The 49ers loss to the Cardinals truly summed up their 2018 campaign. There have been moments in previous games that have come close to doing so, but in its totality the Cardinals game did a wonderful job of highlighting all the problems the 49ers’ have encountered this season. Injuries, poor execution on both sides of the ball and penalties combined as the 49ers contrived to lose the game and the series against the dysfunctional and surely diabolical Arizona Cardinals. As the halfway mark of the season happily arrives for the beleaguered 49ers’ fanbase, I will attempt to objectively grade the performances of many of the 49ers’ players, taking into account the effects of injury on their displays and not marking players down just for being injured. First up, the offense.
Jimmy Garoppolo (3 games): B-
Oh how we miss him. When Jimmy was about, there was hope. He was our Frodo against the powers of Evil amassing behind the walls and before the tower of the LA Coliseum. Undoubtedly streaky at times on the field, the arm talent, decisiveness and poise of Garoppolo that carried the 49ers to 6 straight wins last season were on show in his limited action this year. Get well soon Jimmy, it’s just not the same without you.
CJ Beathard (5+ games): D
Things started reasonably well, but Beathard’s lack of pocket poise and awareness, coupled with (alarmingly) increasing indecisiveness with the ball are causing his problems against pressure to spiral. Normally, blitzing is a trade off, where defensive coordinators weigh the risk-reward of bringing additional players to pressure the quarterback whilst being over-matched in coverage. Right now, defensive coordinators don’t need to worry much about the latter if Beathard won’t throw the ball when players are open. With nothing to stop teams from blitzing, unless Beathard improves drastically, we could soon be looking at him as being unserviceable.
Matt Breida (8 games): A
There’s really not much more you could ask of Breida. His vision and patience has improved markedly from his rookie season, whilst he possesses the speed and physicality to threaten defenses both inside and outside his offensive tackles - a crucial component of a Shanahan back. Whilst not the possessing the threat Jerick McKinnon provides in the passing game, he has shown improvement in that facet of the game as well. Having done all this whilst carrying what appears to be multiple injuries is all the more impressive. Given Breida was an UDFA, I implore the 49ers’ staff not to let him destroy his body in this lost season. We need him in the future.
Raheem Mostert (7 games): C+
Mostert too has showcased his explosiveness and ability to turn plays that were blocked for 4-5 yards into gains of 10 yards or more. Question marks remain over his ball security but Mostert should see a greater role in the running back rotation as we move forwards this season.
Alfred Morris (8 games): C-
I understand the benefits of Morris. He invariably gets what’s blocked for him, falls forwards, has an excellent work ethic and must effectively be an extra coach in the running backs room for the 49ers’ inexperienced backs. The problem is, unlike his two fellow running backs whose speed and agility result in the destruction of second level defenders’ angles and turn plays blocked for 4-5 yards into chunk plays, Morris simply doesn’t do that. With the issues in the passing game (despite some explosive talents at the receiving positions) the 49ers need more chunk plays from their running backs. Every player is limited in some way (except Aaron Donald), and some are limited in more ways than others. Unfortunately for Morris, despite all his redeeming qualities, his lack of explosiveness is a serious limiting factor.
Kyle Juszczyk (8 games): A
Juice is still by far the best fullback in the league. His all round skillset continues to make him worth the money the 49ers are paying him (just wait until next season - more on that later) and his contribution on both offense and special teams should not be ignored. A more than capable blocker, an excellent receiver and an improving runner, his versatility is helping the 49ers’ offense stay afloat.
George Kittle (8 games): A+
Surely on course for Pro Bowl honors and he should be in the lead pack for an All-Pro nod at this stage of the season. Thought of as a blocking tight end with outrageous athleticism coming out of the draft, Kittle has continued to be a weapon as a blocker but now pairs that with game changing ability as a pass catcher. With his ability as a mauler in the run game alongside his explosiveness and nuance as a receiver, it’s fair to wonder if the NFL has truly seen a tight end like him. There certainly isn't one around today - a halcyon era of NFL tight ends. When Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon return from injury, expect the 49ers’ 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs) to approach something of the reputation of the Rams’ 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs), with the team capable of living in that package, passing and running out of it at will based on the defensive personnel.
Garrett Celek (8 games): C-
Pretty much the only time this season I’ve thought ‘Celek Time’ has been with no small hint of irony - when the TE drops a pass, commits a holding penalty or otherwise fails to execute in the blocking game. Relegated to a supporting role in light of Kittle’s rise, Celek is nevertheless still a useful player - primarily due to his capable blocking. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers look to replace him at the end of this season with someone more capable of spelling Kittle more effectively however.
Marquise Goodwin (6 games): B+
Goodwin is now the 49ers’ number one receiver, and when healthy continues to create headaches for defenses. The problem is that without him (especially when Dante Pettis is out too) the field constricts severely and the 49ers’ other wide receivers can do very little. The roster construction is hardly Goodwin’s fault however - it’s on the front office and coaching staff to decide whether they can afford to be so reliant on Goodwin’s body to hold up. When it does, his ability as a route runner, improved hands and blistering speed are frequently too much for even the best defensive backs in the league. He’s no Tyreek Hill, but he’s the 49ers own lite version.
