The 49ers are gearing up for this season and have a number of positions which they need to make decisions about. Position battles are a yearly tradition. Some years it brings out the best in the players and the team and others it reveals the lack of depth a team has at certain positions.
The 49ers have three key position units which can determine the outcome of the 2018 season. They are the building blocks of a potential division title and the 49ers have to decide who is the best in each group to lead them on a possible playoff run.
San Francisco has to look at running back, wide receiver and the defensive line as the key position battles entering training camp. Iron sharpens iron and this will hopefully make the 49ers stronger.
49ers Best Position Battles for 2018
The 49ers have an excellent offense led by an intriguing quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who has yet to lose a start in the NFL. While the development and leadership of Garoppolo are crucial to the success of the franchise, a major factor in his success or failure is the running back situation.
They had an excellent running back in Carlos Hyde last season but let him go in free agency. They signed Jerick McKinnon from the Minnesota Vikings to possibly replace Hyde but he has competition as the starter.
The 49ers had a solid running back duo last season with rookie Matt Breida complementing Hyde beautifully. Breida showed so much progress that some believe he has a chance to start this season.
This is a major leap for a player who wasn’t even drafted in 2017. Breida has fought so hard to come this far and will surely do everything in his power to push McKinnon for the opportunity to start.
Another running back who is in the mix is Joe Williams. He was drafted out of Utah in 2017 with high expectations due to his excellent numbers his senior season. In that season he rushed for over 1,400 yards and ten touchdowns in just nine games.
Unfortunately, he was on the Injured Reserve list for 2017 with an ankle injury and the 49ers never saw what kind of running back he could be for them. If he can remain healthy then there is a reason to believe he can compete for the starting running back spot in 2018 as well.
The battle for the top running back spot will be intriguing to watch in training camp and could determine the future of the franchise.
The 49ers have an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. They have a number of players who have excellent hands and their collective speed resembles that of a track team.
Pierre Garcon is in the twilight of his career but showed he can still play in 2017. Marquise Goodwin competed in the long jump at the 2012 Olympics and the athleticism he’s displayed in track and field can make a huge difference for the 49ers offense. Goodwin is absolutely lethal when he is in open space.
Trent Taylor has had an excellent connection with Garoppolo since the very beginning. Taylor was battling the flu in the first game Garoppolo started and still caught all six passes thrown to him. While Garoppolo’s connection with his receivers from last season is vital to the success of 2018 and beyond, there are a number of new prospects who are hungry for an opportunity to prove themselves in the NFL.
Dante Pettis is the greatest punt returner in college football history and will surely be the team’s punt returner going into the season. He was a good receiver in college, catching 15 touchdowns in 2016, and will compete for the slot receiver spot.
Richie James had an amazing junior year in 2016, with over 1,600 yards receiving along with 12 touchdowns. He was injured for most of 2017 with a broken collarbone. He has great potential but injuries might be his greatest hindrance.
Victor Bolden Jr. showed some great bursts of speed in the kick return aspect of the game in the 2017 preseason. However, he was injured for most of 2017 and was never able to show off his receiving skills. He was suspended for the first four games of 2018 for performance-enhancing drugs and has an uphill battle for the slot receiver spot. This is easily the toughest position battle for the 49ers entering 2018.
Whomever the 49ers choose to fill their wide receiver spots, they should feel confident in their backups as every wide receiver on their roster has potential to be a game changer for the franchise.
This is one of the strongest position groups for the 49ers and it became the strength of the team through the NFL Draft. They drafted three defensive linemen in the first round from 2015-2017 drafts in Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. These three players have the opportunity to be the lynchpin of a great defense.
In order to develop, they needed a veteran who could help mold them into elite players. The 49ers acquired that player last season in Earl Mitchell and he has added valuable experience to a unit that needs veteran leadership. He started at nose tackle for the 49ers last season and played well. The 49ers have a solid foundation in these four but drafted some insurance in 2018.
Kentavius Street was selected in the fourth round in 2018 and he looks to be a freak athlete as shown in a video that went viral of him squatting 700 pounds while in college at North Carolina State. He also ran a 4.87 40-yard dash and bench pressed 28 reps at the NFL Combine.
Street tore his ACL during a pre-draft workout and won’t play in 2018. However, he can be immensely valuable in future years as long as he remains healthy.
San Francisco also drafted Jullian Taylor in the seventh round. He is pretty raw due to only starting one season in college. The 49ers have built a wall on the defensive line over the years and have selected some athletic players at that position group.
This defense has potential of being special and it starts with the defensive line. The 49ers are slowly adding depth to this unit and it will be fascinating to see how this unit morphs into one of the NFL’s elite over the next couple of seasons.