Over the past three weeks we took a look at each position group and detailed whether each player and position group had seen their stock rise or decline over the course of the 2018 season. I’ve put them all together below, with links to each position.
The numbers show a decent amount of balance on both sides of the stock report. For the positional groupings, five units had stock up or slightly up, and five units had stock down, slightly down, or way down. For the individual players, 27 had stock up, slightly up, or way up, 26 were down, slightly down, or way down, and four had no change.
Although the 49ers struggled to a 4-12 finish, this even mix of stock up and stock down (at least our opinion of it) reflects how the team made important growth in several areas, but still has plenty of holes to fill. Overall, the roster made some progress, but this offseason will be critical for turning some of those younger stock down players into some growth.
Quarterbacks: Stock slightly down
Jimmy Garoppolo: Stock down
You tear your ACL in Week 3, your stock is going to go down. His knowledge of the offense will have improved, but he officially becomes a question mark for 2019. He appears to be on pace to throw during the offseason workout program, and should be good to go for the start of the season, but he will be a question mark until we see him back in action.
C.J. Beathard: Stock down
He got his second shot at starting after Garoppolo’s injury, and things went south. He had some solid work in near-upsets of the Chargers and Packers, but he was a turnover machine, whether it be interceptions or strip sacks. He eventually injured his right wrist and was replaced by Nick Mullens for the second half of the season. Mullens put together some impressive performances and very well could bump Beathard off the roster this offseason.
Nick Mullens: Stock up
The 49ers found themselves a diamond in the rough with the 2017 UDFA. He put up one of the best debut performances in NFL history against the Raiders. He struggled at times, with a particularly rough game against the Buccaneers. But he helped lead the 49ers to a two-game win streak that included snapping a ten-game losing streak to the Seahawks. He lacks the arm strength of Jimmy Garoppolo, but his pocket presence and general awareness seems better than Beathard. He would seem to have done enough to earn the backup job, but we’ll see how long the 49ers take to decide between him and Beathard.
Running Backs: Stock up
Jerick McKinnon: Stock down
If Jimmy Garoppolo’s stock went down after tearing his knee up, by Week 3, you know McKinnon’s stock is going to plummet when he had the same injury in the last practice of the preseason. What was the plan for McKinnon? Be hopeful we can see what it was in 2019. With any luck McKinnon will get that speed back, but knee injuries can be tricky in that regard. He’s on pace to return to OTAs and training camp, but we’ll need to see him in action before we can breathe a sigh of relief.
Matt Breida: Stock up
If not for that pesky ankle injury, Breida very well could have had a 1,000-yard rushing season. The first to do it since Frank Gore. Even with the injury, Breida played through it. How many times did you think when Breida collapsed on the field he was done for the year? He may have been out for two games total, but Breida stepped way up when McKinnon went down and kept the running game respectable. .
Alfred Morris: Stock down
When McKinnon went down, it didn’t hurt near as much knowing Alfred Morris was on the roster. Sure, he wasn’t a 49ers’ priority free agent, but he had proven he can play in Shanahan’s system. He started out great, but later was omitted from game days as a healthy scratch. When you’re not suiting up in favor of UDFAs, that’s not good.
Raheem Mostert: Stock slightly up
Mostert had nowhere else to go but up. Coming in as a special teams ace, Mostert’s ball control skills left something to be desired and when he was thrust into the lineup, fumbles followed. Then something happened: Mostert got highlights. Unfortunately, just as he was picking up steam, he broke his forearm and was out for the season. Given that he already supplies great value as a special teams gunner (which was sorely missed), and now has shown speed and elusiveness as a pass catcher/ball carrier, Mostert is a fine third option in Kyle Shanahan’s running back group. I’d say stock down, but Mostert’s special teams value along with the production related to how much it costs to have him, I’d say he’s a bargain.
Jeff Wilson Jr.: Stock up
An undrafted offensive rookie. When Kyle Shanahan activated him for a game day, you weren’t alone in thinking things would go horribly wrong. Turns out, Wilson played pretty well. He’s no Matt Breida, and he had his share of knucklehead fumbles, but he also showed great drive and speed with the ball. Much like Mostert, Wilson makes a fine No. 3 option at running back behind McKinnon and Breida. Mostert brings special teams value, but if there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that you can’t’ have too many running backs. Wilson showed he’s also one of the better ones.
