2017 NFL Offseason: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers (Last Year: 2-14)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Brian Hoyer, QB Matt Barkley, RB Tim Hightower, FB Kyle Juszczyk, WR Pierre Garcon, WR Marquise Goodwin, WR Aldrick Robinson, TE Logan Paulsen, C Jeremy Zuttah, C Tim Barnes, DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil, OLB Dekoda Watson, OLB Malcolm Smith, ILB Brock Coyle, S Don Jones, K Robbie Gould.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Solomon Thomas, ILB Reuben Foster, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, QB C.J. Beathard, RB Joe Williams, TE George Kittle, WR Trent Taylor. 49ers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Colin Kaepernick, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Shaun Draughn, RB DuJuan Harris, WR Torrey Smith, WR Quinton Patton, DT Glenn Dorsey, ILB Gerald Hodges, ILB Nick Bellore, ILB Michael Wilhoite, CB Tramaine Brock, CB K’Waun Williams, S Antoine Bethea, K Phil Dawson.

2017 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
The 49ers never had a chance last year, as they opted to go into the season with just Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. Granted, the situation hasn’t improved very much, though the tandem of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley is superior to last year’s dubious duo. However, there’s a plan in place, and that plan is to eventually acquire Kirk Cousins. The Redskins are currently holding Cousins hostage under the franchise tag, but they likely won’t be able to afford him next spring. Given that the relationship is so fractured, Washington should just trade Cousins now to get something more than a third-round compensatory pick for him. However, John Lynch has proven himself to be a patient general manager and a savvy trader, so the 49ers seem fine with waiting.

Given that this is effectively a throw-away year as far as playoff aspirations are concerned, the 49ers should look to develop their young talent. Tony Pauline reported that the 49ers don’t view Carlos Hyde as a good fit for their offense, so perhaps they’ll have fourth-round rookie running back Joe Williams start as soon as possible. Williams is a talented runner, but fell to the third day of the draft because of off-the-field issues. However, Kyle Shanahan specifically asked Lynch for Williams, so no one should be surprised if he becomes the full-time starter during the second half of the season, if not sooner.

The two young passing weapons happen to be a pair of fifth-round rookies in Trent Taylor and George Kittle. Taylor is a quick slot receiver who has Cole Beasley-type upside. Kittle, meanwhile, is a very athletic tight end who blocks well. The 49ers have been trying to trade Vance McDonald, so perhaps Kittle could take his place in the starting lineup by the end of the year. Kittle has thrived in OTAs, so that’s a good sign.

The one proven weapon the 49ers possess is Pierre Garcon, who signed this offseason. It’s often dubious when a player takes the money and goes from a playoff contender to a poorly run franchise, but the caveat in this instance is that Garcon was Cousins’ favorite receiver, and he may be very aware of his former quarterback’s plans. It’s highly likely that the two will be reunited in 2018. Garcon turns 31 in August, but his elite route-running ability will allow him to play on a high level well into his 30s. Garcon will be joined by Taylor, the mediocre Jermey Kerley and speedy Marquise Goodwin in the receiving corps.

Something the 49ers absolutely have to improve prior to Cousins’ expected arrival is the offensive line. The unit has just two viable starters in Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley and center Jeremy Zuttah, who performed on a high level for the Ravens last year. However, the 49ers are severely lacking at the other three positions. That could change if Joshua Garnett, a 2016 first-round pick, improves his play, but he was atrocious as a rookie this past season. Garnett was viewed as a third-round prospect Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke reached for, so perhaps the 49ers shouldn’t expect much.

The other two projected starters up front are the pedestrian Zane Beadles at the other guard slot, and Trent Brown at right tackle. Brown actually isn’t horrible in pass protection, but he can’t open up running lanes to save his life. Garry Gilliam, acquired from Seattle, will be looking to unseat Brown for the job. Gilliam, however, was atrocious for the Seahawks.

2017 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
There was much speculation about what the 49ers would do with the No. 2 overall pick. They eventually dealt it to the Bears and ended up selecting Solomon Thomas with the third selection. It marked the third-consecutive year in which they used a first-round choice on a defensive lineman, as Thomas will join DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead up front in San Francisco’s new 4-3 scheme. Thomas, who single-handedly dominated the trenches in his bowl game against Mitchell Trubisky, will likely start across from Armstread, who has been getting reps as an edge rusher. Armstead figures to move around, while Buckner could remain inside next to Earl Mitchell, who was signed to a 4-year, $16 million contract this offseason despite being a terrible football player.

