The San Francisco 49ers have six games left this season with plenty of questions to answer at multiple positions. Let’s go through each position to see if we’ll have any answers by the end of the season.
The growing sense from the media over the past couple of weeks is that the 49ers are out on Jimmy Garoppolo. Then the question that’s asked is who replaces him? That’s led to a dog chasing its tail, so we’re not going to talk about that. Let’s assume the Niners don’t win enough games, and Jimmy doesn’t return this season. Do we see Josh Johnson? If the team signs Anthony Gordon, does he get a shot?
The front office and fans know who Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard are at this point. Last week, Kyle Shanahan said he contemplated playing Beathard: “There’s a time I was like, ‘Man, maybe we should just put in C.J. just to try to spark something,’ to where I wouldn’t consider that normally with Jimmy.” Aside from their starter, the 49ers must figure out if the current quarterbacks in the building are guys they want around in the future.
A backup quarterback needs to be a player that could help your starter prepare and be a leader in more ways than what you see off the field.
The team seems set at running back. Health has hurt seemingly every back on the roster. We spoke about how valuable Raheem Mostert has been. Jerick McKinnon has played better than fans realize, but his contract voids this offseason, and San Francisco has gotten similar or better production from the likes of Jeff Wilson Jr., who will be a restricted free agent this offseason.
This week, Mostert is expected to return, as is Tevin Coleman, who is also an unrestricted free agent this offseason. At some point, Wilson will return this season, but his touches may be few and far between with the full stable of backs healthy. JaMycal Hasty flashed, but he’s on the IR, and it’s unlikely we see him again in 2020 if everyone is healthy.
There aren’t any questions at this position for the 49ers. Mostert is the guy, and there are competent backups behind him for this season and next. If I’m San Francisco, I continue to add UDFA running backs to develop them.
Heading into the season, Mike Sando of The Athletic wrote this about the biggest concern for the 49ers:
The worry: Injuries at receiver hamstring the offense.
In-season reality: Top receiver Deebo Samuel has appeared in only four games, but the injury concerns for San Francisco have extended far beyond a single position. Man-Games Lost had the 49ers with a league-high 163 games missed by injured players heading into Week 10, far more than the runner-up Eagles (127). The 49ers were also the most heavily affected when using Pro Football Reference’s 2019 Approximate Value ratings to weight the quality of player games missed.
Brandon Aiyuk has missed two games, Kendrick Bourne has missed one, and the Niners’ next best wideout, Richie James, only sniffed the field after injuries.
After the bye week and looking toward the future, I’m not sure there’s a position on the team that’s more exciting than wide receiver. We have yet to see a game where Aiyuk and Samuel were at full strength and used as wideouts and not gadget players. We’re headed into the 12th week of the season.
Looking ahead to free agency, both Bourne and Trent Taylor are free agents. Do you let both walk? Taylor seems like a no-brainer, but Bourne is a player that helps you both on and off the field in terms of energy and chemistry. You also have Jalen Hurd coming back from injury, with another offseason to add a player in free agency or later in the NFL Draft. This has been the most promising the wide receiver position has looked for the 49ers in awhile.
Plus, at tight end, you have George Kittle. He’s pretty good, I hear. Add in what Jordan Reed brings to the table, and the Niners skill position looks great.
The biggest question comes from the group that makes the skill players, both for the remainder of this season and the foreseeable future. As Shanahan wants to fight for a playoff spot, he’s been rotating right guards the past couple of games. Tom Compton has started and played 84 snaps in the past two games. Colton McKivitz has rotated in for a couple of series here and there and has played 44 snaps during the past two weeks.
My unpopular opinion: Mike McGlinchey has played fine this season and is closer to being an above-average player than a competent one. We remember those two to three plays a game where McGlinchey has those “viral” plays where he gets beaten badly. McGlinchey isn’t going anywhere, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2022. At this point, McGlinchey is who he is.
Center remains a question mark as Ben Garland could miss the remainder of the season, and Weston Richburg is still recovering from a setback. Daniel Brunskill has filled in nicely in two games after struggling at right guard. Brunskill could finish the season at center, continue to play well, and leave the front office in a similar position when it came to evaluating the right guard last season.
Cutting Richburg feels like a foregone conclusion. San Francisco saves $8.3 million with $3.5 million in dead money by releasing Richburg this season. That money should create flexibility to extend left tackle Trent Williams, who is a star and picked up where he left off in 2018. Laken Tomlinson has been up and down in pass protection, especially as of late, but he’s been healthy and consistent for the better part of the last two seasons. I doubt we get there, but if the Niners need to penny pinch, they could save $4 million next offseason by releasing Tomlinson. At a $6 million cap number, Tomlinson is well worth his contract.