Expectations are incredibly low for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. Predictions have mostly predicted a team likely to finish in the top ten of the 2017 NFL Draft. Some folks will remain forever optimistic, while others are down in the dumps about this season. I get that, and certainly won’t push people from one side to another.
However, while expectations for wins are low, there are still reasons this team will at least be interesting in 2016. Sure, we want a Super Bowl contender, but if expectations are going to be low, I at least want something interesting to track throughout the season. Last year, it became readily apparent this was not a good team. And when things started going south, it was pretty miserable to watch this team. The games were boring, and there was little to look forward to week in and week out. If Jim Tomsula had been given a second season, I don’t know what I would have done.
Now, we enter the Chip Kelly era. The team is changing coaches, but the big reason to be interested in the 2016 San Francisco 49ers is that we will actually get some answers to questions that have plagued this team over the past season or two. Sure, we won’t get all of our answers, and we might not get a lot of them, but we’ll get some kind of idea of where things are headed. For the time being, I can live with that.
The kinds of answers will certainly vary. The most significant answer will be to some degree what do we make of the 2013, 2014, and 2015 drafts. People are ready to dump Trent Baalke, and this year will potentially provide some measure of clarity. The 2013 draft class has been a question mark, with Eric Reid and Quinton Dial as the only regular contributors. Vance McDonald, Tank Carradine, and Quinton Patton all could see the biggest opportunities of their careers. And even if they don’t work out, they’re free agents after the season.
The 2014 draft class saw improvement, but there remain questions, and is sort of heading in both directions. Jimmie Ward is moving into the starting lineup, with Carlos Hyde viewed as a potential key cog in this offense. On the other hand, Brandon Thomas and Marcus Martin have struggled in their careers. Bruce Ellington has not broken through at wide receiver, but could see his biggest opportunity in 2016. Dontae Johnson has moved in and out of the lineup, but could still secure a nickel role this year. And Aaron Lynch is suspended for four games, but will return looking to bolster the pass rush.
The 2015 class got off to a strong start, and we’ll get to see if they can build on it, or if there will be some regression. Can DeAndre Smelter emerge after a redshirt season? Can Trent Brown claim the right tackle job? Will Mike Davis find some way to improve on arguably the worst season a running back has ever had? We won’t get final answers with this second-year class, but we’ll get a better handle on it.
We might not get the answers we want this fall. My guess is we get some positive answers, and some negative answers. But at least we might get answers. I’m sure some folks will fight the negative answers, and others will critique the positive answers. That’s an inherent part of life around these parts. But, there are enough intriguing questions to be answered, so I can work with that for now.