Wide Receivers: Stock up
Pierre Garçon: Stock down
It was very much a down year for Garçon, with a knee injury eight of the final nine games of the season. He finished the season with 24 receptions for 286 yards and a touchdown, and his best performance was five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in his last game on November 1st.
The question now is if he is on the roster this coming September. Prior to his neck injury in 2017, he was on pace for a 1,000-yard season. I don’t think his knee injury this year is related to his neck injury last year, but at 32 years of age, he would appear to be starting to break down. Odds are pretty decent he’s not on the 49ers roster this fall.
Marquise Goodwin: Stock down
A year after coming up just shy of 1,000 yards in a breakout campaign, it was a decided step back for Goodwin in 2018. He finished with 23 receptions for 395 yards and four touchdowns. The last number was a career high, and it was clear the play-making skills were still there, but the consistency was not. He dealt with a personal issue that cost him time in the middle of the season, and it was just an overall down year. He signed a three-year extension last March, and if he is on the roster April 1st this year, his $2.95 million base salary for 2019 becomes fully guaranteed. He could still be one of the deep threats in 2019, but he has some work to do to rebound from a shaky 2018.
Dante Pettis: Stock up
If we were assessing stock at the halfway point of the season, Pettis would have been down. Through the first nine weeks, Pettis had played in six games and caught three receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Only halfway through his rookie season, bust was being thrown around to describe him.
However, in Week 10, he started to see more work, even if his numbers were not great (four receptions for 12 yards). Then, he got the start in place of Goodwin in Week 11, and he proceeded to explode on the scene. Over the next five weeks he scored four touchdowns and had 17 receptions for 338 yards. George Kittle was the leading receiver, but Pettis became a playmaker down the field.
Kendrick Bourne: Stock up
Things were rather quiet for Bourne in the first half of the season, but he took a big step forward after Garçon got hurt. Bourne replaced him in the starting lineup, and put together a career year. He finished with 42 receptions for 487 yards and four touchdowns. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he puts the 49ers in a position to decide if he might e the guy who can replace Garçon in 2019. The 49ers are likely still looking for a true No. 1, but Bourne could be a solid move the sticks, possession-type of receiver.
Trent Taylor: Stock down
Offseason back surgery slowed Taylor out of the gate, and even though it was described as mostly cleaning some things up, it clearly was an issue most of the year. A year after proving himself as the most consistent third down option, Taylor finished his second season with 26 receptions for 215 yards and a touchdown. My hope is that an offseason of healing up will do the trick and get him back into the mix in 2019 as a key slot weapon.
Richie James: Stock slightly up
It was a shaky year as a receiver for James, and I would say his value is up more for his return work. He had some rookie woes, but he finished the season seventh in average kickoff return. A 97-yard touchdown return will help that, but he showed what kind of abilities he brings to the table. His roster spot is far from secure in 2019, but he did some good things to close out the 2018 season.
Tight End: Stock slightly up
George Kittle: Stock through the roof
There’s really nothing else to say about George Kittle that hasn’t been said over the last week. He has the NFL single-season record for most receiving yards by a tight end, a 49ers team record for most receptions by a tight end, and came within five yards for an NFL record of most yards by a tight end in a single game.
What the hell were scouts thinking letting him drop in the 2017 NFL Draft?
Kittle’s run blocking hasn’t been talked about, but it’s also been a highlight. His 74.9 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus is third in the league. Kittle is the whole package and now a focal point of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The 2017 draft may have disappointed some, but the argument to make is: “Yeah, but the 49ers got Kittle.”
Garrett Celek: Stock down
Celek Time...what happened? Celek Time in 2018 might have been broken. While he played in 15 games, he started in only one game for the year (as opposed to 13 in 2017), and got a quarter of his receptions from 2017 (33 receptions down to five).
