In the eyes of the San Francisco 49ers, the 2018 NFL season was, to put it mildly, a crushing disappointment. Following a sensational win-streak at the end of the 2017 season led by promising signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo, along with the addition of several key free-agency acquisitions, fans and neutrals alike may have agreed that the fortunes of the Niners may have been set to change. Nevertheless, circumstances soon turned foul, ultimately leaving the team with an incredibly poor 4-12 record. The only team which achieved a worse record were the utterly impotent Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers’ season was crippled early on by the losses of two key offensive pieces. The first was running-back Jerick McKinnon, one of the marquee signings of free agency, who tore his ACL early in training camp. Furthermore, star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered the very same injury in the 49ers’ week three matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs; the team would thus be without their chief signal-caller for the remainder of the season. They would go on to lose the following five games with sophomore quarterback C.J. Beathard leading the charge, before he was ultimately benched in favour of former undrafted free agent Nick Mullens, one of the premier feel-good stories of the season as his stellar performance against the Oakland Raiders gifted the Niners their second win of the season.
The Mullens era furthermore gave San Francisco another rare bright spot in the season, as they defeated the Seattle Seahawks for the first time since 2013 in week fifteen. Nonetheless, their ultimate 4-12 record was secured as they conceded 48 points to the Los Angeles Rams in their final game of the season.
Without a doubt, the worst aspect of the 2018 San Francisco 49ers were their incredibly incompetent defensive corps. The unit set the record for the lowest number of interceptions throughout the season, accumulating only two in the entire sixteen games. This is a massively disappointing fact, and clearly demonstrates the ineffective nature of their secondary despite the expensive signing of cornerback Richard Sherman in the previous offseason. Forty players throughout the entire NFL would record more interceptions than the entire 49ers defensive corps.
The 49ers made several coaching changes in the offseason in the hopes of finally changing their fortunes; here’s a look at them.
Miles Austin: The former Dallas Cowboys star wideout joins the Niners as offensive quality control coach this season following two seasons in various coaching capacities with the ‘Boys.
Brian Fleury: Fleury, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, has now taken the role of defensive quality control for the 49ers this season. Having spent much of his previous career in research capacities, Fleury will be hoping to capitalise on his knowledge to help this previously unsuccessful 49ers defensive corps.
Kris Kocurek: Kocurek joins the 49ers this season as defensive line coach, having previously held this role for the Miami Dolphins. Kocurek has also spent time with the Detroit Lions, playing a vital role in Ndamukong Suh’s Defensive Rookie of the Year success.
The Niners furthermore made several key player additions through either free-agency or trades in an attempt to finally instil a winning culture in San Francisco.
Dee Ford: Ford was acquired via trade with the Kansas City Chiefs this past offseason. Though he may be more recently associated with his costly offsides penalty which likely caused the Chiefs’ loss in the AFC Championship, Ford remains a very talented edge rusher who should immediately contribute to the 49ers defensive efforts. For only a second round pick, the Niners have secured themselves an incredibly valuable defensive option.
Kwon Alexander: Another incredibly positive defensive acquisition, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Kwon Alexander will largely boost a recently depleted linebacker corps still suffering from the loss of Reuben Foster. Alexander had been a stalwart on the Buccs defense and, again, will bring much needed quality to this poor unit.
Jason Verrett: Verrett joined the 49ers on a one year deal this past offseason from the Los Angeles Chargers. The cornerback had more than his fair share of injury troubles throughout his career with the Chargers, yet has demonstrated incredible talent during his healthy spells. Provided he can stay healthy, Verrett should largely boost this aforementioned dismal 49ers secondary.
Tevin Coleman: The versatile running-back featured heavily for the Atlanta Falcons in the absence of Devonta Freeman last season, and now joins the Niners to probably feature as the team’s lead back going into the 2019 campaign. Coleman poses threat to opposing defenses as both a rusher and receiver, and should be one of Jimmy Garoppolo’s chief weapons in the upcoming season.
1.2: Nick Bosa, DE- Ohio State
2.36: Deebo Samuel, WR- South Carolina
3.67: Jalen Hurd, WR- Baylor
4.110: Mitch Wishnowsky, P- Utah
5.148: Dre Greenlaw, LB- Arkansas
6.176: Kaden Smith, TE- Stanford
6.183: Justin Skule, OT- Vanderbilt
6.198: Tim Harris, CB- Virginia
The Niners’ 4-12 record secured them the second-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, which they spent on defensive end Nick Bosa- the brother of NFL defensive end Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers. Many saw Nick Bosa to be an even more promising prospect than his brother if he can get past some recent injury issues. If he can live up to this pedigree, expect him to become a force in the NFL for years to come. They then chose the imposing Deebo Samuel in the second round, who many viewed as a first round talent. Samuel should divert some coverage from breakout tight-end George Kittle, who emerged as one of the only bright spots in a largely uninspired 2018 offensive corps.
The San Francisco 49ers’ then took Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky with their fourth round selection. Wishnowsky has drawn several similarities to Seattle Seahawks punter Michael Dickson, a fellow Aussie, and should attempt to emulate his level of success in his inaugural NFL season.
Undrafted Free Agents
Wilton Speight, QB- UCLA
Malik Henry, WR- West Georgia
Shawn Poindexter, WR- Arizona
Tyree Mayfield, TE- Wyoming
Ross Reynolds, OG- Iowa
Jamell Garcia-Williams, DE- UAB
Kevin Givens, DT- Penn State
Azeez Al-Shaair, LB- Florida Atlantic
Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, S- Arizona
Cameron Glenn, S- Wake Forest
UCLA’s Wilton Speight was a highly touted prospect throughout his early career, however may be able to make the final roster if he gives a positive offseason performance. Arizona wide-receiver Shawn Poindexter is a physical freak standing at six foot five inches and over 220 lbs, making him a valuable red-zone threat and an almost unmissable target for Jimmy G. My personal favourite of the bunch has to be Wake’s Cameron Glenn, who boasts an enviable level of athleticism and has experience playing at both strong and free safety. Expect Glenn to have a solid chance of making the final fifty-three man roster.
Notable Camp Standouts
Mitch Wishnowsky, P
Jordan Matthews, WR
Akhello Witherspoon, CB
Nick Bosa, DE
Trent Taylor, WR
The aforementioned Wishnowsky has already been turning heads at training camp, displaying impressive hang-time on kicks and reflecting fully the reason why the Niners decided to spend a fourth round pick on him. Furthermore, this may be the comeback season for former Philadelphia wideout Jordan Matthews. Despite a bad run of form, the receiver may be in the process of a career revival, becoming one of Garoppolo’s favoured targets. Finally, former Ohio State defensive end and the second overall pick of the 2019 draft Nick Bosa has been living up to expectations despite his injury issues. Bosa will surely become a force to be reckoned with in the NFL, provided he stays healthy.