Pierre Garçon (7 games): C-
Having the worst season of his career, Garçon appeared in confirmed trade rumors at the deadline. His market likely consisted of the same teams interested in Demaryius Thomas however, and with most of those reluctant to offer any more than a sixth rounder for Thomas (per Ben Allbright) you have to wonder quite what they were willing to offer for Garçon... not a lot at all I would imagine. Garçon’s production on the field hasn’t been as bad as it seems - he has been open but ignored by CJ Beathard on a number of occasions - but he’s clearly not the same player this season. It may well take a serious second half of the season effort from Garçon for him to remain in the Bay through even the first quarter of 2019.
Dante Pettis (4 games): B-
Another player who got hurt, Pettis was really beginning to come into his own as a receiver before his injury on special teams against the Chargers. His route running, especially in deep and intermediate areas where he appears to able to cut at full speed, is seriously impressive and he can be a crucial cog in the 49ers’ offense moving forward, with his ability to play both inside and outside. He will need to improve his contested catching skills however. Next season, barring the 49ers’ acquiring a wide receiver high in the draft, Pettis will likely be a starter and a crucial cog in their 21 personnel offense.
Trent Taylor (7 games): C
Injury appears to have limited Taylor this season, as he has failed to build on a promising first campaign in the Shanahan offense. Back issues are a problem in any sport, and for Taylor they are surely impacting the short area quickness his game was predicated on. When on the field, he has clearly lacked the same ability to separate based on that quickness, and if the issues continue this will really be a lost season for the 49ers’ young WR.
Kendrick Bourne (8 games): B
The primary beneficiary of the injuries and ageing ahead of him on the depth chart has been Kendrick Bourne, who got a starter’s portion of the snaps against Arizona this past week. Bourne is similar to Taylor, in that his game is predicated on high level (arguably elite in Bourne’s case) short level quickness which enables him to separate in tight spaces. Bourne’s size has enabled him to play the Garçon role in the offense and though his hands have let him down a little at times, he continues to demonstrate comforting improvement that suggests he can be a useful piece of this offense moving forwards.
Mike McGlinchey (8 games): A+
Drafting McGlinchey showed the 49ers’ continued commitment to building from the trenches, after drafting Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in the first round in 2017. Whilst not being an edge rusher or a safety, McGlinchey has won over the 49ers’ fans with a superb series of performances to begin his 49ers career. An absolute monster in the running game, McGlinchey almost unfailingly overwhelms the unfortunate defensive player(s) in his path. He has been slightly less effective as a pass blocker, but has shown impressive improvement in that area in a short period of time. He sometimes still struggles to anchor vs power - hardly surprising for someone who is 6’8 - but with performances of this calibre only 8 games into his career, McGlinchey looks set to be the 49ers’ next great offensive tackle.
Mike Person (8 games): B+
Arguably the surprise package on the 49ers’ offense this season, Person has provided a crucial veteran presence alongside the rookie McGlinchey. Person has been extremely sound as a pass blocker, and with McGlinchey mauling alongside him in the running game, the right side of the 49ers’ offensive line is now more than capable of holding up it’s end of the bargain.
Weston Richburg (7 games): B-
Richburg has been a little hit and miss but the overall cohesiveness of the 49ers’ offensive line has to be some credit to him. His quickness in the run game has stood out in particular and he’s also been reasonably solid as a pass blocker. He did get beat up by Aaron Donald, but who doesn't?
Laken Tomlinson (8 games): B
Tomlinson has built on the strides he took last season to be a reliable piece on the 49ers’ offensive line. In the run game, he’s particularly good at sealing off linemen before peeling off blocks and getting to the second level, though he can be knocked backwards by well timed strikes from defensive linemen right off the snap. As a pass blocker he’s generally been impressive and actually stoned Aaron Donald on a few occasions, showing good power as well as hands to stop the Rams’ freak defensive linemen.
Joe Staley (8 games): A
If you don’t have sympathy for Joe Staley you must be a psychopath. That should be the only question on the psychopath test: “Do you have sympathy for Joe Staley?” A tremendous servant of the 49ers’ franchise, Staley continues to play at an extremely high level. He had a bit of a tough time against Chandler Jones (one of, if not the best edge rusher in the NFL right now) but that doesn’t take away from the stellar season Staley continues to have despite the team continuing to perform miserably.
Takeaways from offensive grades
It’s clear the 49ers do have a lot of pieces in place on the offensive side of the ball. Their offensive line looks quite capable in both the passing and running games and there are some capable players at the skill positions.
Unfortunately, the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo has robbed the team of capable quarterback play and the injury to Jerick McKinnon has essentially limited the 49ers to only one running back who can execute at most three quarters of what Shanahan seeks from the position. With injuries to the likes of Goodwin and Pettis as well, the 49ers two best wide receivers, it’s hardly surprising the 49ers haven't fulfilled their offensive potential. Don’t expect too much to change moving forwards unless CJ Beathard starts to play better against the blitz.