It’s fair to say the 2018 campaign didn’t go as anyone in San Francisco hoped. Jimmy Garoppolo’s season ending injury saw him head to Injured Reserve after playing in just three games. The team tried admirably to carry on without their offensive leader, but the 49ers limped to an ugly record of 4-12 when all was said and done.
The obvious hope this season is that Garoppolo can stay healthy and play like the franchise quarterback the organization believes he can be. At 27 years of age, it’s time for him to take the step from intriguing young player to established star. The good news for Garoppolo is that he’s playing for one of the most innovative offensive coaches in the NFL.
Having Kyle Shanahan as a head coach is going to give Garoppolo every chance to succeed from a schematic perspective. He still needs to execute the throws, but there’s not much question about Garoppolo’s arm talent. When he’s given a clean pocket he’s shown the ability to make all the throws required in the 49ers offense.
Garoppolo’s return to health isn’t the only reason to be optimistic about the San Francisco offense this year. The organization also deserves credit for systematically adding talent for him to utilize this offseason.
The emergence of George Kittle as one of the best tight ends in football positions him to be the team’s No. 1 pass catcher again this season. The upgrades have largely taken place at the wide receiver position. Last season Kendick Bourne led the wideout group with 42 catches for 487 yards. If that happens again this season things have gone horribly wrong for the 49ers.
Dante Pettis and Jordan Matthews should begin this season as the team’s starting wide receivers on the outside. Pettis is a player who needs to take a big step forward in his second season. He only managed to catch 27 balls in 12 games last year. He needs to triple that number of catches to justify being the team’s top wideout. Pettis absolutely has the athletic ability to become a big play threat in Shanahan’s system.
A pair of rookies will also get their chance to earn meaningful snaps at the wide receiver position. The 49ers plucked Deebo Samuel out of South Carolina in the second round. Don’t be surprised if he becomes one of the most productive rookies in the NFL. He’s ideally suited to thrive in the slot for San Francisco. Samuel’s ability to produce yards after the catch should help keep the chains moving for Garoppolo and company.
Jalen Hurd was drafted a round later, and predictably, it may take him longer to carve out a significant role. The converted running back has the size and speed to be a quality NFL player, but he will need work to understand the intricacies of the position. San Francisco will hope that he blossoms into a factor during the second half of the season.
Shanahan may be an offensive genius, but that doesn’t mean he and the organization ignored the defense during the offseason. The front four, in particular, got a very productive facelift. Nick Bosa was the team’s top draft pick and he should give them a double-digit sack artist for years to come. He is eerily similar to his brother in terms of playing style and production. Don’t expect him to need a lot of time to catch up to the speed of the NFL game.
Dee Ford certainly won’t need any time. He was one of the top sack artists in the league last year for Kansas City. Questions about his approach to the game and willingness to defend the run allowed San Francisco to acquire him. A motivated Ford should be a nightmare for the NFC West.
The combination of a potentially prolific offense and a fierce pass rush is a great foundation for a playoff team. That’s precisely what the 49ers are betting on this year. Assuming they enjoy better injury luck, there’s no reason to think San Francisco can’t battle for a postseason berth.
The challenging nature of the NFC West is what causes oddsmakers to be relatively skeptical about San Francisco’s potential win total this season. Currently, bettors can make wager on the team’s projected over/under at 8.5. That’s certainly influenced by the team’s schedule. Playing both the Rams and Seahawks twice this season could artificially deflate the 49ers final win total.
That tough schedule might keep San Francisco from really turning heads during the regular season, but don’t be surprised if Shanahan pilots this team to double-digit wins. Barring another significant injury to Garoppolo it’s hard to imagine this team going worse than 8-8. Nine or ten wins seem like the most likely outcome for the 49ers in 2019.