The San Francisco 49ers have not had a lot of bright spots this season. We’ve seen some individual building blocks here and there, but both the offense and defense have some big work in front of them.
One area that has seen a lot of improvement is special teams. Robbie Gould has been mostly on point this season, and Bradley Pinion is among the league leaders in net yards and punts inside the 20. Pro Football Focus is releasing special teams rankings each quarter, and in their latest ranking, they have the 49ers at No. 3. They ranked No. 1 through the first quarter of the season. They had this to say about the 49ers:
Not a whole lot has gone well for the Niners, but their special teams have been a bright spot. Bradley Pinion is the third-highest graded punter through nine weeks, generating the eighth-highest net punting average on his 52 punts. Raheem Mostert and Adrian Colbert have combined for 11 total tackles in coverage units, while Trent Taylor is in the top 10 among punt returners in our grading. Veteran Robbie Gould is having a good first season in San Francisco, hitting 18-of-20 field goals through nine games.
PFF grades are subjective in nature, so there is a certain subjectivity in these rankings. I decided to compare them with Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. They rank the 49ers No. 8 in the NFL. Not quite as high, but still an improvement from last year, when they ranked No. 17. In DVOA, the 49ers’ best units are punt coverage (2nd) and kick coverage (t-9th).
Losing Trent Taylor is disappointing on several levels, including is work in special teams. As a punt returner, Taylor ranked No. 9 in the NFL with a 9.8 yard return average. Considering his longest punt return was 39 yards, he did not have a huge number skewing his result. If he had taken one to the house at some point, his average would be well into double digits.
Victor Bolden Jr. has taken over all the return work following Taylor’s injury. He was already handling kick returns, but now he is getting some punt return opportunities. This is yet another area where the 49ers have seven games to see what rookies can bring to the situation.