June is upon us which means training camp is about a month away, the Hall of Fame game is two months away, and kickoff weekend is about three months away. The football season is right around the corner and the dust has settled on the NFL draft and free agency.
Going into the summer, the 49ers are now in the process of reviewing their roster and putting together a depth chart. With that in mind, this is as good a time as any to start looking into where San Francisco improved their roster and where they could still use some improvement.
2018 San Francisco 49ers – Most/Least Improved Position Groups
Most Improved Position Group – Offensive Line
Projected Starters: LT – Joe Staley, LG – Jonathan Cooper, C – Weston Richburg, RG – Joshua Garnett, RT – Mike McGlinchey
Looking at the offensive line last season and one can see why the 49ers started the season 1-10. That turned around when Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted into the starting lineup and his lightning fast release made up for the poor protection.
When the 49ers front office decided to invest in Garoppolo as the franchise quarterback, it was pretty obvious that the offensive line needed to improve. No way would Kyle Shanahan like to see his signal caller on the injured list.
The 49ers ended up signing Cooper in the off-season along with Richburg. Cooper is a former first-round pick that resurrected his career in Dallas last season. Richburg was one of the few bright spots on the New York Giants offensive line, but concussions prevented him from playing all 16 games in 2017.
General manager, John Lynch, then used the ninth overall pick to draft offensive tackle McGlinchey, to be the future blindside protection for Garoppolo. For now, he is slated to be the starting right tackle for San Francisco as the former right tackle, Trent Brown, was shipped to New England.
Projecting the starters on the offensive line, Staley will be the only returning starter from last season. At left guard, I think Cooper has a good chance to beat out Laken Tomlinson but it’s not a guarantee. Tomlinson looked good at times, but he was never consistent. Bringing in some competition may bring the best out of him and this will be a position battle to watch during the summer.
Daniel Kilgore was re-signed and then subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins when the 49ers were able to lure Richburg to San Francisco. As well as Kilgore played last season, having the opportunity to get younger is a benefit and Richburg has more potential to develop further.
Garnett is going to be given every opportunity to start at right guard. Having used all of last season to re-shape his body to become a leaner more mobile blocker. He will have to compete with Cooper and Tomlinson for the starting job, but we will have to see if his 2017 workout plan will pay off in 2018.
Lastly, we come to right tackle where McGlinchey will be the opening day starter as a rookie. He will compete with Garry Gilliam in camp, but drafting McGlinchey in the first round and trading Brown to the Patriots signals that it’s McGlinchey’s job to lose.
Least Improved Position Group – Defensive Backs
Projected Starters: LCB – Richard Sherman, RCB – Akhello Witherspoon, NB – K’Wuan Williams, FS – Jimmie Ward, SS – Jaquiski Tartt
The big reason that the secondary group is listed as the least improved because of the inexperience all over the board. Do they have potential to be good? Absolutely, but right now it’s just a question mark as to how well they perform.
Signing Sherman was one of the smartest things done by Lynch and the front office. He has familiarity with the defensive playbook, as Robert Saleh is a former defensive coach with the Seattle Seahawks. This is the biggest reason as to why Sherman is one of the best offseason moves this year in the NFL. He will bring his knowledge to a young secondary that will really pay dividends down the road.
When the draft came along, the 49ers used six of their nine draft picks on defensive players. Three of those picks were used to improve the secondary. Tarvarius Moore will bring more versatility to the group as he will be practicing at both cornerback and safety because of his agility and ball skills.
D.J. Reed will push Williams at the nickel corner position and may become a really good value pick for the team. Lastly, they selected Marcell Harris who was one of the harder hitting safeties in college football last year. He will be a solid depth piece that may bring some toughness on sub packages.
Diving into the projected starters in the secondary, we can automatically slot Sherman as a starter. He will earn his contract based on how well he performs and that is a win-win situation for the 49ers. If he plays at the level that made him an All-Pro, then this signing is more than worth it. If he doesn’t quite recapture that same tenacity and playing capabilities, San Francisco is not on the hook for a huge contract.
All that said, he earns every penny of his contract if he can turn this raw secondary group into a group that will rival his former defensive back crew in Seattle, the Legion of Boom. One of those raw secondary members is Witherspoon, who will most likely be the starter opposite Sherman. Witherspoon was a solid player in his rookie campaign and will look to build on that going into his second season.
Eric Reid is no longer with the team and the free safety position will be filled by Ward. After experimenting with playing cornerback, Saleh and the defensive staff decided it would be best to return Ward to his natural position of safety. Combining him with Tartt will give the 49ers a good tandem in the defensive backfield. Tartt was on his way to having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he broke his arm in week nine.
Looking at depth, most of these guys will be brought in as breathers for the starting group but a couple names are worth keeping an eye on in camp. As mentioned earlier, Reed will be strong competition for Williams as the starting nickel corner. Other than that, training camp will give us a good idea of where Moore will play in the secondary. His abilities will definitely earn him some defensive snaps.
Last but certainly least, the 49ers brought in Tarvarus McFadden as an undrafted free agent. McFadden is a bit of an anomaly after a brilliant 2016 at Florida State projected him to be a potential first-round draft pick.
A very poor showing in 2017 moved him way out of the first and he became an undrafted signee for San Francisco. If he can play like he did two years ago, the 49ers just got a hell of a player. This once again plays into Sherman’s ability to coach. It’s a challenge that Sherman is more than willing to take on and let’s see what the future holds for McFadden and the rest of the defensive backs.