The San Francisco 49ers have turned over a sizable chunk of their roster in short order, and will be looking to turn around from an ugly 2-14 season. They have brought in 22 veterans through free agency, ten rookies in the draft, and a host of UDFAs after the draft.
NFL.com writer Marc Sessler recently put together a projection of a first-time Pro Bowler for each team. The 49ers have plenty of potential options with all their changes, but the author went with an obvious name. He chose running back Carlos Hyde. He acknowledged DeForest Buckner as an option, but thinks the 49ers will run enough that Hyde will get a lot of opportunities.
Mountainous end DeForest Buckner is a logical candidate on defense, but Hyde -- if he keeps the starting role -- finds himself in a premier scheme for backs. New head coach Kyle Shanahan has unleashed runners at every stop along the way, a dynamic that won't change in San Francisco. With Brian Hoyer at quarterback, the Niners likely will lean on the run week after week. That could and should mean big things for Hyde, who rumbled for 988 yards at 4.6 yards per tote despite missing three games in 2016.
Buckner and Hyde are two of the logical options, but there are a lot of intriguing names to consider.
Arik Armstead: If he can nail down the LEO role, coupled with an interior role in sub packages, there is a chance Armstead leads the 49ers in sacks. He has never been a big sack guy, but he could be the biggest beneficiary of a better defensive approach.
Jimmie Ward: He has not been a big ball-hawk in his three years with the 49ers, but moving into the Earl Thomas role on the back end of the defense could make for an intriguing opportunity.
Rashard Robinson: He’s looking like the team’s No. 1 cornerback for the time being. It will present some significant challenges facing off against some of the top wide receivers in the league. He’s going to be in the spotlight, and if he stands up to the pressure, he could very well work his way into the discussion.
Reuben Foster: If he’s healthy for the start of the season, he could very well work his way into a significant role. If that happens, even as primarily a passing down linebacker he could very well influence voters. And if he supplants Malcolm Smith in all roles, I would bet money on him being a Pro Bowler as a rookie.
Aaron Lynch: He’s talented, but weight and injury issues have slowed down his career. If he could ever put it together, he could have the kinds of sack totals that draws the eye of voters. Of course, there’s enough of a chance that he gets cut or traded, so it’s a wide spectrum.
I took a look around the offense, and nobody really jumps off the board right now. We could mention some offensive linemen, but it’s a transition period and I think it could take some time. In terms of skill position players, Kyle Juszczyk made the Pro Bowl last year, so he is not eligible for this list. Joe Williams is a guy to watch in the future, but I don’t think he gets into the starting lineup fast enough to make a splash in time for Pro Bowl voters.