Our "Four Downs" season preview series rolls on with a look at the high-profile players on the San Francisco 49ers roster and what you can expect from them in 2018. Check here for last week's edition that covered the team's comeback player of the year candidates.
First Down: What are reasonable expectations for Jimmy Garoppolo?
Joe Fann: 4,300 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions
I think Garoppolo has the potential to post top 10 numbers among NFL QBs. He was on a gaudy pace last season in his five starts. Garoppolo's 1,542 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions in those games translate to 4,934 yards, 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over a full season. That yardage total would have easily been tops in the league (Tom Brady led the NFL with 4,577 yards in 2017). I'd dial down the yardage projection a bit while adding a few more touchdowns. I'll go with 4,300 yards (would have ranked fifth in 2017), 25 scores (would have ranked tied for 10th in 2017) and 13 interceptions (yes, I wouldn't be surprised if Garoppolo was among the league leaders in picks). A stat to keep in mind is that the 49ers had the second-most pass attempts last season.
Keiana Martin: 4,200 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions
We eventually will come to find that Jimmy G is human after all. While being thrown into one of the most complex offenses mid-season and pulling off a remarkable win streak to end the year is beyond admirable, Garoppolo will face the pressure of having to live up to his first seven NFL starts. The quarterback now comes with additional tape and a scouting report to go with it. However, he's coming off of a full offseason with Kyle Shanahan and has had the time to build rapport with his offense. If Garoppolo's success can carry over into 2018, I project his numbers to fall in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.
Second Down: What are reasonable expectations for Solomon Thomas?
Joe Fann: Seven sacks and 50 tackles
Thomas posted three sacks and 41 tackles as a rookie. He's taken heat for his low sack total given the 49ers drafted him third overall, but I also think he hasn't gotten enough credit for how he developed throughout the year. Thomas ended the season as an every-down player and became dependable against the run. His pass rush moves will come in time. He's spent some of the offseason working out with Tampa Bay Buccaneers perennial Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. In fact, seven sacks would put him in the neighborhood of what McCoy, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carlos Dunlap, Kawann Short and Olivier Vernon posted last season.
Keiana Martin: 6.5 sacks and 55 tackles (and two forced fumbles)
Thomas is expected to take on a larger role in 2018. With an increased role comes more opportunities to get to the quarterback. The 49ers only added Jeremiah Attaochu this offseason to help remedy their 26th-ranked pass rush. That means the 49ers are doubling down on the talent currently on the roster. Under the coaching of pass rush specialist Chris Kiffin, I project Thomas to make significant strides in Year 2.
Third Down: What are reasonable expectations for Jerick McKinnon?
Joe Fann: 900 rushing yards, 600 receiving yards and nine total scores
The 49ers paid McKinnon like a top five running back so it feels fair to expect him to be in the ballpark of the NFL's elite. Kareem Hunt posted 1,782 total yards last season, Le'Veon Bell racked up 1,946 and Todd Gurley put up a ridiculous 2,093. Kyle Shanahan's offense could realistically finish in the top 10 in terms of total yardage and scoring in 2018. That would bode well for McKinnon's outlook. I think 1,500 total yards and nine touchdowns should be within reach for San Francisco's big-money free agent. McKinnon will share some of the work with Matt Breida, but if OTAs were any indication, he'll be catching a ton of passes from Garoppolo. Remember, Carlos Hyde, a running back not known for being a dual-threat, posted a team-high 59 catches for the 49ers last season.
Keiana Martin: 1,000 rushing yards, 450 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns
Shanahan's success with running backs is no secret, which is why I project career numbers from McKinnon. Last year, Carlos Hyde led the team in yards from scrimmage (1,288), touchdowns (8) and receptions (59). Taking on an expanded role in San Francisco, I predict McKinnon will have his first 1,000-yard rushing season to add to 450 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. Those are strong numbers for the former third-down back, but I predict his involvement in Shanahan's zone-based offense will play a major role in 2018.
Fourth Down: What are reasonable expectations for Richard Sherman?
Joe Fann: Four interceptions
This one is by far the hardest as Sherman is still a bit of a wildcard. That said, give me the player who is willing to bet on himself. Sherman did just that when he signed an incentive-laden contract this offseason. He expects himself to return to form following his Achilles tear, and I think a player of his caliber deserves the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I'll keep my projection here modestly in check at four interceptions. That would place him tied for 12th in 2017 among all NFL defensive backs. Sherman's ceiling is much higher than that, though, which should be enticing for 49ers fans.
Keiana Martin: Three interceptions
San Francisco fans alike will be eager to see Sherman's 49ers debut in training camp next week. More specifically, fans are intrigued to find out if the All-Pro corner will return to form. Like Joe said, Sherman bet on himself this offseason which leads me to feel optimistic on his return. Regardless of the numbers, Sherman has already proven to be an invaluable asset for the 49ers young secondary. I'll go with three picks for Sherman including one pick-six.