And so begins the slow march towards training camp. The next six weeks serve as the only true downtime of the NFL calendar year. As the players scatter around the globe for their well-deserved vacation, it’s time to recap what has transpired over the course of the past two-and-a-half months. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to forecast how those events will impact training camp.
Thanks as always to those who asked questions. Let’s dive in.
It has become evident throughout the offseason program that the 49ers are impressively deep at wide receiver and cornerback. Before you start crafting your angry tweets, I’ll add the caveat that yes, there might not be a Julio Jones-type player at those positions, but there are still several guys worthy of spots on the roster.
Let’s start at wide receiver. Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor and Dante Pettis are all virtual locks. That leaves Steven Dunbar, Richie James, Aldrick Robinson, Max McCaffrey, Aaron Burbridge and Kendrick Bourne fighting for maybe just two additional roster spots (I left off Victor Bolden Jr. as his suspension means he won’t figure into the team’s Week 1 roster).
Robinson provided a solid veteran presence last season and showed well in minicamp. Bourne continues to improve after finishing strong as a rookie. James is an intriguing rookie that may not make it to the practice squad if he’s cut. It’s also important not to forget about Burbridge. He missed all of last season due to injury but was one of the league’s top gunners in punt coverage as a rookie in 2016.
The numbers game at cornerback is equally log-jammed. Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon project to be the starters. Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore, D.J. Reed and K’Waun Williams also have a great shot at making the roster. That’s six names already. Guys like Greg Mabin, Tarvarus McFadden and Tyvis Powell impressed during the offseason program. I’d almost guarantee that one of the defensive backs cut in August will get swooped up to another team’s active roster immediately.
This is a fun question. I’ll give you one on both sides of the football. Defensively I’ll pick Jeremiah Attaochu. The former 2014 second-round pick posted six sacks in 2015 before falling down the depth chart with the Los Angeles Chargers. He’ll have the opportunity to prove he’s a bona fide NFL pass rusher with the 49ers.
On offense, I’ll go with George Kittle. The 49ers will be in need of red zone weapons, and Kittle could be the primary benefactor. Kittle posted 515 yards and two touchdowns in 2017 despite fighting through injuries for most of the year. He could be an interesting fantasy sleeper this season.
Solomon Thomas is likely to start at LEO on base downs. Attaochu and Cassius Marsh are the favorites to step in on passing downs.
Don’t be surprised if the 49ers give both Pettis and Taylor game reps, especially if neither player separates himself as the clear-cut No. 1 option during training camp/preseason.
As a collective? I’ll take the over without question. I’ll take DeForest Buckner for eight sacks, Solomon Thomas for six, Arik Armstead for four and Reuben Foster for one. That’s 19 sacks before considering any contributions from Marsh, Attaochu and Eli Harold.
I see no reason to believe why Pettis won’t be thrown into the fire immediately. He could be the team’s Week 1 punt returner and see reps at all three receiver spots while spelling the starters.
It doesn’t sound like Fred Warner will get any reps at SAM linebacker. He’s been playing MIKE since arriving in the Bay Area, and he’s likely to remain in the middle. Eli Harold is the favorite to start at SAM linebacker as he’s become an expert at setting the edge against the run. That’s one of the primary responsibilities of the SAM in Robert Saleh’s system.
If I had to pick one, I’d go with Marquise Goodwin. However, I don’t think any 49ers wide receiver will get to 1,000 yards. I think Jimmy Garoppolo is going to spread the love, and instead of seeing one guy put up monster numbers, there will be a new hero in each game. Garçon, Goodwin and Taylor will get theirs, but Garrett Celek, Kittle and Pettis are also likely to see plenty of action.
Kyle Shanahan said on Wednesday that Joe Williams is in better shape than he was a year ago. The Utah product has seemed locked in and has showed flashes of his explosiveness as a runner. Granted, the evaluation won’t truly begin until pads come on, but Williams had a fine offseason program nonetheless.
As far as I can remember, I didn’t see him catch a ton of passes. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida were much more involved in that regard.
For the sake of your road trip I really hope the 49ers win it for you. In all seriousness, that will be a crucial contest for San Francisco as it’s the lone home game in the first quarter of the season. The 49ers will need to take care of business at Levi’s® Stadium against Matthew Stafford and Co.