The San Francisco 49ers are hanging on in 2019 despite being hit by the injury bug once again. No, George Kittle? No Emmanuel Sanders? Well, it hurts, but it’s not near as crippling as it could be.
In their comeback win Sunday, where they were once in a 16-0 hole against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers had four touchdowns. Two went to tight end Ross Dwelley (and a third that got flagged/called back for man unfairly wide open), one to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, and one to running back Jeff Wilson Jr.
“Ok, Pat, so what’s the big deal here?” You ask. “Jimmy Garoppolo has gone Al Bundy before[four touchdowns in one game].”
Yes, but he went Al Bundy Sunday with undrafted free agents. Garoppolo had what might be the best game of his career with his 77 percent completion rate and throwing it over 40 times (oh, don’t forget the 424 yards). Take away the two interceptions, and it is the best game of his career. Those four touchdowns came with players off the street.
This is less about Garoppolo and more about the 49ers scouting department/John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan. Not only have the 49ers found value in the draft, but they can also get UDFAs to step up. Matt Breida was a UDFA and didn’t play Sunday, that was a huge blow.
I know there are some issues with Kendrick Bourne and his tipped catches that turn into picks or Jeff Wilson once having fumbling issues. The big thing to take from this is the 49ers know how to identify talent late in the draft and on the UDFA field. Justin Skule was taken late and he’s making a strong case to be the heir at the left tackle position in a year or two when Joe Staley hangs it up, the aforementioned Breida is one of the best backs in the league, and Wilson won’t ever make a practice squad again if he keeps this up.
It’s not just the development either; these players come cheap, which is important for the salary cap. Bourne and Breida both will be restricted free agents at season’s end, which means they won’t cost an arm and a leg to re-sign (hopefully). The draft picks the 49ers have been developing for the most part. Well, at least better than the classes they’ve had from a few years ago. The development is so good that their lack of picks in 2020 isn’t near as debilitating as you might have thought. The 49ers have several draft picks becoming starters and holding their own, not being cut.
I’m not saying the team can’t improve, but this type of eye for talent has helped the team and is a huge 180 from the original management regime’s habit of throwing ten picks like darts and getting no return from anything past the first round (and even then first-rounders were iffy).
UDFAs aren’t just to fill out a roster or depth. The ones Kyle Shanahan identifies are contributing on game day in huge ways. Yes, Bourne and others may do things that infuriate you, but I think we all remember the UDFA classes a few years ago under Trent Baalke. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to that.