The 49er fans endured a torrid start to the Shanahan regime in 2017 losing their first nine games before the saviour that is Jimmy Garoppolo arrived to save the day. They head in to 2018 with renewed optimism behind their star quarterback who is yet to lose a game
Reasons to be cheerful?
Jimmy Garoppolo. The Shanahan playbook is famously complicated but once grasped can be awesome (see Matt Ryan and the Falcons in 2016). Garoppolo came in in the middle of the season and took on ‘diet’ version of the playbook. Now with a full off-season working with Shanahan, many are expecting big things from the former Brady backup. With a long-term contract signed, the 49ers faithful will hope that 2018 will be the start of a return to leading quarterback play in San Francisco
The additions of Mike McGlinchey and Weston Richburg through the off-season will strengthen the offensive line which will be vitally important in protecting the investment made at quarterback. Richburg is a ‘heads up’ centre that has the football IQ needed to help run the Shanahan offense alongside Garoppolo. McGlinchey is a day one starter at right tackle with a long-term view of him taking over on the left when Joe Staley decides to call it a day.
Everyone in San Francisco breathed a sigh of relief when Reuben Fosters legal ordeal ended with the linebacker being found innocent of assault. He will serve a two-game ban but once back will join a defence that will look to improve on their 2017 performance. One-time arch rival, cornerback Richard Sherman has joined to help lead the defence and mentor a young defensive back unit that includes Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrien Colbert, both of whom showed flashes of potential. They’ll need to improve when they’re playing the Rams!
Reasons to be fearful?
The Rams are many people’s favourites to win the Superbowl and will likely be the toughest opponents the 49ers will face in 2018. Realistically, to get into the playoffs the 49ers need to aim for a wildcard spot in an NFC that is bloated with top tier teams.
The 49ers front office placed a lot of emphasis on bringing in a pass catching back to play within Shanahan’s system. Remember when Freeman and Coleman ran riot in Atlanta? That’s what they wanted to recreate. With that they made the investment in former Vikings RB Jerard McKinnon who promptly tore his ACL and is now out for the season. Veteran runner Alfred Morris, who enjoyed his best season in Washington where Shanahan was the offensive coordinator, has come in but provides a very different type of runner.
How does the season shape up?
The two matches against the Rams are pivotal to deciding how the season ends up for the 49ers. I think the Rams have the personnel to take both games and I would expect them to win the division. Realistic success for the 49ers is for them to be competitive in a chase for a wild card after Thanks Giving.
Playoffs? Probably not but in the chase for a wildcard place.