The San Francisco 49ers came up well short of the playoffs this year, but their five-game win streak to close the season has most of us feeling pretty optimistic about the future. The 49ers have what appears to be an answer at the quarterback position in Jimmy Garoppolo, a head coach and front office that did great work in year one, and several important building blocks.
Non-playoff teams regularly take the leap the next year to the playoffs, and once you make the playoffs, it’s a crapshoot. And so, it is fitting with the Super Bowl approaching that NFL.com is looking at the one thing each non-Super Bowl team can do to earn a spot in Super Bowl 53 a year from now.
I would have expected something obvious involving Jimmy Garoppolo, but Gregg Rosenthal offered a great suggestion. He went with the cornerback position. The 49ers likely need more than just “one thing,” but if I were forced to pick a single “thing,” a big improvement at cornerback would be it. Here’s what he said about the choice:
Jimmy Garoppolo covered up a lot of ills for the 49ers late in the season, helping to make wide receivers Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor pieces to build around in the future. While there’s still plenty of work to do on offense, Jimmy G won’t get back to the Super Bowl (as a starter) unless the 49ers upgrade their secondary. It was a credit to San Francisco’s coaching staff that the team even survived what might have been the most talent-poor cornerback group in football, with 2017 third-round draft pick Ahkello Witherspoon the only returning player who should continue to get snaps.
The alternative to this would be finding someone who could put up 13+ sacks next season, and another player who could add more depth to the pass rush. If the 49ers defense is going to take a step forward, it will be because of improvements in the pass defense. I wouldn’t mind a shut-down corner opposite Ahkello Witherspoon, but a dominant pass rusher would certainly be a nice option as well.
Is there any other single thing that could make the same kind of impact on this team? It would take a heck of a turnaround to go from 6-10 to a potential Super Bowl berth, but a big improvement to that pass defense could provide a significant improvement.