Yes, we can argue that Kittle happened, but that is still not a great number given that Celek is coming one of his better seasons as a pro. The problem was, you can’t point the finger at Celek, because he wasn’t used much in the pass game. He was thrown to eight times. Perhaps a bit of Celek schemes can be used now that coverages are clamping down on Kittle, Celek has shown he’s capable as a pass catcher.
His run blocking hasn’t been bad, but serviceable. Maybe that’s the plan now. It is baffling they don’t run some misdirection with him given all the attention Kittle got. Then again, Kittle kept making plays so it may have not been needed.
Ross Dwelley: Stock down
I know what you’re thinking: “WHO?!” Dwelly was promoted from the team’s practice squad due to Cole Wick’s release after the latter dropped an easy touchdown pass in Week 5. After his promotion, Dwelley played in the remaining 11 games and notched two receptions for 14 yards as a rookie. If he were to make competition with Celek, he didn’t do much to separate himself. With 11 games and only two receptions, the 49ers may want to look further at the tight end position.
Offensive Line: Stock slightly up
Joe Staley: No change
Staley will be retiring sooner rather than later, but he put together another really solid season. He will have the occasional blunder in pass protection, but he is one of the steadier left tackles in the league. At this point in his career, he has leveled off into a strong presence on the left side. It says something that he has yet to decline, even at 34 years of age. One could argue he is stock up since he’s still doing it at his current age, but I’m more inclined to think he’s just a quality steady eddy on the left side.
Mike McGlinchey: Stock up
It was an up and down year for the 49ers first round pick, but he showed he belongs in the NFL. He was downright dominant at times as a run blocker, and he showed improvement as a pass blocker. The latter is the area he needs to take a step forward in for 2019, but I don’t know that we could have asked for much more in 2018 from the 49ers first round pick.
Mike Person: Stock slightly down
If this was the midpoint, I might be inclined to say stock slightly up. He struggled a bit down the stretch, and I decided on stock slight down over no change. The 49ers will go into 2019 with the other four positions retaining their starter in 2019. Does Person get another one-year deal, or does Joshua Garnett get an opportunity (or both)?
Laken Tomlinson: Stock up
The 49ers acquired him in a trade right before the start of the 2017 season, and he proceeded to start every snap prior to tearing his MCL in the season finale. He was signed to a three-year contract extension this past offseason, and I’d say he earned his keep in 2018. He’s not going to regularly jump off the film at observers, but he was plenty capable at left guard. The 49ers could invest in an upgrade, but Tomlinson showed he is worth hanging onto for another year.
Weston Richburg: Stock down
The 49ers invested big in Richburg, in hopes he would fill the all-important center position in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. 2018 turned into a brutal year for Richburg. He had his issues in run blocking, but it seemed like he was regularly beat inside by pass rushers. He also dealt with a knee injury much of the season. Ideally this is just a matter of getting healthy this offseason, and then comfortable enough to show improvement in the second year. Either way, he is on the hot seat heading into 2019.
Erik Magnuson: Stock down
A solid 2017 helped Magnuson earn a utility spot with the ability to play any of the five offensive line positions. After a handful of snaps, he got some time in place of an injured Weston Richburg in Week 5, and then started in his place in Week 8. The latter performance was a rough one, including a bad snap that cost them late. Magnuson did not play another offensive snap the rest of the season. He is not out of the running for a reserve spot in 2019, but I expect the 49ers to add some competition.
Joshua Garnett: Stock down
Garnett looked ready to take the right guard spot in training camp, only to suffer a knee injury in the first week of camp. He returned for the second week of the preseason, but he could never get past Mike Person on the depth chart. He got some work when injuries popped up, appearing in five games, including just under half of the season finale after Laken Tomlinson tore his MCL. He was perfectly capable, but his status for 2019 and beyond is a big question mark. The 49ers are unlikely to exercise his fifth year option for 2020 this spring, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still claim a starting job this summer.
Garry Gilliam: No change
Gilliam got some work early in the season in Week 1 when Mike Person got hurt, and then again in Week 4 when Joe Staley got hurt. Other than that it was a handful of snaps here and there. He’s a swing tackle you hope does not get much in the way of starting work, and that’s about it. The 49ers know what they have in him.