This configuration makes the most sense, as the 49ers don’t have much else for the interior unless sixth-round rookie D.J. Jones can unseat Mitchell. The 49ers don’t have anything else on the edge either; Aaron Lynch would be a factor in an ideal world, but the troubled player reported to the team about 20 pounds overweight. Lynch is a talented defensive end, but doesn’t appear to be taking his career seriously. Elvis Dumervil was signed in June, but he’s a 33-year-old coming off a three-sack campaign.

Despite this, the strength of the 49ers’ defense is their front-line play, given the amount of resources they’ve poured into that area. Plus, the linebacking corps and secondary are hurting for talent. The best player in San Francisco’s back seven is NaVorro Bowman, who tore his Achilles last year. Bowman had previously shredded his knee, so even if he returns this season, he’s unlikely to be anywhere close to 100 percent. It would be nice for the 49ers if they had Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to offset this situation, but that’s not the case.

As a result, the 49ers felt compelled to spend the No. 31 overall pick on Reuben Foster. The Alabama product is a top-10 talent, but comes with some glaring concerns. One happens to be a rash of injuries, while the other is his projected inability to learn the playbook. That’s precisely why one team passed on him in the 2017 NFL Draft. Still, Foster’s talent should win out, and he could start in San Francisco’s linebacking corps quite soon. Joining him and perhaps Bowman is Ahmad Brooks, who should be better in a 4-3 because he won’t be asked to rush the passer as much. Brooks has been much more comfortable in coverage throughout his career, so the scheme change figures to benefit him.

Moving on to the secondary, the 49ers had to say goodbye to Tramaine Brock after he was arrested for domestic violence. Brock was a talented cornerback, so he’ll be missed. The move could prevent Jimmie Ward from moving from cornerback to safety, which was the initial plan. This could perhaps change if third-round rookie Ahkello Witherspoon develops quickly, but he wasn’t very high on some teams’ draft boards. The other two corners of note are Keith Reaser, a pedestrian player, and Rashard Robinson, a fourth-round selection from 2016 who struggled as a rookie.

The 49ers would have liked to slot Ward next to Eric Reid at safety, but that may not be the case in the wake of Brock’s release. Jaquiski Tartt would get the nod in that instance. Meanwhile, Reid missed six games in 2016 because of a torn bicep. He should be back to full strength this season.

2017 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
The 49ers had maintained a dominant homefield advantage from 2009 to 2013, owning a 32-10-1 record in that span. However, they were just 1-7 as hosts last year.

San Francisco is especially potent in home night games against East Coast teams, thanks to Circadian rhythms. That gave the 49ers a huge advantage over the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs a few winters ago. However, there won’t be any postseason appearances in the near future.

The 49ers were mixed on special teams last year. They outgained the opposition on punts, but the opposite was true when it came to kickoffs. This was the case as well in 2015.

Phil Dawson is gone, and he’s been replaced by Robbie Gould, who has hit 43 of his 49 tries over the past couple of seasons. He’s 7-of-9 from 50-plus since 2015.

Bradley Pinion was 23rd in net punting average in 2015. He improved to 20th in that department last year.

The 49ers will be on the road for five of their first seven games against the Seahawks, Cardinals, Colts, Redskins and Eagles. All of those games appear to be sure losses. It gets a bit easier after that, so perhaps San Francisco will accumulate some wins toward the end of the year.

2017 San Francisco 49ers Rookies:
Go here for the 49ers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: As discussed earlier, this is a throw-away season for the 49ers, who are just biding their time until Kirk Cousins becomes available to them. As for now, the 49ers must develop their young talent so that they can make a push for the playoffs as soon as they are able to acquire Cousins.

Projection: 4-12 (3rd in NFC West)

2016 Projection: 3-13. 2016 Actual Result: 2-14.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The 49ers are a mess right now, but things will look a lot better if they’re able to acquire Kirk Cousins somehow in one of the next two offseasons. Because Cousins is a strong possibility, it’s important for San Francisco not to block that option by taking a quarterback early. The 49ers need to fill the many holes on their roster instead of reaching for a pedestrian quarterback prospect.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: As with the Browns, there was heavy speculation that the 49ers would target Mitchell Trubisky. With John Lynch entering his first draft, no one really knew what to expect, but everyone’s best guess was that San Francisco was going to reach for a signal-caller.

Lynch ended up proving everyone wrong. Not only did he refrain from reaching for a mediocre quarterback prospect, he conned the Bears into doing so, making them believe that another team was going to trade up for Trubisky, when that clearly wasn’t the case. Lynch then obtained the second-best edge rusher in the class, Solomon Thomas, and then moved up for the falling Reuben Foster, another top-10 talent.

