The San Francisco 49ers are officially halfway through the 2017 NFL season along with 14 other teams. The 49ers head into the second half of their season with potentially a lot more energy than you might expect from an 0-8 team. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan swung a deal with the New England Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, and the biggest storyline of the next eight games will be when Garoppolo enters the starting lineup, and how he looks.
In the meantime, we can still look back on the first half of the season. SB Nation put together midseason awards this week, including MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year. My votes were for in order, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Calais Campbell, and Sean McVay. I was trying to decide between Wentz and Alex Smith, but I went with the younger player. Sorry, Alex.
The 49ers are not going to be getting any love in midseason awards, but that doesn’t meant we can’t award an MVP. I decided to go with two players, one on each side of the ball. There are a ton of problems up and down the 49ers roster, but defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and wide receiver Pierre Garçon have been steady presences for this team.
Buckner does not pile up sack totals, but he has been among the league leaders in tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He also has been regularly among the league leaders in quarterback pressures. He has taken a step forward his second season, and right now is the best player on defense. Sacks will eventually come, but in the meantime, he is providing some semblance of push into the backfield.
On offense, Garçon has been far and away the most consistent pass catcher on the roster. He leads the team with 40 receptions for 500 yards, putting him on pace for the highest reception and yardage totals since Anquan Boldin had 83 receptions for 1,062 yards. I don’t know how Jimmy Garoppolo will deal with the 49ers offensive line, but his addition could be big for Garçon.
But even beyond just the basic counting stats, Garçon’s hands have been critical in keeping some of these games close. The 49ers are winless, but it’s entirely in spite of Garçon’s work. During their five-game stretch of field goal or less losses, it seemed like he was making at least a couple toe-tap, shoe-string catches every game. They were all for naught in the win column, but they’re at least confidence building. And that will be a big help as Jimmy Garoppolo moves in to take things over.
It has been a lost season in a lot of ways, but even with no wins, we are seeing some signs of growth for 2018 and beyond. DeForest Buckner is looking like a cornerstone defensive piece. Pierre Garçon is not a long-term guy who will be there at the end of a potentially Jimmy Garoppolo contract extension, but over the next couple years, I see him being a valuable weapon along the lines of what Anquan Boldin was during his 49ers tenure.