*Editor’s Note: This article was written two days before the retirement of offensive lineman Anthony Davis and the arrest of Aldon Smith.
Forget everything you thought you knew about the San Francisco 49ers of recent history. No more Jim Harbaugh. No more Frank Gore. Patrick Willis is gone and so is Chris Borland. How could things go so downhill so fast? Ego, may have played a part in it, but now it doesn’t matter. The 49ers find themselves in an unwanted position in the most physical division in football.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has supposedly worked on his mechanics in the off-season and let’s all hope this is true. At times Kaepernick looked like he was engaged in a shot-put competition when he was throwing a football. Kaepernick is not the quarterback you want under center if trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter and last season he seemed to either second guess his dual-threat ability or not know how to use it to his advantage. The 49ers need to remain focused on running the ball this year but without Frank Gore in the backfield, the assumption is that second year man Carlos Hyde becomes the guy. People expected more from Hyde (albeit in a backup role) but four yards a carry isn’t too shabby and it’s something he can build on. The 49ers didn’t show much faith in Hyde being the next Gore – as they will most likely have a running back committee. They signed the versatile Reggie Bush, who for all things considered is on the downside of his career and they drafted South Carolina running back Mike Davis, who might end up stealing the number one spot on the depth chart by mid-season. Davis is a patient runner, who has big play potential as well as three-down-back potential.
The offensive line took a loss with Mike Iupati departing via free agency, but their tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis are the oxen on the o-line and love being physical. This is a team that will depend on the interior of the line more than the outside of it, if they do intend on using a power-run-attack, relying on the presence of their guards which is where the Niners have nothing spectacular.
The same can be echoed, with all due respect, to the wide receivers on the 49ers. They signed Torrey Smith to reunite him with former Ravens wide out Anquan Boldin, but this isn’t 2011 so there isn’t much to get excited about it. Smith provides the deep threat, but how will that work out with “Ol’ Shot-Put Colin” tossing the pigskin? Boldin is a man’s man. He’ll do the dirty work, and even in his 13th season he still managed 1,000 yards receiving. Smith may be more flash than anything else though as he never became what they wanted him to be in Baltimore. At tight end, Vernon Davis was downright dreadful last year but he’s all they got at that position. It’ll be rare to see the Niners go Three-Wide, but if they do expect Bruce Ellington or Quinton Patton to catch feelings as one will be the odd-man out.
This defense used to be a monster – and the 49ers coaching staff will need Aldon Smith to return with a clear head and become one of the elite pass rushers in the league again. Aldon is a ticking time-bomb though and it’ll be interesting to see how free he gets off the edge without Justin Smith there to clear him a path. The 49ers drafted Arik Armstead out of Oregon in the first round to help beef up the line – but it’s their second round pick Tank Carradine out of Florida State who will make more of an impact. Carradine has a non-stop motor and power that you just can’t teach – while Armstead is the type to get stood up more often than not and kind of gives up if his first attempt is stopped.
The return of NaVorro Bowman will be a nice sight as he is returning from the game after being sidelined for over a year after a grotesque knee injury. This used to be the best linebacker group in the NFL with Bowman, Willis, Smith and Ahmad Brooks – but Willis is gone, Smith is a certified nut-job and Brooks might lose his job to Aaron Lynch if he doesn’t show better production early. Not the softest of landing spots for Bowman, who will be depended on to direct a defense that will probably be on the field a lot. . .
The 49ers secondary seems to get destroyed by free agency every year and this year was no different. There is a lot of youth and inexperience at the corner back spots, but at least the safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are still there. Reid and Bethea will probably be taken out of their comfort zone and asked to do a lot more one on one coverages because of the lack of experience at corner – it could get ugly.
Predicted Record: 4-12
Predicted Pro Bowlers: None