After months of planning for free agency and evaluating prospects for the NFL Draft, the 49ers put the massive offseason expectations behind them and opened training camp in front of their fans in Santa Clara, CA.
All of the eyes were on the 49ers’ $137.5M man (that’s Jimmy Garoppolo in case you’re curious), and his recovery from an ACL injury in Week 3 of 2018. There’s also the 49ers’ new toys from the offseason; pass rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa.
But through the first two days, the 49ers’ players that are making the most significant noise are receivers Trent Taylor and Jordan Matthews on the offensive side of the ball, while linebacker Fred Warner and corner Richard Sherman are stealing the thunder on defense.
Before Kyle Shanahan’s group puts on pads on Monday, here are three bold predictions for the 49ers after opening weekend.
1. Wide receivers Trent Taylor and Jordan Matthews are locks to make the 53-man roster.
After much criticism of Garoppolo’s weapons this past offseason, the 49ers made a point of emphasis to add competition to the group of receivers, adding rookies Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel via the draft and signing Matthews in free agency.
With two days of practice complete, the most positive reviews have been about Taylor and Matthews. The 49ers’ third-year receiver is finally healthy and can reclaim his title as Mr. 3rd Down. During Sunday’s drills, Taylor’s quickness and impressive route-running ability were on full display — primary reasons the 49ers chose him three seasons ago. Taylor took two passes to the end zone during the afternoon session, whilst blazing past defenders.
After injuries plagued Matthews early in his career, the former Eagles’ receiver is looking for a chance at redemption in San Francisco. The 49ers can use his combination of veteran presence and size. During Sunday’s press conference, Shanahan added that “he’s just been what we expected. Jordan’s a very good receiver with some size and some speed.”
Even though there’s a large contingent of receivers vying to make the 53-man roster, two of the early favorites should be Taylor and Matthews, given their impressive performances.
2. The 49ers’ defensive line is going to be their best unit.
San Francisco’s brain trust made it a point to invest in their defensive line this offseason, after not being able to rush the opposing quarterback. In comes defensive linemen Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, while the services of Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, and DeForest Buckner are already there to build upon.
The defensive line wasted no time sacking the quarterback and stuffing runs. Rookie Nick Bosa blew by tackle Joe Staley multiple times, including a strip-sack on one outing. A rookie blew by one of the best tackles in the league.
Solomon Thomas hasn’t lived up to his draft hype just yet, but his off-the-field struggles have been well noted. It looks like Thomas made it a point of emphasis to become stronger and quicker to the point-of-attack, even working with Rams lineman Aaron Donald this offseason.
With questions marks amongst other units on the 49ers and lots of talent, the defensive line seems to have the best chance to be their most dominant bunch this season.
3. 49ers stay healthy, 49ers win—end of story.
I’ve often stated that the most pressure this season is going to be on newly-hired 49ers strength and conditioning staff. Three of San Francisco’s most important players, Garoppolo, running back Jerick McKinnon and linebacker Kwon Alexander are all recovering from ACL injuries during the offseason.
During the Lynch-Shanahan era, the 49ers have been plagued by injuries and inconsistent health. If Shanahan’s right and it’s time to start winning and stop culture building, then good health will be the key to unlocking that. So far, Garoppolo and Alexander have been participating in all the activities and seem to be on track for a full return. But McKinnon’s started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and will be monitored throughout training camp.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll repeat it, if the 49ers can stay healthy, with the talent they’ve added to the roster, the sky’s the limit for this group under the tutelage of Shanahan.