Our staff writers break down the top players and storylines from the San Francisco 49ers 2017 season.
Let's dive into this "Four Downs" recap of the year, presented by SunPower.1st Down:Who was the 49ers biggest surprise?@Joe_Fann: K'Waun Williams
It feels almost silly to look back at how much attention the position battle to be the 49ers starting nickel corner garnered last summer. Would it be Williams or Will Redmond? It only took a few practices to tell that Williams had a stranglehold on the job. Fast forward to September and the 49ers had already seen enough to give the corner a three-year contract extension. He was sorely missed in the two games he was absent due to injury. Williams' top play of 2017 was his momentum-altering interception in a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He looks to be a staple in the 49ers secondary heading into 2018.
@KeianaMartinTV: Adrian Colbert
Who would have thought that the 49ers final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft would emerge into a starter with a promising future in San Francisco? He earned high praise from 49ers general manager John Lynch after stepping in for Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries in back-to-back games. Colbert totaled 30 total tackles, five passes defended and a forced fumble during his rookie campaign. San Francisco struck gold with their late-round gem and could be forced to into some tough decisions at the safety position heading into next season.2nd Down: Who was the 49ers unsung hero?
@Joe_Fann: Matt Breida
Only Pierre Garçon (eight) and Garrett Celek (four) had more touchdowns than Breida. Isn't that wild? The undrafted rookie running back had more scores than Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle. His 4.4 yards per carry average bested starting running back Carlos Hyde's (3.9). Breida finished the year with 645 yards from scrimmage (465 rushing, 180 receiving).
Even after 11 NFL seasons, Staley still ranks as one of the top offensive linemen in the NFL. According to Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus, Staley finished the year as the second-highest graded tackle this season. Staley was dependable despite battling through a knee injury and a fractured orbital bone. He has missed just four games since the 2010 season. By the sound of his recent remarks, he's excited about the future of San Francisco and hopes to pick up where he left off in 2018.3rd Down: Which player could make the biggest jump in 2018?
@Joe_Fann: Solomon Thomas
Thomas was stout against the run as a rookie but never blossomed as a pass rusher, posting just three sacks. The 49ers will hope that his ability to get to the quarterback improves in 2018. One thing that could benefit Thomas, and DeForest Buckner for that matter, would be the addition of a top-end edge rusher. Consistent pressure from an outside rusher would only help inside rushers like Thomas and Buckner.
The diminutive wideout showed well in training camp, but he continued to develop as the season progressed. The 5-foot-8, 181-pound receiver totaled 43 receptions for 430 yards, and two touchdowns his rookie season. According to PFF, quarterbacks were a perfect 15-of-15 for 189 yards and a TD when targeting Taylor on slant routes. And you can't ignore his impact on third down. Sixty-three percent of Taylor's receptions came on third down, and Jimmy Garoppolo was 12-of-13 on third downs when targeting him. We heard former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins discuss the importance of a dependable receiver who can move the sticks in Shanahan's offense, and Taylor fits the bill. 4th Down: Who was the MVP?
@Joe_Fann: Jimmy Garoppolo
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Garoppolo completely shifted the national perspective of the 49ers organization. What initially looked like a multi-year rebuild in San Francisco now appears to be a team that can compete for a playoff spot in 2018. His numbers weren't gaudy -- 1,560 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions -- but anyone who watched him play down the stretch knows he's the real deal.
If there was ever any question of the importance of NFL kickers, Gould confirmed their value. He's coming off of the best season of his 13-year NFL career, finishing 39-of-41 on field-goal tries for a 95 percent conversion rate. He registered a single-season career high with 145 points, the second best single-season point total in franchise history. His 39 made field goals led the NFL and set another career high. You can't forget both of his game-winning kicks against the Tennessee Titans and his former team, the Chicago Bears. Gould won NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after both performances and was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December. As a key contributor for all 16 weeks, he's well deserving of team MVP recognition.