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Final 2018 stock report for the 49ers special teams

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The 49ers 2018 season is a wrap, so let’s assess who improved and who hurt their stock this season.

The San Francisco 49ers are officially into the offseason following a 2018 season that did not meet expectations. The team entered with hopes of contending for a playoff appearance, but stumbled to a 4-12 record after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL in Week 3.

Expectations will climb again in 2019, but before we get into that, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was for the current roster. There will be turnover in the coming months, but let’s start the offseason with a stock report on the 49ers roster. We’ll go through each position group and offer stock up or stock down for each player, and then stock up or stock down for the position group as a whole. Today we wrap things up with the specialists.

Robbie Gould: Stock up

It’s amazing how some kickers just keep on trucking the older they get. Gould had a strong debut season with the 49ers in 2017, and he followed up with an equally fantastic second season. He’s 36 years old, and for the time being there is no reason to think he can’t keep kicking into his 40s. He converted 33 of 34 field goals, with his only miss being a 45-yarder in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals. Gould is a free agent after this season, and his former team, the Chicago Bears, are likely to be in the market for a new kicker. He has said he’s enjoyed his time in the Bay Area, but will the Bears make him a Godfather offer? Or maybe the 49ers franchise him?

Bradley Pinion: Stock down

Teams often have their field goal kicker handling kickoffs and their punter handling just punts. The 49ers are an exception to this, with Pinion handling both duties. The difficulty with any special teams coverage unit assessment is separating what the punter and/or kicker does with what the coverage units are doing as well.

This season, the 49ers ranked 17th in DVOA for both their kickoff and punt coverage units. For each unit of special teams, Football Outsiders lists how many points, compared to league average, each team receives. The 49ers received -0.4 points on kickoffs and 0.0 points on punts. They were effectively league average in both categories.

One way to look at Pinion alone on kickoffs is touchback percentage. In 2017, he ranked second in the NFL with a 77 percent touchback percentage. In 2018, he ranked 11th with a 64 percent touchback percentage. In punting, his gross actually increased from 43.4 to 43.7, but his net went down from 41.3 to 39.1.

Pinion is a free agent this offseason, and the 49ers have to decide if he can bounce back to some degree in 2019, or if it’s time to move on from their 2015 fifth round pick. I don’t expect they’ll break the bank for their punter, but if they can find a reasonable middle ground, I would not be surprised to see Pinion return.

Kyle Nelson: Stock way down

Long snappers usually only make the news when they make the Pro Bowl or make a mistake in execution. Nelson added a new one: failing a drug test. In December, Nelson was suspended for 10 games due to a violation of the NFL performance enhancing drug policy. It was his second suspension following a violation in 2011 when he was a free agent. Nelson served the first four games this season and has six more games to go. He is entering free agency, and I’m guessing he won’t be signing a contract until after his suspension is served. The 49ers likely will be looking for a new long snapper.

Colin Holba: Stock up

The 49ers signed Holba to replace Nelson and he flew under the radar the rest of the season. That’s the best you can expect from a long snapper, and considering he is signed through 2019, he stands a decent chance of claiming the long snapper role this coming season.

Overall: Stock down

On the one hand, Gould’s performance alone could warrant stock up. However, given that he and Pinion are both free agents this offseason, questions abound for 2019. I suspect they either franchise Gould or get an extension done, but until it happens it is a question mark.