Shon Coleman: No change
The 49ers acquired Coleman at the end of training camp, dealing a seventh round pick to the Cleveland Browns for him. He was inactive the entire season, thanks primarily to the 49ers offensive line staying healthy for the most part. The big question is whether the team saw a guy they want to develop for 2019, or if he’s somebody they thought would develop into more this past season. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Defensive Line: Stock slightly up
DeForest Buckner: Stock way up
No player’s stock on the 49ers defense has risen higher than Buckner’s. The third-year defensive lineman racked up 67 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits in 2018. His 12 sacks on the season led the team were more than his previous two seasons combined. Buckner established himself as the cornerstone of San Francisco’s defense as he enters into his fourth year with the team. His agent is scheduled to meet with 49ers brass during the offseason to discuss the possibility of a contract extension.
Arik Armstead: Stock up
2018 was Armstead’s first 16-game season as a starter. In 2016, he missed the final eight games of the season to undergo shoulder surgery. In 2017, a broken hand ended Armstead’s season after six games. This season Armstead totaled 48 tackles, six tackles for a loss, three sacks and 12 quarterback hits in 2018 — all career bests. The 49ers exercised his fifth-year option last offseason, locking Armstead at the cost of $9 million. His stock is up, but Armstead’s spot in the roster is far from guaranteed considering his inflated salary in 2019.
Solomon Thomas: Stock down
Thomas hasn’t produced at level you would expect from a third-overall pick. In his second year, Thomas started 13 games but only managed 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and one sack - a significant step down from his rookie year. The 49ers have been attempting to play Thomas more on the interior, where he made his name at Stanford. For now, he ranks 90th out of 109 edge rushers this season in pass-rushing productivity, per Pro Football Focus. The 49ers are undoubtedly hoping for improvement from Thomas as he enters his third year.
Earl Mitchell: Stock way down
Mitchell’s spot on the starting lineup was surrendered in 2018. As the season progressed, the 49ers’ veteran defensive lineman saw his playing time decrease, totaling just one snap over the final four weeks. He was inactive for the final two games of the season. In 14 games, Mitchell totaled just 28 tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits this season. With a salary cap hit of $4.4 million cap hit in 2019, the writing may be on the wall for the Mitchell’s time with the 49ers.
D.J Jones: Stock up
Jones’ rise came at Mitchell’s expense. The 49ers’ sixth-round pick in 2017 supplanted the veteran late in the season. In just four games, Jones managed to rack up 17 total tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. The 49ers wanted to give Jones a chance to show his quality before the conclusion of the season, and he didn’t disappoint. Jones will likely have a chance to compete for a starting spot in 2019.
Ronald Blair III: Stock up
Blair’s emergence was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise disappointing year for the 49ers’ defense. The 2016 fifth-round played in all 16 games this season as part of the rotation along the defensive front. Blair totaled 36 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hits and 5.5 sacks this season. He’s developed into a solid backup among a crowded position group and should be in the mix for a similar role heading into next season.
Sheldon Day: Stock down
Day was claimed off waivers midseason in 2017 from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He made an immediate impact on the 49ers’ defensive line, quickly stacking up 16 tackles, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a sack in six games. Day’s 2018 has been a disappointed. He was inactive for the final three games of the season and was unable to make a significant impact in the other 13. With young players like Jullian Taylor and Kentavius Street in the mix for 2019, Day should be prepared to fight for a roster spot in the offseason.
Jullian Taylor: Stock slightly up
Taylor’s stock has been on a slow but steady rise since he managed to earn a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster at the start of the season. The seventh-round rookie was inactive most of the season, only playing in six games, totaling seven tackles and a quarterback hit. He’ll look to earn a more prominent role in 2019.
Linebackers: Stock down
Fred Warner: Stock way up
From third-round pick to leader of the defense in a season. Warner was stellar for the 49ers in his rookie debut, assuming the mantle left behind by the released Reuben Foster and injured Brock Coyle. Warner racked up a whopping 124 total tackles — 85 solo, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, six pass breakups and one forced fumble in 2018. His stock couldn’t be higher as he enters into the offseason as the unquestioned starter at the MIKE linebacker spot for the 49ers.
