In early 2020, the San Francisco 49ers were minutes away from winning the Super Bowl. Until Patrick Mahomes got it on his hips again. Despite the defeat, expectations in the Bay Area were high. A young team should be able to take the next step. In all, the 49ers looked like a squad that could dominate the NFC for years.
However, it was a disappointing season. Injuries threw the Niners way back and all the question marks around Jimmy Garoppolo, who wanted to throw as little as possible during the run to the Super Bowl, did not disappear. That is why it will be a crucial year for the team. Because what was the outlier? Lost last season due to injuries? Or the year that everything went well and the team was in the Super Bowl? In any case, next year should provide many answers.
The 49ers’ main move in free agency was not bringing in new players, but keeping Trent Williams. The league’s arguably best offensive tackle was much-loved last spring and could go to any club of his choice. He decided not to leave San Francisco. The Niners look assured of a good offensive line for the next six years. If, of course, he can stay fit. That is always a question in San Francisco, as the team had by far the most players missing games last year.
Despite Williams’ fat contract, the San Francisco 49ers still had room to add a few new players to the roster. Center Alex Mack was snatched from the Atlanta Falcons and outside linebacker Samson Ebukam joined from divisional rival LA Rams.
Against these acquisitions was an important loss and that was that of coordinator Robert Saleh. The 49ers’ good defensive performance in recent seasons has given him a choice of clubs. It was therefore almost a certainty that he would stand on his own two feet. He chose the New York Jets, the franchise where things can only get better. In terms of players, Kendrick Bourne was the main departure. He crossed the country for a contract with the New England Patriots.
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San Francisco was the most talked about club in the draft. The club had the opportunity to give Jimmy G. some extra weapons with a good draft pick. Apparently, however, coach Kyle Shanahan has lost faith in his quarterback. The Niners gave up their pick. Along with two more first-round draft picks to pick the Miami Dolphins in third place.
It was immediately clear that the Niners had their eye on a quarterback. It was also certain that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson would be chosen first and second. However, who did the Niners want to pick out of three? Justin Fields? Trey Lance? Or is it Mac Jones? The latter was the most leaked by the organization, but the draft revealed that the club had fallen in love with Lance. He must become the quarterback of the future in San Francisco.
The future will show whether this is the right choice. A year ago, Fields was seen as the second quarterback in the draft, ahead of Wilson. Lance is only 20 years old, making it the youngest of the three quarterbacks the Niners had left to choose from. In addition, he has the best running game. On the other hand, Lance is also the least experienced and therefore probably takes the most time to develop. Will he get that time on a roster built to win the Super Bowl ASAP?
A strong offensive line has been one of the things the club has been known for since Shanahan’s arrival. That reputation was confirmed in the draft. In the second round, the team chose guard Aaron Banks. A dynamic player with a lot of potential, but he was chosen when bigger talents became available.
The rest of the draft was effective, but not spectacular for the San Francisco 49ers. Running back Trey Sermon, chosen in the third round, will probably get the most playing time as backup to Raheem Mostert. The rest of the picks were mostly solid, without showing a huge upside.
Jimmy G. or Trey Lance? That’s the big question in Santa Clara. It doesn’t seem logical to give up so much for a backup quarterback. So there is a good chance that Lance will play, but when? Immediately in week 1? Or later in the season? Will Garoppolo get a chance to prove himself until the bye week in week six? The program for the 49ers in the first weeks is not overly difficult, including games against the Lions and Eagles.
Can Shanahan bench Garoppolo if the Niners are 4-1 after five games? It is an issue that makes the Niners extremely interesting to follow. Also because the choice can have major consequences for the season. Despite all the doubts that there are in the Bay Area about Garoppolo, he has proven that he can make it to the Super Bowl. By comparison, Lance only played one game at tiny North Dakota State last year. The move from college to the National Football League (NFL) couldn’t have been greater.
The rest of the attack is as complete as it gets. Many teams will envy the options Shanahan has; provided George Kittle can keep fit. The absolute star of the team missed eight games last year due to knee and foot injuries. Another player who has to come back from injuries is receiver Deebo Samuel. He could only start five games last season.
With Kittle, Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, the San Francisco 49ers have excellent players who can catch balls with ease. Despite these qualities, however, much of the Niners’ play will be on the ground. It’s a Shanahan signature and with possibly the strongest offensive line in the league, it couldn’t be otherwise. Raheem Mostert is the man who will have to do it, but he also missed half of the games last year due to an ankle injury. So it is a lot of players who have to stay fit this year to ensure that the Niners can really reach their ceiling.
The 49ers are going to have offensive problems next season. You can assume that with the question marks on quarterback. That doesn’t have to be a disaster if the team has a top five defense and that potential is there. The key question is, can new DC DeMeco Ryans continue Saleh’s work? Can the defense stay fit? Spoiler alert: that didn’t work last season.
The most important news for the Niners is that Nick Bosa is fit again. The squad’s best defender suffered a serious injury in week 2 last season and soon saw his season come to an end. Together with Arik Armstead, he forms the most dangerous edge duo in the NFL. They are the heart of one of the most dangerous defensive lines.
That line is the great strength of this defense, but the Niners also have a lot of quality on linebacker. Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner have already proven themselves here. Newcomer Ebukam completes the trio. The latter is a good reinforcement on paper, but will have to show on the field that he is not only a pass rusher, but is also there in the running game and in coverage.
The biggest question mark with the San Francisco 49ers is the backfield. Jason Varrett has to show that last season – in which he was one of the few who remained fit – is not an outlier. The Niners have also taken off a jacket in width here. Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon left the club. During the mini-camp, the Niners also lost Tarvarius Moore to – how could it be otherwise – a serious injury. Let’s hope it doesn’t bode well for disaster season in the Bay Area.
The Niners have another roster to make it to the Super Bowl. With two question marks: Can everyone stay fit and do they have a quarterback who can win playoff games? One of the two quarterbacks certainly can, but he has the least confidence.
The other quarterback is a rookie. There has never been a rookie QB to make it to the Super Bowl as a starter. There is therefore a small chance that it will happen this year. Lance is too inexperienced for that and will make too many mistakes under pressure. The play-offs will make it to the Niners as a wild card team, but that’s about it for this year. Next season they can really seriously compete for the NFC title.