Lynch did a very good job overall, but he made one glaring mistake when he traded up for C.J. Beathard at the end of the third round. That was one of his two poor selections (Joe Williams), but this one was especially bad because Lynch surrendered resources to acquire a late-round prospect with no upside. It reminded me of the Browns’ pick of Cody Kessler last year, except the 49ers traded up to get Beathard.

That said, I’m giving the 49ers a B+ for their haul. It was much better than I expected from Lynch, especially when the Trubisky rumors were circulating. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’ve already issued a retraction for my poor grade of the Lynch hiring. I was clearly wrong about him.

See NFL Draft Grades for every single Browns pick.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

3. Solomon Thomas, DE, 49ers: A+ Grade
This is John Lynch’s first draft, but it doesn’t seem like it. Lynch stole two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder from the poorly run Bears, and yet he still obtained a player he could’ve selected No. 2 overall. Solomon Thomas is a terrific pass-rusher and a great team leader, and he fills a huge need for the 49ers. He’ll be a cornerstone of that defense, and it’s great that the 49ers were able to pick up lots of picks in the process. I love this move.

34. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama: A+ Grade
John Lynch is having an amazing first draft, and I may have to redact the poor grade I gave the 49ers for hiring him a few months ago. He picked up some extra selections, landed a talented edge rusher, and he now added a great linebacker prospect to fill a huge need. Reuben Foster is a top-10 prospect and would’ve gone in that range if he didn’t have injury concerns. Foster has drawn Luke Kuechly and Ray Lewis comparisons, so San Francisco is getting a dynamic talent if Foster can stay healthy. Foster was great in college last year, so I don’t understand all the worry. The 49ers made out like bandits here, unlike last year, when they traded up for a third-round guard prospect.

66. Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado: B+ Grade
The 49ers are having a great draft. In addition to this selection and what they did in the first round, they also picked up a second-round choice from the Bears in 2018, which could be in the 40-45 range. Witherspoon has consistency issues, but he’s a tall, speedy cornerback who actually covered John Ross well in their matchup. He could miss a lot of tackles, however.

This pick reminds me so much of the Browns taking Cody Kessler last year. Kessler was a late-round prospect who was chosen in the third frame for some reason. The same happened with C.J. Beathard, whom I had in the Round 5-7 range. Making matters worse, the 49ers traded up for him! Why in the world would they do that!? Beathard has accuracy issues and miserable pocket awareness, and he just doesn’t look like anything more than an average backup in the NFL.

121. Joe Williams, RB, Utah: D Grade
After a hot start, John Lynch has cooled off. I’m not sure why he traded up for Joe Williams. The Utah prospect is already 24, and he has some off-the-field issues. He was arrested for credit card theft and then quit the team last year. Williams is talented and fits the offense, but he’s a huge risk.

146. George Kittle, TE, 49ers: A Grade
Here’s another great tight end pick. George Kittle was a third-round prospect for me, as he was productive at Iowa and then went on to test very well athletically. Kittle also blocks very well to boot. This is an excellent selection by the 49ers, despite not needing a tight end.

177. Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech: C+ Grade
I didn’t have Trent Taylor drafted in my mock, but he was on my board, so he was close. Taylor will be a slot receiver for the 49ers, and he’s agile enough that it’s not crazy to think that he could become a Julian Edelman-type player. I’m not saying he’ll become that, but the testing numbers say he at least has a chance. Still, this is a bit early for him, as he could just as easily fail to make the roster.

198. D.J. Jones, NT, Ole Miss: B- Grade
This pick would’ve made more sense had the 49ers still been running the 3-4. D.J. Jones can stuff the run pretty well, but with poor athleticism, he doesn’t project to becoming a potent pass-rusher. Still, he makes sense in this range as a role player.

202. Pita Taumoepenu, DE, Utah: C- Grade
I didn’t have Pita Taumoepenu being drafted, as he’s an undersized tweener (6-1, 243) who has seven career starts at Utah. If he doesn’t make it on special teams, he’ll be out of the league quickly.

229. Adrian Colbert, CB, Miami: C Grade
I had neither talked to anyone nor seen a report that Adrian Colbert would be drafted. He wasn’t productive at Miami, but he did run a 4.38 at his pro day, so at least that’s something. It’s doubtful Colbert makes the 53-man roster.

Season Summary:
Owner Jed York has ruined the 49ers franchise. He built a terrible stadium and allowed the incompetent Trent Baalke to stay in power for far too long, and Baalke in turn constructed a roster devoid of talent, and also fired a top-five NFL coach and replaced him with incompetent buffoons. It’s going to be a very long time until San Francisco is good again.