Malcolm Smith: Stock way down
The 49ers signed Smith to a five-year, $26.5 million contract in 2017. This season was essentially Smith’s debut with the 49ers after a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for all of 2017. Despite the healthy return, Smith was unable to make an impact and was eventually replaced by second-year linebacker Elijah Lee. In 12 games and five starts, Smith managed 35 total tackles, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a pass breakup. Smith is due $5.4 million in 2019 and if cut after June 1st, the 49ers will save $4 million in salary cap space. It seems unlikely that Smith would be retained at that price given his relegation to backup duties.
Elijah Lee: Stock up
Lee emerged as a surprisingly reliable cog in the 49ers’ young defense. He earned the nickname “Steady Eddy” from Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, who cited Lee’s ability to continually be in the right place at the right time. In five starts, Lee racked up an impressive 65 tackles, three tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. Lee not only supplanted Smith in the starting lineup in 2018, but made a case to be the starting favorite in 2019.
Brock Coyle: Stock down
Coyle landed on injured reserve after suffering a broken back during the 49ers’ Week 1 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Coyle’s compression fracture ended his 2018 after signing a three-year, $8.4 million contract during the offseason. The veteran linebacker was sidelined while Warner and Lee emerged as the 49ers’ starting duo for the majority of the season. Despite being signed through 2020, Coyle faces an uphill battle to earn a prominent role in 2019.
Mark Nzeocha: Stock up
Nzeocha was signed by the 49ers off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad in 2017. He made is name on special teams throughout the season, re-signing with the 49ers in 2018 and earning a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. Nzeocha started three games this season, totaling 18 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and a sack. He’s currently slated for free agency but may be a return target for the 49ers as a contributor on special teams and backup linebacker.
Dekoda Watson: Stock down
Watson missed the first eight games of 2018 with a hamstring injury. He made a successful Week 9 debut against the Oakland Raiders, racking up four tackles, a tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks. He managed two tackles and a half-sack the following week against the New York Giants, but returned to injured reserved in Week 13 after suffering a calf injury against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13. Watson’s signed with the 49ers through 2019, but with a minimal contract and little impact, his spot on the roster is far from certain.
Pita Taumoepenu: Stock slightly up
Taumoepenu, a sixth-round pick in 2017, spent the majority of his first two season with the 49ers on the practice squad. After appearing in two games as a rookie, Taumoepenu was promoted to the active roster for the 49ers’ Week 14 matchup against the Broncos. He only managed three tackles in limited snaps in the team’s final four games. Taumoepenu will once again be competing for a spot on the roster in 2019.
Cornerbacks: Stock slightly down
Richard Sherman: Stock up
2018 was Sherman’s first season without an interception. The lack of turnovers isn’t indicative of the veteran cornerback’s performance this season though, who was his typical lock-down self on the left side of the 49ers’ defense. Sherman totaled 37 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and four pass breakups in 2018. He allowed just 0.72 yards per coverage snap per Pro Football Focus, the fifth-lowest total among qualifying cornerbacks. Sherman’s play on the field and presence in the locker room has been worth every penny of his three-year, $39-million contract so far. Sherman offers the 49ers stability on an otherwise rotating secondary of young, inexperienced players.
Ahkello Witherspoon: Stock down
Witherspoon’s encouraging finish last season didn’t carry over to 2018. The second-year starter struggled with the added attention opposite Sherman, giving up six touchdowns in his first six games. His 44.9 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked Witherspoon 116th among all NFL cornerbacks. After a couple games on the bench, Witherspoon returned to action but suffered a season-ending knee sprain against the Seahawks in Week 15. He’ll go into the 49ers’ offseason program in competition for a starting role with rookie Tarvarius Moore.
K’Waun Williams: Stock slightly down
Williams was reliable in 2018, if nothing else. He started 11 games throughout the season and played in 14. The 49ers’ nickel cornerback totaled 45 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and two pass breakups this season. Williams merited a 66.7 “Above Average” grade from PFF, only good for 59th among qualifying cornerbacks. D.J. Reed is the only reason Williams’ stock is down at all. The rookie replaced Williams in Weeks 14 and 15, performed well, and seems primed to compete with the veteran for the starting role in 2019.
