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NFC West: San Francisco 49ers 2018 Season Preview

Entering last season, the San Francisco 49ers were embarking on a new journey. They ushered in the careers of general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Little did we know, the 49ers would also find their franchise quarterback during an mid-season trade with the New England Patriots. The 49ers received Jimmy Garoppolo in late October. Although he wasn’t given the starting position immediately, Garoppolo appeared in six games and won all five starts to finish the 2017 campaign. Overall, the 49ers were (6-10) last season. They finished in last place in the NFC West. However, they were a force in those last five games. Keep in mind, three of the wins came against playoff teams. As a result, the 49ers are considered one of the dark horse candidates to contend for the NFC Playoffs in 2018.

Garoppolo completed 67 percent of his pass attempts last season. He also finished the season with 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions during the final stretch. Garoppolo never threw an interception with the Patriots in three seasons of limited action. Therefore, we can’t be sure of what Garoppolo will do as a starting quarterback for 16 games. Still, he will enter the season with a (7-0) record as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

The 49ers have had not sniffed a winning season since 2013. They have gone (21-43) over the last four seasons. However, you can’t help but feel that groundswell of excitement coming into the 2018 season. That’s what happens when you end the season on a five-game winning streak. Yet, there are some critical changes to the roster that we must address.

Key Player Losses

The 49ers suffered a number of losses on both sides of the ball during free agency. The most high profile case comes from all-purpose safety Eric Reid. The five-year pro tied for the team lead with two interceptions in 2017. Reid also tallied 52 tackles to finish third on an emerging defense. However, injuries forced Reid to miss nine games over the last two seasons. Moreover, the NFL has a problem with outspoken and socially aware black players. Therefore, Reid has yet to find another NFL team during free agency. As a result, the 49ers could re-sign Reid before the season starts. However, that does not seem likely. Reid filed a collusion grievance against the NFL in May.

The 49ers also lost a pair of defensive players to the Oakland Raiders. Defensive lineman Tank Carradine and corner Leon Hall moved to the AFC West. They played a combined 17 games last season. The duo also combined for 29 tackles. Meaning, they had minimal defensive impact in 2017.

Meanwhile, Dontae Johnson could become a key loss for the 49ers. Johnson started all 16 games and led the defense with 68 tackles. He also tied for the team lead with seven pass breakups. Yet, the 49ers let Johnson go to NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks. We will get into more about this a little later.

Offensively, the 49ers will have a new person carrying the load in the ground attack. Running back Carlos Hyde never quite fulfilled his potential in four seasons with the 49ers. Over the last two seasons, Hyde rushed for over 1,900 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, he never surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in his NFL career. Hyde also produced a career low 3.9 yards per carry in 2017. Yet, he made tremendous strides in the passing game with 59 receptions last season. Instead of growing with this new unit, Hyde signed a free agent deal with the Cleveland Browns.

Right guard Brandon Fusco also departed the 49ers after one season. Fusco spent six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Now, he has joined the Atlanta Falcons in a bold move to retool the offensive line. Fusco started all 16 games last season. They also trade center Daniel Kilgore to the Miami Dolphins in March. As a result, the 49ers will be missing at least 32 starts from last year’s offensive line unit. Furthermore, run-blocking tight end Logan Paulsen moved onto the Falcons in free agency as well.

Key Player Acquisitions

Overall, the 49ers did well to replace missing pieces on the offensive side of the ball. Center Weston Richburg signed a five-year $47.5 million contract to bolster the offensive line. Barring injury, Richburg will anchor the offensive line. He is joined by former Dallas Cowboys’ guard Jonathan Cooper. However, the flashiest piece on offense comes from the running back position.

Running back Jerick McKinnon is not quite a household name. In four NFL seasons, he rushed for 1,918 yards with the Minnesota Vikings. Yet, McKinnon could be a reason why the 49ers make a run towards the playoffs. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is uncanny. McKinnon caught 142 passes for 984 yards and 5 touchdowns. Keep in mind, 94 of those catches were record in the last two years. Therefore, it won’t be surprising if McKinnon goes over 60 receptions in 2018. The 49ers love to spread the ball around and Garoppolo is adept at getting the ball to the running backs.