Offseason Moves:
  • 49ers sign DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil
  • 49ers sign C Tim Barnes
  • 49ers cut CB Tramine Brock
  • 49ers sign RB Tim Hightower
  • 49ers re-sign RB DuJuan Harris
  • 49ers sign OLB Dekoda Watson
  • 49ers re-sign DT Chris Jones
  • 49ers acquire C Jeremy Zuttah, 6th-rounder from Ravens for 6th-round picks
  • 49ers sign S Don Jones
  • 49ers sign ILB Brock Coyle
  • 49ers sign QB Matt Barkley
  • 49ers sign WR Aldrick Robinson
  • 49ers sign K Robbie Gould
  • 49ers sign TE Logan Paulsen
  • 49ers sign WR Pierre Garcon
  • 49ers sign OLB Malcolm Smith
  • 49ers sign FB Kyle Juszczyk
  • 49ers sign WR Marquise Goodwin
  • 49ers sign QB Brian Hoyer
  • 49ers cut S Antoine Bethea
  • 49ers cut WR Torrey Smith
  • 49ers re-sign WR Jeremy Kerley
  • 49ers sign DT Earl Mitchell
  • 49ers sign CB K’Waun Williams

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL last year, which is saying a lot because there were plenty of bad ones thoughout the league. The 49ers will strongly consider Mitch Trubisky if the Browns pass on him. Signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley

    2. Two Wide Receivers: The 49ers have to find a franchise quarterback and also two receivers for him. San Francisco has been devoid of talent at this position ever since Anquan Boldin left the team. There will be plenty of quality wideouts to take atop Round 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft. Signed Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson; re-signed Jeremy Kerley

    3. Right Tackle: Joe Staley is one of the top left tackles in the NFL, but the 49ers have absolutely nothing opposite of him, as Trent Brown is a massive liability.

    4. Two Edge Rushers: Hey 49ers fans, ‘member when Aldon Smith was on the roster and he kept getting a bunch of sacks? Smith was fantastic! Unfortunately, he’s long gone, and San Francisco no longer has anyone who can rush the passer consistently. ‘Member Aldon Smith again? Signed Elvis Dumervil

    5. Nose Tackle: It’s completely evident that Glenn Dorsey is done, as his decline is one of the reasons the 49ers were so bad against the run this year.

    6. Guard: Another offensive line upgrade is needed here, as Zane Beadles was one of many high-priced free agent flops that Trent Baalke signed.

    7. Inside Linebacker: It’s unclear if NaVorro Bowman can come back from yet another brutal injury, but even if he can, Gerald Hodges will be hitting free agency, so another inside linebacker will be needed. Signed Malcolm Smith

    8. Cornerback: The 49ers lost some cornerbacks last offseason, and it definitely showed, as they were considerably weaker against the pass in 2016. Tramaine Brock was released. Signed K’Waun Williams

    9. Running Back Depth: Both Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris are free agents, so at least one will need to be re-signed. Signed Tim Hightower

    10. Center: The 49ers can do better than Daniel Kilgore at center, but this is way down the priority list because Kilgore isn’t horrible. He’s just not good. Traded for Jeremy Zuttah; signed Tim Barnes

    11. Kicker: Phil Dawson happens to be a free agent. Signed Robbie Gould

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Kyle Juszczyk, FB, Ravens. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers

      Kyle Juszczyk is one of the top fullbacks in the NFL. He does everything you’d want a fullback to do; he blocks extremely well, and he’s an effective receiver out of the backfield. He’ll only be 26 in April, so he’ll be highly productive for at least five more years.

    2. Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins. Age: 31.
      Signed with 49ers (3 years)

      Pierre Garcon turns 31 in August, but he should be able to play well for quite a while because of his elite route-running skills. Garcon caught 79 passes for 1,041 yards in 2016.

    3. Elvis Dumervil, DE/OLB, Ravens. Age: 33.
      Signed with 49ers

      Elvis Dumervil was once one of the NFL’s top edge rushers, racking up 17 sacks in a season twice in his career. He hit 17 sacks back in 2014, but has regressed lately. He had just six sacks in 2015, and played only eight games this past season because of a foot injury. Dumervil just turned 33, so he’ll never be the same player, but he could be an effective pass-rusher for a team as long as his snap count is reduced.

    4. Tim Hightower, RB, Saints. Age: 31.
      Signed with 49ers

      Tim Hightower took three years off because of an injury, but he’s been solid in his return. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2016 and also caught 22 passes. He’s not a starting-caliber running back, but he’s a solid backup who can play well on third down.

    5. Brian Hoyer, QB, Bears. Age: 31.
      Signed with 49ers

      Brian Hoyer got a lot of flak for what happened in Houston, but the fact remains that he led a team to the playoffs. In six starts in 2016, Hoyer threw six touchdowns to zero interceptions and also completed 67 percent of his passes. He’s a very strong backup.

