The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their second season under general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, finishing with a disappointing 4-12 record in 2018. The injury-depleted roster endured 17 players on injured reserve throughout the season, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon. Still in the midst of a rebuild, the 49ers enter into a critical offseason with nearly $70 million in projected salary cap space and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Here’s our top five positions groups in need of an upgrade this offseason:
5. Interior offensive line
Keeping Garoppolo upright needs to be atop the 49ers’ list of priorities heading into 2019. The 49ers ranked 22nd in the NFL in pass protection per Football Outsiders, allowing 48 sacks on the season. Starting guards Mike Person and Laken Tomlinson combined to give up 65 pressures while Weston Richburg’s 33 pressures were the third-most of any center, per Pro Football Focus. With Person headed for free agency, the 49ers are in need of a major infusion of talent along the interior of the offensive line this offseason.
4. Wide receiver
Shanahan’s most prolific receiving threat on offense is George Kittle, who broke the NFL single season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,336 in 2018. The team’s leading wide receiver on the season was 2017 undrafted free agent Kendrick Bourne with just 487 yards. Veteran Pierre Garçon, after two consecutive seasons ending on injured reserve, is due $8.2 million in 2019 and seems unlikely to return for a third season with the 49ers. Rookie Dante Pettis showed promise late in the season, while Marquise Goodwin struggled to replicate last season’s success. The 49ers are in need of a perimeter threat capable of pulling attention away from Kittle.
The 49ers’ top three needs are all on defense and an argument could be made for any of the three to be at the top. San Francisco’s secondary was among the worst in the NFL in 2018, ranking 27th per Football Outsiders. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman excelled on the left side of the 49ers’ defense, but the team is without an answer on the opposite side of the field. Second-year starter Ahkello Witherspoon struggled throughout the season, earning an abysmal 44.9 grade from PFF, good for 117th among NFL cornerbacks. Third-round rookie Tarvarius Moore, a converted safety, was inconsistent as Witherspoon’s replacement late in the season. The 49ers need to add a cornerback capable of competing for the role opposite Sherman.
The 49ers’ safety depth chart, considered a strength last offseason, is now among the roster’s weakest position groups. The defense is without a starting-caliber free safety, which is among the most critical positions within coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme. Starter Adrian Colbert earned a 31.7 grade from PFF, ranking him 91st among safeties. A Week 7 high-ankle sprain landed Colbert on IR for the remainder of the season. Starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt struggled with a shoulder injury in 2018, missing six games before joining Colbert on IR for the final two weeks of the season. The last line of defense for the 49ers’ secondary, after starting eight different safety combinations throughout 2018, is in desperate need of an upgrade.
1. Edge rusher
The 49ers’ most pressing offseason need on defense can go a long way toward alleviating problems in the secondary. San Francisco ranked 22nd with 37 sacks on the season, correlating with generating just two interceptions in 2018 — an NFL worst. The 49ers’ most credible pass rusher is defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who totaled 12 sacks while rushing from the interior. Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair were the closest the 49ers had to an edge rusher, both earning 5.5 sacks a piece in 2018. A defender capable of threatening opposing quarterbacks and earning the respect of offensive coordinators will create a ripple affect for the rest of the 49ers defense.