Training camp kicks off in a week and I thought I'd bring back a post from last year: the best and worst case scenarios for the 2009 San Francisco 49ers. When we ran it last year it was a one-off post on the eve of training camp. This year I've decided to go with a pair of posts. The first is going up today and will look at the best case scenario. The second post will be go up tomorrow and will look at the worst case scenario. I'm splitting them up because I'd like to separate the discussions of best and worst.
In looking at both scenarios I've tried to be at least a little bit realistic. What are the best and worst possible scenarios given the 49ers current situation. I'm not predicting 14-2 and a Super Bowl. Shaun Hill/Alex Smith are not going to the Pro Bowl and Patrick Willis is not going to finish with 300 tackles. Ok, maybe that last one could happen. Likewise, I'm not predicting 0-16. If you feel like either of those scenarios is a potential best or worst case scenario, feel free to argue for it. And one last reminder, this is what I see as the BEST case scenario, not what I see as likely to happen. So, if you have a drastic problem with this best case scenario, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why best case is worse (or better).
Best Case Scenario
The big question on offense in this scenario is whether Alex Smith or Shaun Hill shows the necessary improvement. I suppose in an ideal best case scenario Alex Smith wins the QB battle, or takes over midseason and fulfills his #1 pick-ness (I know that's not a word). However, I'll say realistically, a legit best case is just a matter of one of the two QBs taking a firm hold of the job. Entering last year I said that improvement would require 3,500+ yards. Last season saw J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill combine for 3,724 yards in the Martz offense. I was thinking something similar this year, but really the number will depend a lot on the running game, given the changing offense.
At running back, Glen Coffee steps up as a solid contributor on offense. Gore has seen his numbers decline the last two years going from 2,100+ yards in 2006 to 1,500+ in 2007 to 1,400+ last year. If Gore could get to about 1,700+ combined yards, that might actually be a sufficient rebound. In this best case scenario Coffee finishes with 400-500 rushing yards (over double Foster's numbers last year. Beyond that, I won't both factoring in the third running back, be it Sheets, Clayton or Robinson. There will be additional production, but it's a little too out there at this point.
As for the wide receivers and tight ends? A best case would see Josh Morgan making the leap and Michael Crabtree putting together a very solid rookie campaign. I'm thinking 60-70 catches for Morgan with over 1,000 yards, while Crabtree finishes in the 600-700 yard range on 40 or so catches. Not huge numbers, but rather some solid YAC. Jason Hill gets into the 40 catch range, while Vernon Davis flashes some skills in reaching career highs in catches, yards and becomes a redzone staple.
The key to all this is the gelling of the offensive line into a very solid force. At tackle, Marvel Smith manages to stay healthy the whole year, while Joe Staley shows last season's early struggles were just a bump in the road. He may not be selected to the Pro Bowl, but he has a very solid season. Eric Heitmann remains a rock at center, while Chilo Rachal shows continued improvement in his second year.
After the jump, we assess the defense in this best case scenario, and project out a best-case record...
The easiest predictions on defense in this best case scenario? 1) Parys Haralson moves into double digit sack territory with 10 or 11; and 2) Manny Lawson shows he can be an all around threat at outside linebacker. In my best case scenario I'm not predicting double digit sacks for Lawson, but rather 7 or 8 sacks, while still maintaining his quality coverage skills. Elsewhere, Ahmad Brooks manages to not entirely piss off Coach Singletary and becomes a solid role player, grabbing 3 or 4 sacks in the process.
On the defensive line, I think Kentwan Balmer would need to step up and show his rookie season was an aberration. We won't see a huge statistical performance from him, but rather he steps like a 3-4 defensive end should, taking over the starting job by early to midseason. Sopoaga officially becomes a super sub filling in at both the DE and DT positions. Ideally that's what I'd like to see. Aubrayo Franklin shows some improvement from last season at nose tackle, even if he isn't on the field every single down. Again, the defensive line's statistics won't reflect it, but a best case scenario will see improvement there.
In the secondary, Nate Clements bounces back from a somewhat down 2008. I'm thinking 4 or 5 interceptions. On the other side, it's a little harder to decide what would be "best case." For long term growth we'd want to see Tarell Brown as the starting corner. However, for now, I think Dre Bly's confidence is rewarded and he puts together a solid campaign, with a bit of a rebirth after recent struggles. I'm thinking one or two pick-6's from Bly. Tarell Brown locks down the nickel back position, with Shawntae Spencer providing very solid depth throughout. Since Spencer will not be seeing nearly as much playing time, he's able to stay healthy the entire season, providing assistance when the 49ers are dealing with deeper receiving corps.
And at free safety? Well y'all know the best case scenario sees a healthy, productive Dashon Goldson. It involves Goldson laying the wood on receivers and picking up a few interceptions. We won't see the return of the chicken man routine, but he shows why people have been expecting great things from him.
Best Case Record: 11-5, division champs, (shockingly similar to last year's best case scenario). In looking at my assessments of the offense and defense, one might argue I've underestimated the best case win total (or over-estimated the potential of the offense and defense in a best case scenario). I haven't made a specific playoff prediction because as Arizona proved last year, one team can get hot and go crazy. If the 49ers reached the playoffs at 11-5, it would not be out of the realm to say they could win the Super Bowl, or bow out the first week.
In this particular prediction, some of the necessary wins potentially include @ Minnesota, home vs. Atlanta, @ Houston, and home vs. Chicago and Jacksonville. Wins in these games would be tough, but wouldn't shock me, particularly in a best case scenario.
Alright, so have at it. Is the rose-colored glass view a little too rosey? Or am I still being too pessimistic?