D.J. Reed Jr.: Stock up
Reed spent time at both nickel cornerback and free safety throughout the season. His best game came at nickel though, racking up a team-high 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack against the Denver Broncos in Week 14. Despite only starting two games, Reed still managed 41 total tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit and a forced fumble. The 49ers’ fifth-round pick in 2018 showed a valuable versatility throughout the season and the ability to challenge Williams for the starting nickel role in 2019.
Tarvarius Moore: Stock up
Witherspoon’s knee injury against the Seahawks gave Moore a short audition to close out the season. The 49ers’ third-round rookie held his own when on the field, totaling 23 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble against the Chicago Bears in Week 16. Shanahan praised Moore after the season, making it known that he’d be in completion with Witherspoon for the starting role opposite Sherman in 2019.
Greg Mabin: No change
Mabin made the 49ers’ 53-man roster to start the season and spent the first eight weeks on the active roster. He was waived in Week 9 and after a short stint on the practice squad, Mabin returned to the 49ers’ roster in Week 10. He worked his way into the cornerback rotation early in the season but only managed 16 tackles, one pass breakup and a forced fumble. Mabin played on a one-year contract and is an exclusive rights free agent this offseason.
Emmanuel Moseley: Stock up
Moseley was promoted to the 53-man roster before the 49ers’ Week 9 win over the Oakland Raiders. He dislocated his shoulder early in the game and required season-ending surgery. Prior to his promotion, Moseley was the 49ers’ highest-paid player on the practice squad, indicating he’d received interest from other teams. Moseley, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018, is contracted through the next season, and will have an opportunity to complete for a more prominent role in 2019.
Safeties: Stock way down
Jaquiski Tartt: Stock down
Tartt struggled with a shoulder injury in 2018, missing six games before landing on injured reserve for the final two weeks of the season. The 49ers’ starting safety also missed seven games in 2017 after a broken forearm landed him on injured reserve after Week 9. In eight starts, Tartt totaled 42 tackles, four tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception in 2018. His 66.6 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 56th among safeties. Tartt signed a two-year, $13 million extension during the offseason with the 49ers. He’s likely penciled in as a starter at either safety position.
Jimmie Ward: Stock way down
Ward likely won’t be with the 49ers in 2019. The former first-round pick was placed on injured reserve for the fourth time in five seasons after suffering a broken forearm during the 49ers’ Week 12 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ward’s fifth-year option guaranteed him $8.5 million last season, making him the team’s highest paid defensive player. He played a mix of cornerback and free safety with mixed results, only totaling 24 tackles and one forced fumble. Ward heads toward free agency having played 51 of a possible 80 games since being drafted in 2014.
Adrian Colbert: Stock way down
Colbert looked like a diamond in the rough at the close of 2017 and earned a started role heading into this past season. Unfortunately, Colbert regressed significantly in 2018 and was routinely victimized by blown assignments and missed tackles. He also struggled with various injuries before a Week 7 high ankle sprain landed him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Colbert registered 21 tackles and one pass breakup in six starts. His 31.7 grade from PFF ranked him 91st among safeties in 2018. Colbert should be seen as a backup as the 49ers look to upgrade at free safety this offseason.
Marcell Harris: Stock way up
Harris missed most of training camp and the preseason with a hamstring injury. He began the season on injured reserve and didn’t take the field until Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders. The 49ers’ sixth-round pick started the last five games of the season and racked up 20 tackles and four tackles for loss. Harris took advantage of an injury-riddled secondary and made a strong bid for a starting spot in 2019.
Antone Exum Jr.: Stock slightly up
Injuries to Colbert, Tartt and Ward forced Exum into the spotlight on the 49ers’ defense. He played in 15 games this season and started seven, totaling 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and an impressive seven pass breakups. Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Exum kicked off the game with a pick-six of quarterback Phillip Rivers. Exum is headed for free agency in the offseason but played well enough to earn consideration as a backup for the 49ers in 2019.
Special Teams: Stock down
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.