The San Francisco 49ers are counting on Jimmy Garoppolo to help them take a step forward, but if this team is going to contend for the playoffs, the defense needs to take a big step forward of its own.
The biggest defensive addition this year is cornerback Richard Sherman, but the team has all sorts of young talent to watch. And if you think we’ll see some breakout years this fall, there is some value to be had in the betting market.
Bovada released their odds for 2018 Defensive Player of the Year, and three 49ers players showed up deep down the list. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is listed at 66/1, cornerback Richard Sherman is listed at 125/1, and linebacker Reuben Foster is listed at 200/1.
Two of the top four candidates for the award, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack (both 11/2), are holding out. But even if both came off the list, there is a lot of talent to consider for the award. And given that it’s a league-wide award, and not just for the conference, it’s not going to be easy for the 49ers players to grab it.
That being said, there are cases to be made for them. Buckner led defensive tackles in QB pressures, but could not convert them to sacks. If he can find that extra step, or if the players around him open up some holes, he could very well find himself with double digit sacks. While sacks alone are not the best measure, they are high profile for voters. If this defense takes a step forward, it will likely be because of a breakout campaign by Buckner.
Sherman is an intriguing case. He turned 30 this year and is coming off a torn Achilles. A step back would not be surprising. But, if he does revert to his old self and is able to snag a sizable amount of interceptions, this gets interesting. If the 49ers defense improves, his profile is high enough that a strong 2018 performance could get him the award. It is unlikely at this point, but not out of the realm of the possible as far as I am concerned.
Foster is a tougher case to make. He could end up with crazy tackle totals, but he is also going to miss the first two games due to a suspension. If he were to lead the league in tackles after missing the first two games, maybe he has a chance, but there’s a reason he’s tied for the longest odds amongst Bovada’s list of options.