With a quarter of the season complete, not many expected for the 49ers to be sitting third in the NFC West at 1-3, losing their franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the process, yet here we are.
While this season may not lead to any real trophies, it’s time for Niners Nation to hand out some awards to certain 49ers’ players that have been performing well, despite the team’s results on the field.
Offensive MVP — RB Matt Breida
With or without Garoppolo, I think the 49ers have the exact same record. With backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, San Francisco still loses to Minnesota and Kansas City, while defeating Detroit.
Looking at the skill-position players, wideouts Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garçon, and Dante Pettis have been too inconsistent thus far. The debate came down to running back Matt Breida and tight end George Kittle, but Breida’s single-handed dominance against the Lions pushed it over the edge.
On the season, the 49ers’ leading rusher has 313 yards on 46 yards, while also catching 10 passes for 85 yards. With an off-week against the Chargers, Breida fell to third in the NFL for total rushing yards, behind Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliot and Rams’ Todd Gurley II. However, Breida leads the league with 7.6 yards per rushing attempt.
After starter Jerick McKinnon went down, the second-year running back has stepped in filling his shoes and exceeded head coach Kyle Shanahan’s expectations.
Defensive MVP — LB Fred Warner
The defense has been under-whelming so far, thus making it difficult to name an MVP, but there’s been a few players that have been standing out amongst the mediocrity — linebackers Fred Warner and Reuben Foster and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner.
Foster missed the first two weeks and Buckner’s shown bright flashes through the first few weeks, but was certainly quiet against the Chargers. Warner has been the MIKE linebacker for the 49ers, wearing the green dot and relaying all the calls to the rest of the defense. While taking on that mighty task as a rookie, he’s also managed to make 43 tackles, which is third in the NFL, behind Colts’ Darius Leonard and Dolphins’ Kiko Alonso.
Warner has been sensational, filling in for Foster during his two-game suspension and holding up the spot, with a rotating door at the WILL linebacker spot due to injuries. His athleticism, combined with his keen sense for the ball has allowed to him to make numerous tackles, including one forced fumble.
Most Improved Player — TE George Kittle
After catching 43 passes for 515 yards last season, tight end George Kittle on his pace to shatter that personal best this season, on pace for 72 catches and 1,264 yards.
The second-year player has been impressive through four weeks, becoming the quarterback’s security blanket and playmaker. Kittle’s averaging 17.6 yards per reception, which leads all tight ends in the NFL who have made at least 12 receptions. The ex-Iowa tight end already has 13 receiving first downs, insinuating that Kittle will move the chains on third down.
Kittle was becoming to blossom as one of the better tight ends on the 49ers’ roster last season, but now he’s turning into one of the more productive tight ends in the entire league.
Per Pro Football Focus, Kittle graded out with an overall grade of 90.0, including a receiving grade of 90.7, both which lead the NFL for TEs. Regardless of who the quarterback has been, Kittle has been filling out the box score equally well. Look for Kittle to only improve and grow as the season goes on.
Most Exciting Play — Kittle’s 82-yard house call
Against the Chargers in Week 4, both teams were going tit-for-tat and the 49ers’ most exciting play of the season occurred. With 3:06 left in the third quarter and San Francisco down by nine points, Beathard needed to deliver on a touchdown-scoring drive. Boom, one play later, the 49ers were down 26-24.
Kittle lines up on the right side of the formation, runs free down the middle of the field, catches Beathard’s pass on the run and takes it 82 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. It was the longest play of Kittle’s short career and sent thrills through all the 49ers’ fans at the stadium in Los Angeles. Shanahan broke it down the next day.
Most Disappointing Player — DL Solomon Thomas
After being selected No. 3 overall, the expectations were sky high for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. After a rough rookie season, where Thomas played in 14 games, only racking up 41
sacks tackles and three sacks, many expected a bounce-back season from the ex-Stanford lineman.
Instead, through four weeks, Thomas has five tackles, no sacks and is seeing fewer snaps than LB Cassius Marsh — a player that was signed mid-way through last season. It’s certainly been a disappointment and Pro Football Focus ranks Thomas as their 66th best edge defender, with an overall grade of 61.9.
For him to start to earn the love and respect of 49ers’ fans, it’s time for Thomas to become more than just a decent run defender who’s always around the quarterback. It’s time to show up in the box score and finish some sacks.
Most Unexpected Storyline — “Struggles in the 49ers’ secondary”
After promising rookie seasons from CB Ahkello Witherspoon and FS Adrian Colbert, the 49ers thought they had the future locked down at the positions, but four weeks into the season, it’s a giant question mark.
Witherspoon has been bothered by injuries and dealt with a benching against the Lions. He recovered his starting spot with the injury to Richard Sherman, but continues to struggle. Colbert was in the starting lineup the first three weeks, but only played special teams against the Chargers after a limited practice week. His status for Week 5 is up in the air.
Rookie D.J. Reed took over for Colbert and Shanahan said he was impressive. Cornerback Greg Mabin eventually replaced Jimmie Ward in Week 4, leaving more questions than answers in the secondary. If I knew that four weeks into the season, the 49ers would be contemplating multiple changes in their secondary, I would’ve been shocked — but here we are.
Least Surprising Storyline — “Where’s the Pass Rush?”
Through four weeks, the 49ers’ defense has an eye-popping eight sacks — tied for 22nd in the NFL. Of those eight, Buckner has 3.5 sacks, meaning the rest of the pass rush has been pathetic after a quarter of the season.
With mostly journeyman edge rushers on the roster, there weren’t very high expectations of the pass rush coming into the season. Just as many fans expected, it’s been the interior defensive line generated quarterback pressures, not the edge defenders.
It was a position that was not address in the offseason by general manager John Lynch and it’s now coming back to bite the defense. Any dominant defense has a productive pass rush and the 49ers aren’t even close right now. This isn’t surprising, considering many 49ers’ fans knew that the team wasn’t going to be sacking the opposing quarterback very often.