Schedule: ARI, @NYJ, @NYG, PHI, MIA, LAR, @NE, @SEA, GB, @NO, BYE, @LAR, BUF, WAS, @DAL, @ARI, SEA
Additions: OL Trent Williams (Trade), OL Tom Compton (FA), EDGE Kerry Hyder (FA), TE Jordan Reed (FA), DL Javon Kinlaw (Draft), WR Brandon Aiyuk (Draft)
Losses: DL DeForest Buckner (Trade), WR Marquise Goodwin (Trade), RB Matt Breida (Trade), OL Joe Staley (Retired), OL Mike Person (Retired), WR Emmanuel Sanders (FA), TE Levine Toilolo (FA), DL Sheldon Day (FA)
Super Bowl Hangover is real. Returning to the big game the year after losing is incredibly difficult. Just ask San Francisco’s divisionmates. Following their Super Bowl appearance, the Rams seemed to have one of the brightest futures in the league before missing the playoffs in 2019. Now, L.A. is closer to an average team than a contender.
I don’t think the Niners will experience quite the same drop, but there are causes for concern. For starters, Kyle Shanahan is in pretty much the same spot Sean McVay was a year ago, as the young offensive guru who just outsmarted defensive coordinators all year long. Only, McVay got figured out a little last year. Will Shanahan adjust, or suffer the same fate?
Then there’s the matter of the offseason losses. Like the Rams or any other great team, San Francisco had to sit back and watch as many of its key players departed. To their credit, they did a great job of recognizing this and getting assets back for some guys. But still, replacing two o-line starters, arguably their best receiver, and arguably their best defender won’t be easy.
Even without DeForest Buckner, the front seven is terrifying. Edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford could both improve in their second seasons in the league and with the team, respectively. Bosa could be a DPOY candidate while Ford is due for a larger role after being utilized shockingly little last year. With Javon Kinlaw incoming, the interior will be stout as well, though it’s unrealistic to expect the rookie to match the All-Pro level of his predecessor.
Behind the ferocious line, the Niners have possibly the most underrated linebackers in the league. Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, and Dre Greenlaw deserve more credit for the defense’s success. Same goes for safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. You don’t become the best defense in football solely because of an insane front four. Both the safeties and linebackers were integral pieces of the dominant unit.
Any drop off from the pass rush will put more pressure on the corners—the one slight weakness of this defense. While Richard Sherman is still great, he can’t be trusted to lock up top receivers anymore. Across from him, the exploitable duo of Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley will battle for snaps. Moseley seemed to win the job during the playoff run, but the pair were co-starters on the first depth chart. No matter who wins the job—including Jason Verrett, who people still love for some reason—the cornerbacks are the clear weak link of this defense.
Offensively, the choice isn’t so easy. If you can shut down the run game, the rest of the unit doesn’t look so great. Jimmy Garoppolo has an unbelievable record as a starter, but he’s not a “put the team on my back,” kind of quarterback. The offensive line is down two starters from last year’s up-and-down showing. Trent Williams was a high-potential, yet risky acquisition after the Washington exile held out for all of 2019. The receivers are nothing special, especially with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk already banged-up. While George Kittle helps make up for that, he can’t do everything. I don’t have much faith in Jordan Reed at this point, either.
Even the rushing attack isn’t perfect. Much of its success stems from Shanahan’s genius, not the personnel. So, if defenses catch on to San Francisco’s tricks as they did L.A.’s, the backs will be exposed for the mediocre players they are. Starter Raheem Mostert was cut by six teams for a reason. There’s also a reason his own team was hesitant to give him a raise. Outside of blazing speed, the Purdue product doesn’t offer much. Behind him, Tevin Coleman and the oft-injured Jerick McKinnon are unspectacular support pieces.
Between the departures, full offseason for coaches to study Shanahan’s tendencies, and stockpile of injury-prone players, there’s a lot of bust potential with the reigning NFC Champions. Don’t be surprised if they tumble down the standings, just as so many past Super Bowl losers have. With that being said, I expect their talent and coaching to prevail. Given the manageable schedule, a chance at redemption in February is possible.
What’s your record prediction for the 49ers? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.