NFL Preview: How Much Improved is San Francisco this Season?

One of the worst teams in the NFL the past couple of seasons, the San Francisco 49’ers are looking to change their fortunes right away. San Francisco went through a couple of major changes during the offseason.

San Francisco 49ers 2017 Preview and Odds

The main change was hiring former Tampa Bay safety turned NFL commentator John Lynch as their General Manager. Lynch is a total football guy. He decided to hire Kyle Shanahan, the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator during Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl last season, as the 49’ers’ new head coach.

Both Lynch and Shanahan bring plenty of NFL experience to the 49’ers. Will all of that experience translate into a better season than the horrible 2016-2017 NFL Season?

I attempt to answer that question.

Lynch Made His Mark on 2017 NFL Draft Day

Lynch made a splash on draft day. He kept in touch with Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace in the days leading up to the NFL Draft. On NFL Draft Day, Pace spoke to Lynch about moving up to pick 2 in Round 1 so that the Bears could draft North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Lynch had no desire to draft Trubisky. He managed to only move down one spot, to the Bears’ position at pick 3, as well as stock up on picks for the 2017 NFL Draft, and the 2018 NFL Draft. Lynch turned the third pick into DE Jonathan Solomon from Stanford. He turned a later pick in the first round, through more wheeling and dealing, into LB Reuben Foster from Alabama.

The San Francisco 49’ers GM said that he got a chance to stock up on draft picks while still managing to draft 2 of the top 3 players on the 49’ers Draft Board. That’s close to amazing.

Kyle Shanahan Can’t Be Worse Than Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly, the architect of the Oregon Ducks motion offense broke into the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. After being fired by the Eagles, Kelly was hired by the San Francisco 49’ers. Kelly only lasted a single season in San Francisco.

Shanahan can’t be worse than Chip Kelly. Yes, Kyle Shanahan (let’s not confuse him with his more famous father) garnered most of the blame for Atlanta’s offensive meltdown in Super Bowl 51. Even Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan wondered during the Super Bowl why Shanahan kept calling passing plays even though the Falcons had a healthy lead in the fourth quarter.

Shanahan’s play-calling didn’t lead to San Francisco balking at hiring the offensive coordinator with the great coaching pedigree. There’s no way that Kyle Shanahan is worse than Chip Kelly.

Why? For starters, John Lynch has given Shanahan much better quarterbacks to work with. I go over San Francisco’s offense by first discussing the QB position.

Shanny Jr.’s Got Some Offensive Pieces

Let’s not confuse ourselves. QB Brian Hoyer isn’t going to be San Francisco’s franchise quarterback. Hoyer has been in the NFL since the 2009-2010 season. Hoyer’s been a journeyman signal-caller for all of his career. Hoyer’s played for New England (twice), Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Houston, Chicago, and this season, the 49ers.

Hoyer is the starter this season for the San Francisco 49’ers. That’s a good thing. First, SF has some young QBs on the roster that could develop. C.J. Beathard has shown flashes during training camp that he knows what he’s doing. Matt Barkley has some starter experience in the NFL. Nick Mullens is raw, but he’s a fighter.

One of those three could develop into San Francisco’s long-term starter. More importantly, this quarterback draft class appears stacked. USC’s Sam Darnold, Florida State’s Deandre Francois, and UCLA’s Josh Rosen lead a vibrant, unreal, quarterback draft class. This might be the best overall QB draft class since 1983 when John Elway and Dan Marino were drafted in Round 1.

If Shanny Jr. doesn’t want to go with one of the QBs currently on the roster, Lynch and Shanahan no doubt have a plan for drafting one of the big name college quarterbacks in next year’s NFL Draft.

As far as running back is concerned, Shanahan should love Carlos Hyde. As the only option on San Francisco’s team last season, Hyde rushed for 988 yards in only 13 games started. He scored 6 rushing TDs. His per rush average came out to a healthy 4.6.

Joe Staley remains one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. Will San Francisco field one of the best offenses in the NFL this season? Absolutely not. But, will the offense be competitive? In many games, it should be.

San Francisco’s Defense Will Surprise

San Francisco’s defense could be a decent, much improved, unit. Chip Kelly never really cared to coach defense. He often just hired defensive coordinators that had a zone coverage strategy. That won’t be the case in San Francisco this season where both Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster figure to make an immediate impact.

Ahkello Witherspoon, San Francisco’s pick in Round 3, should also make an immediate impact. Witherspoon played cornerback at Colorado. He’s used to playing man and zone coverage versus some of the strongest passing teams in college. Witherspoon held his own versus plenty of talented wide receivers in spread formation offenses.

Just like San Francisco’s offense, the defense isn’t going to hark back to the units from the early 1980’s. Ronnie Lott isn’t suddenly going to show up at the safety position and dominate. But, San Francisco’s defense will be much better.

In fact, within 2 to 3 years both Foster and Thomas could get onto the Top 5 best players list at their respective positions.

2017-2018 San Francisco 49’ers Schedule

For being one of the worst teams in the league last season, NFL schedule makers sure didn’t do the Niners any favors. First, San Francisco must play 10 straight games before their bye. Second, of the 10 straight 5 are at home while 5 are on the road.

Check out SF’s 5 road games before Week 11: Seattle, Arizona, Indianapolis, Washington, and Philadelphia. The 5 home games are versus Carolina, the L.A. Rams, the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona, and the New York Giants.

It’s unlikely that San Francisco wins more than 2 to 3 games in their first 10. The 3 likeliest wins for San Francisco are on the road against Indianapolis, on the road against Washington, and beating Arizona at least once.

I believe the Rams are the second beast team in the NFC West Division this season after the Seattle Seahawks, not the Arizona Cardinals. I like the Rams to to beat San Francisco somewhat handily this season.

After Week 10, the San Francisco 49’ers should have a 3 and 7 record. Will things get any better in the 49ers final 6 games of the season? That’s not likely. The Niners battle Seattle, at Chicago, at Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and at the L.A. Rams.

San Francisco could beat one of teams in their final 6 remaining games. SF shouldn’t be Houston or the L.A. Rams. The Niners could beat Seattle at home in Week 12. Or, they could upset Chicago on the road, or beat Tennessee, or Jacksonville.

San Francisco 49’ers Super Bowl 52 Odds

The odds on the San Francisco 49’ers to win Super Bowl 52 are up to 300 to 1. At 300 to 1, the 49ers might be an underlay. San Francisco’s true odds should be around 400 to 1 to 500 to 1 to win Super Bowl 52.

The reason is because there’s no doubt that both GM John Lynch and Coach Kyle Shanahan are using the 2017-2018 NFL Season to put things in place. San Francisco is either going to find their starting QB for the future this season. Or, SF is going to wait for next week’s draft to find their starting QB.


What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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