Obviously, the biggest defensive acquisition is Richard Sherman. The Pro Bowl corner is returning from an achilles injury and there’s no telling when he will be back in the lineup. If Sherman returns to form, the 49ers will have a lockdown corner to pair with an up and coming defense. If the experiment falls short, the 49ers will miss Johnson. Only time will tell about Sherman’s ability. Remember, they let fellow cornerback Dontae Johnson go to the Seahawks. Sherman is already 30-years-old and may have to change positions in the near future.

The 49ers added some talent to their linebacker unit. First and foremost, the re-signed Brock Coyle to a three-year deal in March. Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu has only appeared in 12 games since the 2015 season. He only played in four games last year with the Los Angeles Chargers. Will a fresh start get Attaochu back on track? He comes into the 2018 season with 10 career sacks. Korey Toomer also signed with the 49ers after two seasons in the Chargers’ organization.

2018 Draft

The 49ers made nine selections in the 2018 NFL Draft. Although they went heavy with defensive players, the first two draft picks were on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey out of Notre Dame went off the draft board with the No. 9 pick in the first-round. McGilnchey has a an opportunity to become a starting tackle immediately. If that happens, the 49ers seem guaranteed to have a least three new offensive linemen in Week 1.

They also added an offensive weapon from the Washington Huskies in the second round. Dante Pettis is a wide receiver and punt returner that can change the game on multiple levels. For example, Pettis caught 15 touchdown passes in 2016. He averaged 20 yards per punt return last season. In all, Pettis scored 9 punt return touchdowns with the Huskies in four seasons. The 49ers can also use Pettis in kick returns.

The 49ers selected wide receiver Richie James in the seventh round. James is an explosive wide receiver from the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. He caught 212 passes for over 2,900 yards in his first two seasons in college. However, ankle and shoulder injuries forced James to miss eight games last season. He will be able to make an impact in the slot. It will be interesting to see if James can become a game-breaker as a seventh round pick in his rookie season.

Defensively, they added players on all three levels. Outside linebacker Fred Warner was selected in the third round. Clearly, the 49ers needed secondary help, so they selected three players on the backend. Safety Tarvarius Moore was also taken in the third round out of Southern Miss. D.J. Reed and Marcell Harris should be able to vie for quality time as rookies and draft steals. Finally, the 49ers selected two defensive tackles in hopes of matching the lethal ground games in the NFC West. Kentavius Street and Julian Taylor will be called upon to solidify the front four in the Bay.

2018 NFL Schedule (Eastern Time)

Sunday Sept. 9 @ Minnesota Vikings 1:00 p.m.

Sunday Sept. 16 vs. Detroit Lions 4:05 p.m.

Sunday Sept. 23 @ Kansas City Chiefs 1:00 p.m.

Sunday Sept 30 @ Los Angeles Chargers 4:25 p.m.

Sunday Oct. 7 vs. Arizona Cardinals 4:25 p.m.

Monday Oct. 15 @ Green Bay Packers 8:15 p.m.

Sunday Oct. 21 vs. Los Angeles Rams 8:20 p.m.

Sunday Oct. 28 @ Arizona Cardinals 4:25 p.m.

Thursday Nov.1 vs. Oakland Raiders 8:20 p.m.

Monday Nov. 12 vs. New York Giants 8:15 p.m.

BYE

Sunday Nov. 25 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1:00 p.m.

Sunday Dec. 2 @ Seattle Seahawks 8:20 p.m.

Sunday Dec. 9 vs. Denver Broncos 4:05 p.m.

Sunday Dec. 16 vs. Seattle Seahawks 4:05 p.m.

Sunday Dec. 23 vs. Chicago Bears 4:05 p.m.

Sunday Dec. 30 @ Los Angeles Rams 4:25 p.m.

Season Outlook

The 49ers have everything in place to make the postseason in 2018. However, there is one problem- the NFC West should have a number of battles this season. Therefore, they may have a tough time earning a wild card spot. Still, we will see plenty of improvement throughout the whole season. The 49ers scored 20.7 points per game last season. However, they averaged 28.8 points per game with Garoppolo as the starting quarterback. Due to the new additions, the 49ers should have an explosive offensive performance most of the season. They will need to win at least 10 games to have an opportunity for postseason play.

This article was originally published on @wildlyle21