    6. K’Waun Williams, CB, Browns. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers

      K’Waun Williams was a solid nickel corner for the Browns in 2014 and 2015, but missed the entire 2016 campaign because of an ankle injury. He appears to be healthy now.

    7. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers
    8. Earl Mitchell, DT, Dolphins. Age: 29. — Signed with 49ers
    9. Tim Barnes, C, Rams. Age: 29. — Signed with 49ers
    10. Matt Barkley, QB, Bears. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers
    11. Malcolm Smith, OLB, Raiders. Age: 28. — Signed with 49ers
    12. Logan Paulsen, TE, Bears. Age: 30. — Signed with 49ers
    13. Aldrick Robinson, WR, Falcons. Age: 28. — Signed with 49ers
    14. Brock Coyle (RFA), ILB, Seahawks. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers
    15. Don Jones, S, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with 49ers
    16. Dekoda Watson, OLB, Broncos. Age: 29. — Signed with 49ers

    San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $83.6M.
    1. Gerald Hodges, ILB, 49ers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills

      A former fourth-round pick of the Vikings, Minnesota somehow let Gerald Hodges get away, as Hodges carved out a role for himself in San Francisco’s defense. Hodges has played the run well and hasn’t been a liability in coverage. He’ll be only 26 in January.

    2. Phil Dawson, K, 49ers. Age: 42.
      Signed with Cardinals

      Phil Dawson turns 42 in January, but he’s still good at directing the ball through the uprights and can probably creak out another positive season or two. Dawson nailed most of his attempts in 2016.

    3. Tramaine Brock, CB, 49ers. Age: 29.
      Tramaine Brock has had an up-and-down career. The 2016 campaign was a high, as he played extremely well. Unfortunately, he has reached a new low. Brock was arrested for domestic violence, as his girlfriend reportedly had “visible injuries.” It’s difficult to rank Brock for this reason, as he’d be much higher if he had no off-the-field issues. If the allegations are true, he’s not going to be playing for a very long time.

    4. Torrey Smith, WR, 49ers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Eagles (3 years, $15 million)

      It was obvious Torrey Smith was going to be a bust signing when he left a perennial playoff contender, taking the money and going to one of the worst organizations in professional sports. Smith was horrible, logging 53 receptions in two years. Granted, he had horrible quarterbacks throwing the ball to him, but his heart and effort were lacking. Smith could rebound in a new home, but I have to wonder if he has mentally checked out of football.

    5. Glenn Dorsey, DT, 49ers. Age: 32.
      Glenn Dorsey used to offer a strong presence, but injuries have weighed him down, as he’s missed about half of all possible games the past four years. Turning 32 in August, Dorsey could very well be finished.

    6. Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers. Age: 29.
      Colin Kaepernick sparked some controversy last year, but he has announced that he will stand for the National Anthem in 2017. That’s fine, but his football skills are the big problem. Kaepernick has declined every single year since 2013, as he has refused to put the appropriate amount of work into film study. Some will point to his 16:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but that echoes Nick Foles’ 27:2 ratio from 2013, as it was a complete farce because most of Kaepernick’s production came in garbage time of blowouts. He maintained a sub-60 completion percentage, which is more of an indication of how he really played. Kaepernick still has good potential, but no team should consider him to be a starter in 2017. At most, he’s a decent backup and a potential reclamation project.

    7. Antoine Bethea, S, 49ers. Age: 33.
      Signed with Cardinals (3 years)

      Antoine Bethea used to be a talented player, but he has declined in recent years. The 49ers decided he wasn’t worth the $5.75 million cap hit, and they’re right. Bethea can still tackle well and not be a liability in run support, but he struggles to cover at this stage of his career.

    8. Jeremy Kerley, WR, 49ers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with 49ers (3 years)
    9. Nick Bellore, ILB, 49ers. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    10. Shaun Draughn, RB, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Giants
    11. Quinton Patton, WR, 49ers. Age: 27. — Signed with Jets
    12. Michael Wilhoite, ILB, 49ers. Age: 30. — Signed with Seahawks
    13. DuJuan Harris, RB, 49ers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with 49ers
    14. Christian Ponder, QB, 49ers. Age: 29.
    15. Rod Streater, WR, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills
    16. Blaine Gabbert, QB, 49ers. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals
    17. Chris Jones, DT, 49ers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with 49ers
    18. Chris Davis (RFA), CB, 49ers. Age: 26.
    19. Thad Lewis, QB, 49ers. Age: 29.


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