The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-10 on the season this past Sunday, beating the Houston Texans on the road by a final score of 26-16. Jimmy Garoppolo took another step forward in showing the organization he can potentially be the franchise cornerstone they have been looking for these past few years. It likely removes the quarterback position from extensive discussion in the 2018 NFL Draft, but what else did the game tell us?
A single game is not going to provide absolutely definitive answers, but it can either reinforce a pre-existing notion, or get something on the radar. Against the Texans, one big reinforced need is cornerback. DeAndre Hopkins had his way with the 49ers cornerbacks, and I am honestly surprised he was “only” targeted 16 times. Dontae Johnson bore the brunt of the struggles, but most everybody had a tough day against the all-world receiver.
Ahkello Witherspoon is showing considerable improvement in his rookie season, and he very well could develop into a solid all-around long-term option. That being said, a versatile option like defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick makes some sense. And investing in the position in the draft or free agency will be necessary with Dontae Johnson hitting free agency.
The 49ers did have an improved day in the pass rush, with three sacks, but with Aaron Lynch hitting free agency and Elvis Dumervil on the back end of his career, the 49ers will need to find more players who can close the deal on sacks. Quarterback pressures are important, but getting to the quarterback with more consistency is a big help. We saw it against Houston with a little bit more regularity, but now it’s time for this to be a consistent result.
On the offensive side of the ball, Zane Beadles was a train wreck at right tackle, and the line as a whole had a tough day. Jimmy Garoppolo took numerous hits, and this line absolutely has to improve. Trent Brown is a strong book-end to Joe Staley, but Staley’s getting older and there are still questions about Brown’s consistency. And Laken Tomlinson has not been a good option at the guard position. Adding a tackle to play guard, or just going straight up guard with someone like Quenton Nelson could be the play if the 49ers want to turn the line into a strength.
One position I am still not entirely sure about is wide receiver. Kyle Shanahan does not have his Julio Jones yet, but that shouldn’t take away from what the 49ers do have. Marquise Goodwin is having a breakout year, Trent Taylor is emerging as a solid slot presence, and Kendrick Bourne is quietly doing some solid work. Looking to 2018, add Pierre Garçon to the mix, and suddenly that’s a pretty strong group there for Jimmy Garoppolo. I’m not saying don’t invest a pick at wide receiver, but I’m inclined to see a day two pick on the position, as opposed to that first round pick.