2017 Season Review…And Looking To 2018
The bad news: for the fourth straight season the NFL postseason will be without the San Francisco 49ers. The good news: the 2017 season ended on a very high note as the 49ers managed to win six of their final seven games after opening the season at 0-9, leaving a glimpse of hope heading towards the future. And with a strong finish to end their 2017 campaign, the 49ers in turn earned lots of respect around the league and proved that better days are indeed ahead.
The first half of the 2017 NFL season was a very, cruel period for the 49ers as all the breaks seemed to constantly go against them on the football field. Under new head coach Kyle Shanahan, the offense had the tough task of learning his offensive system while the defense seemed to be more up to speed under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and his scheme. But as hard as the 49ers defense played during the first half of the season, the offensive side’s consistent inefficiencies to move the ball down the field would catch up to the defensive unit down the stretch of games and become more gassed. But not to be held without blame, the 49ers defense had a habit of creating foolish penalties at the wrong time which would extend drives for opposing offenses.
Not to be outdone, the offensive side of the ball had their issues ranging from dropped passes by receivers to multiple three-and-out drives. The 49ers quarterback play never struck fear in opposing defenses whether it be from veteran Brian Hoyer or rookie C.J. Beathard. The former opened up the season as the 49ers starting quarterback for the first six games, and despite the team losing the last five of those by a combined 14 points Hoyer was never able to make that key pass when most needed. Soon to be replaced in favor of the rookie, Hoyer would sit and give way to Beathard hoping to spark the 49ers offense. And though Beathard showed unquestionable toughness on the field, the former Iowa Buckeye didn’t fare much better.
To sum up the first half of 2017, there was nothing short of constant growing pains for the 49ers. And although the who team stayed focus and never lost sight of the main goal, more growing pains seemed on the horizon for the second half of 2017. This is until something special happened on October 30, 2017, and everything within Niners World has not been the same since.
On that date, the 49ers acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2018 2nd-round draft pick and since then the fun has finally found it’s way to Levi’s Stadium. Since stepping in as the starting quarterback week 13, the whole 49ers team has not looked anywhere near the team that got off to a rough start since the season started. And even though there were still glaring holes on the offensive side of the ball, Garoppolo helped elevate the play of everyone inside the huddle with him. Garoppolo’s ability to make the throws only few elite signal callers can make is a sight that hasn’t been seen from a 49ers quarterback in a very long time.
“Jimmy G” may be the new toast of the Bay Area, but one notable thing to keep in mind is that he’s still learning Shanahan’s complex playbook. And the fact that Garoppolo was surrounded by an offense that had a lot more time to get comfortable in the system might have benefitted him to the fullest. The newest 49er would develop great chemistry with his receivers such as Marquise Goodwin, rookie Trent Taylor and even fullback Kyle Juszczyk. And while at the same time being able to string together timely drives more than both Hoyer and Beathard could, it would be the 49ers defense who would also reap the rewards and the unit would be given more time to catch their breath and be more efficient on the field.
One group that made a significant impact for the 49ers this season were the 2017 NFL rookie draft class which was handpicked by new general manager John Lynch. Cunningly working his magic while moving up and down the draft boards, Lynch worked well alongside Shanahan during the NFL Draft and seemingly made out very well. Both Taylor and tight end George Kittle got more acclimated with the offense each game and contributed 43 receptions each, while undrafted free agent Matt Breida combined for 645 total yards from scrimmage and proved to be a great compliment in the running game with veteran Carlos Hyde.
The defensive side also had their share of contributing rookies led defensive end Solomon Thomas (3rd overall selection) and linebacker Reuben Foster (31st overall). Thomas has shown glimpses of being a force along the 49ers defensive line tallying three sacks on the season and is only going to get better in time. Foster, on the other hand, plays with the passion and drive to be a great linebacker one day. And even though Foster has almost given Niner fans plenty of heart attacks with his kamikaze mentality, there is no denying that the former Crimson Tide has the natural instincts to be a force and finished second on the team behind cornerback Dontae Johnson with 72 tackles. Along the secondary, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Adrian Colbert gave the 49ers defensive back four a boost it desperately needed. While Witherspoon consistently played tight coverage on opposing receivers, Colbert was the enforcer in the secondary and laid the wood on anyone who dared entered his territory.
It’s such a shame that the 49ers can’t do the season over because when clicking on all cylinders like they did down the stretch that no other NFL team wants to play them. And as hot as the 49ers ended the season they’re probably right. But living in the world of reality, the 49ers will have to put up the “To Be Continued” signs and patiently wait it out. But with so much promise seen towards the end of the season, will the wait for 2018 be worth it?
The simple answer is yes! The 49ers have finally found their franchise quarterback in Garoppolo, and even though the former Eastern Illinois quarterback has yet to be locked up long-term Lynch remained confident that everything will eventually sort itself out. Whether or not a long-term deal or the franchise tag comes into play, Garoppolo isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Now the 49ers have the task of getting to that next level of relevancy and despite the strong finish at the end this team still has holes to fill.
But thanks to approximately $116 million in cap space (and a potent 2017 draft class), the 49ers are in excellent shape to stock up for next season and become serious playoff contenders. With Garoppolo as a starter and Beathard as the backup the 49ers have the luxury of not having to draft a franchise quarterback this coming draft which means they can focus on the other many needs that they have. With the tremendous amount of cap space to go along with nine 2018 draft picks, sky’s the limit on what Lynch and Shanahan can pull off this coming offseason. And with the 49ers now all the sudden being respected once again, notable free agents from all over the league will at the very least want to “kick the tires” and see if there could be matches made in heaven. Want another incentive? Imagine Jimmy G having a whole offseason to master Shanahan’s scheme. Enticing, isn’t it?
A lot will need to be sorted out in the coming weeks as to which current member of the 49ers will be part of the 2018 plans. With uncertainty surrounding players such as Hyde and strong safety Eric Reid, there will be a lot of tough decisions to be made. But one thing is for sure, this 49ers organization is definitely heading in the right direction. Shanahan’s offense will get more simple for those returning next year, while Lynch has proven that he’s capable enough to be a general manager. Fans of the Niner Empire are buying in and have every right to be optimistic about 2018. They have been patient through the past few seasons which have been very difficult, but the faith never waivered.
Before this past October 30th, the 49ers as an organization was at a crossroads. But since acquiring Garoppolo from the Patriots, there is new life within the franchise. Yes, lots of work still needs to be done and nothing is set in stone yet. But the 49ers are much better off than they were the start the 2017 season. There is no reason to doubt the 49ers can surprise teams next season. Salary cap space, lots of young talent being developed and a potential free agent landing spot? What is there to doubt? Don’t worry, we’ll wait!
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