While going from the bottom of the league to the top in a single season is a very difficult road, and one which requires many things going right, it’s far from unheard of. In 2000, the Patriots, with Bill Belichick, went 5-11; a season later, they were 11-5 and Super Bowl champions. Only a few years earlier, Kurt Warner and the Rams went from 4-12 in 1998 to 13-3 in 1999, winning a Super Bowl. It is noteworthy to mention both those teams had a different starting Quarterback the season previous from their success, just as the 49ers will have Garopollo healthy next year, ready for his first full season. Although it didn’t end in a Super Bowl, we saw the Rams go from the absolute worst team in the league in 2016 to a true contender in 2017, and here we are in 2018 with the Rams atop the league (with a star studded roster nonetheless) halfway through the season. The point is this: while it will not be easy, the 49ers have a great opportunity to turn the franchises’ direction around and become a competitive, legitimate contender.
Although their record and recent play may not show it, the 49ers are very close to where they want to be. The secondary, outside of Richard Sherman, has struggled all year, in part due to a weak pass rush. The beautiful thing about defense in the NFL is how much of an impact one or two players can have on the entire unit. Richard Sherman, when healthy, has been absolutely stellar this season, and has shown little to no regression following his knee surgery in the offseason. I believe all it would take is one more player in the secondary, whether it be a corner or safety, to give the team a big boost in coverage. On top of that, it is likely the 49ers will have a top 3 or 5 pick in the draft, and there are many elite level pass rushers currently in college (6 of the top 7 prospects are either DT’s or DE’s) who are declaring for the NFL draft after this season. For example, if the 49ers draft Nick Bosa, and can add a star through free agency like Giants standout safety Landon Collins or someone like CB Ronald Darby, and pair them with Rueben Foster, Fred Warner and DeForest Buckner, that would immediately catapult them to a top ten defense in the league. John Lynch has also proven he is not opposed to making trades, and has big balls when attempting to do so, as evidenced by his inquiring if Tom Brady was available during last season. He needs to at least pick up the phone and ask about Patrick Peterson, who is a top tier Although there would still be some weak areas, they would be a lot easier to hide with that level of talent around them.
On the offensive side of the ball, they will be dramatically improved from time alone. Once next September rolls around, Jimmy Garopollo and Jerick McKinnon should both be back healthy, and young guys like Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor (who has been completely nonexistent after a surprisingly good rookie stint) will have another year to learn Shanahan’s system. The 49ers could also look towards free agency to improve their receiving core, and target someone like Golden Tate, who is a reliable, possession receiver with big play ability. Also, George Kittle has been one of the best tight ends in the league this year, even with his case of the dropsies, and should improve with another year in Shanahan’s system. Historically Shanahan has not been one to heavily utilize tight ends, but Kittle is proving that he deserves the targets and opportunities, so Kyle will have a chance in the offseason to add to his playbook and utilize his star tight end.
Yes, this season has been what most would consider a complete failure. But there are blue skies on the horizon, and if the team can stay healthy, many good things are to come in 2019.