starts the year with three games (DET, KC, and LAC) over the first four weeks against teams with a high-level of success throwing the ball. They have one other tough game (TB) later in the year. Their only favorable matchup looks to be against the Bears.
San Francisco ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed (3.8), which is a bit deceiving. They allowed only 3.8 yards per rush, but game score led to 30.7 attempts per game. Ball carriers scored 13 TDs with ten runs over 20 yards.
The 49ers had the same finish in passing yards allowed (3,764 – 22nd) with 27 TDs and ten Ints. QBs gained 7.2 yards per pass attempts with 50 completions over 20 yards. Their defense finished with only 30 sacks.
DT DeForest Buckner has a step back in tackles (61) and sacks (3) in his second year on the NFL after getting drafted in the first round in 2016. He played well vs. the run while picking up five defended passes. Overall, Buckner is one of the top interior players in the game. DT Earl Mitchell doesn’t belong in the starting lineup after playing poorly with minimal production over his last three seasons. The player with the best chance of replacing him in the starting lineup is DT D.J. Jones who missed the previous seven games last year with a knee injury. Jones will be an anchor vs. the run game with enough talent to chip in with some sacks. His game flashes NFL upside while lacking the prototype body. D.J. has rotational value at the very least.
DE Solomon Thomas picked up 41 tackles and three sacks in his rookie season. Thomas has an exciting combination of power and quickness to add plus value in the pass rush. Solomon will disrupt in both the run and the passing game. His size (6’3” and 273 lbs.) projects him to be in between DE and DT while knowing one thing for sure – his going to make an impact. San Fran added him in the first round in 2017. DE Arik Armstead missed 18 games over the last two seasons. He’s former first rounder (2015) with a short resume of playing time. If healthy, Armstead is a neutral player with more upside with more game experience under his belt. Last year he missed time due to a broken hand and Arik had surgery in mid-May to repair a minor foot issue.
LB Rueben Foster has to be a wild card on this defense after a couple of off the field incidents. In his rookie season after being selected in the first round, Foster had 72 tackles over ten games. He played well vs. the run with upside in coverage. Rueben sure looks the part as an impact defender with power and speed to bring swag to the defense. His upside can’t be fully recognized without improved vision and anticipation. Reuben needs to avoid some fights to add more impactful winning plays. Last year he missed six games due to an ankle and rib injury. LB Malcolm Smith has 225 combined tackles over the last two seasons played with four sacks, nine defended passes, and two Ints, but he missed last year due to a torn muscle in his chest. He signed a big contract ($26.5 million) in March of 2017. Eli Harold will split time with rookie Fred Warner at the other linebacker spot. Harold struggled in all areas last year while Warner should help in pass coverage.
S Jimmie Ward struggled last year after turning in two league average seasons in 2015 and 2016. He finished with only 32 tackles and one defended passes, which is well below his expected first round value (2014). S Jaquiski Tartt had a career low in tackles (55) and sacks (0.5), but he played the best ball of his career in coverage.
CB Richard Sherman missed seven games last year due to a torn Achilles. He’s been a top cover corner in the NFL, but his game did start to show decline during the previous two years. Sherman will be a nice upgrade to this defense. CB Ahkello Witherspoon handled himself well over the last 11 games last year. He added value in both run support and pass coverage. His game projects to be passive vs. the run with work needed in his technique when covering pass routes. Witherspoon has excellent speed and quickness for his size (6’3” and 198 lbs.). Toughness is required to make a further step in his all-around game. Ahkello has a chance to be a Richard Sherman type corner if he ever adds enough bulk and strength to handle the top physical WRs in press coverage.
There is a lot to like about this defense especially if Foster doesn’t ruin his football career with his off the field issues. It’s almost like the 49ers take over the Seahawks podium on defense. San Fran has the talent to stop the run with two viable starting corner. They have risk at safety with one questionable option at linebacker. The punt returning ability of Dante Pettis helps the value of the defense in the Fantasy market as well. Viable swing as a top ten Fantasy defense while being a couple of playmakers short of being a top-five option.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks