Ahead of the 2018 NFL season, we’re bringing you a series outlining which teams are getting too much hype and what rosters are sneakily going under the radar.
Disclaimer: I hate your favourite team, regardless of who they are. Please bear this in mind if it makes you feel better after hearing about how your team aren’t half as good as they think they are.
First up, it’s the 49ers, who ended last season buzzing based on the performances of their much-coveted new quarterback…
San Francisco 49ers: Projected Win Total 8.5 – Evens
Whatever you want to say about the way the Patriots front office goes about its business, the fact is that they very rarely make a mistake. In getting rid of both Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo for pittance, old age may just be catching up with dear Bill and co.
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Brissett is a livewire, but the far more polished passer is the Eastern Illinois product ‘Jimmy G’. He’s yet to lose a game, he understands route trees and his anticipation is already at a high level. And that’s about all I can say on him right now. The thing is – that’s all anyone should have to say about him right now. We’ve not been overly exposed to the gunslinger, nor have we had a chance to see him play in a pressure environment.
The Niners, as is always the case with the cyclical nature of the NFL outside of New England, had a fortune to spend after their comedown from a relatively decent spell as a playoff team.
Was their business good? For the most part – yes.
Daniel Kilgore is gone to Miami but they replaced him with Weston Richburg – a brilliant pass blocker who will form a partnership with his young quarterback for years to come. Carlos Hyde needed the boot and they’ve added a different dynamic to their run game with Jerick McKinnon. What this provides is unpredictability in two-back sets.
Both he and Kyle Juszczyk are excellent pass catchers and give the Niners, and, most importantly, Jimmy Garoppolo, valuable flexibility in terms of play-calling. If Joshua Garnett can return to the pull-blocking monster we saw in college, this offensive line could be a top five unit.
Away from their offensive acquisitions, I really like the pieces this already-decent Niners D picked up, but more from a depth point of view. Yes, the flashy addition of Richard Sherman will dominate the headlines, but clever signings like former second-round pick Jerry Attaochu and versatile 3-4/4-3 hybrid linebacker Korey Toomer will enhance Kyle Shanahan’s team in sub-packages.
This defensive line boasts a young Aaron Donald-type wrecking ball in DeForest Buckner and the back-end has hard-hitting safety Jaquiski Tartt paired with Jimmy Ward. Granted the helmet rule changes won’t help the former, but the rest of the league will have to adjust to those too. San Fran are going to need to see more from sophomore defensive end Solomon Thomas, but the capital invested in that line should begin to bear fruit soon.
Saying all this, their draft was weak. Before you start quoting your favourite in-house PR spouting about how great certain player look in camp, just remember that there’s a large amount of salt in this world and you need just a pinch of it to remain level-headed.
The Bears picked up Roquan Smith just a spot ahead of the Niners – they should have pulled the trigger to move up and nab him. He was a squeaky-clean alpha middle linebacker they left behind. Reuben Foster has collected some baggage, even if it’s unmerited – and they lack a true weakside linebacker to deal with opposing tight ends.
They happily settled for Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey instead, and while that will almost certainly aid Garoppolo down the line, it doesn’t massively improve their chances this season, even though he’s pencilled into a less-taxing right tackle role. He will be Joe Staley’s long-term successor once he’s learned the nuances of the position.
Selecting Dante Pettis is the one that stings. By my own analysis, there were five better receivers in that spot for the Niners to take. Courtland Sutton could have been their Julio Jones, and he was only, presumably, a fourth and fifth-round pick away from landing in Santa Clara. Pettis is six-foot tall.
They’ve got Marquise Goodwin (big improver – fantasy football sleeper), Trent Taylor and Pierre Garcon. This all just screams ‘safe’. Taylor runs crossers, Garcon will run dig routes – they’ve not got that go-to in third-and-long situations. Atlanta ate those up under Shanahan. This will be the litmus test.
Overall, this roster is set up for long-term success, but they’re a true #1 receiver and a bell cow back away from really competing in every game. This offence will be play-action heavy and they haven’t got a deep ball threat to complement that. So, with a focus on scheme and an off-season that seems more conducive to keeping ‘Jimmy G’ out of make-or-break situations, their approach on-field will likely mirror that.
They may win in Arizona, but they aren’t winning in Minnesota, Kansas City, Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay or either of their two trips to Los Angeles. Do they win all their home games with the Rams and Giants coming to town? It seems unlikely.