We are near the end of the preseason as the San Francisco 49ers have split their first two games. We’re not worried about the results just yet as August sees guys develop and how they look against different competition.
We asked Niners fans what’s been their biggest surprise so far through the preseason. The answers were all over the place but in a good way. So let’s get to them.
“Trey somehow looks better and worse than I expected all at the same time”
I just found this answer hilarious. Most of the reports from training camp said Trey Lance was on the money with most of his throws. Others said he was a bit erratic and raw.
Lance has been entertaining. Nobody would argue that. The results may not be there, but you have to account for drops and poor offensive line play. But, of course, that doesn’t absolve Lance, who has made his fair share of rookie mistakes.
Lance has shown intelligence and indecisiveness. For me, he looks as expected — but we haven’t seen him use his legs yet.
“The drops from 19 & 11”
Last season, Aiyuk had five drops on 96 targets. Most of those were “focus” drops, as Aiyuk proved capable of making highlight grabs both above and below his waist. However, throughout training camp, Aiyuk has been inconsistent at best with catching the ball.
Deebo Samuel has 13 drops on 125 targets in his career. For me, I think drops will be an issue for Deebo until they aren’t. His catching technique is off, and too often, he’s running before he has the ball in his hands.
These drops shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the past and how training camp has gone, but there’s no doubt they seem to happen at the most inconvenient time. Let’s hope this is a preseason issue, and it doesn’t carry over into the season.
“Hufanga doesn’t look like a rookie”
Ty Austin will have a profile on the Niners' fifth-round pick out of USC. Of course, Talanoa had to have a couple of things go his way — an injury to Jaquiski Tartt and Tavon Wilson — but that’s how the NFL works.
It didn’t take long for Hufanga to prove he’s worthy of consideration of starting. He doesn’t look like a rookie. At all. Hufanaga plays fast, smart, and aggressive. Even his mistakes you can leave with early on.
There isn’t much to complain about with Hufanga’s play. When that’s the case, you’re usually dealing with a special talent.
“That they still look and play like a 6-10 team, or worse”
Whoa! OK, so there’s no disagreeing that Sunday’s game was as close to unwatchable as it gets. Keep in mind that the 49ers sat 22 and 20 players in each preseason game.
Their best players haven’t played—George Kittle, Fred Warner, Jason Verrett, Jimmie Ward, Trent Williams last game. The list goes on and on. When your stars don’t play, backups get exposed.
There’s far too much skill on the roster for San Francisco to go 6-11*. Look at what the second and third-team defensive line has done to the opposing offenses. We’ve seen big plays from Trent Sherfield, along with a consistent running game.
This statement feels like an overreaction without context, though I do get your frustration.
“D line just how scary deep it is and talented!”
This should be the story of the preseason for the 49ers. I’d hold out on releasing one of my....12...defensive linemen that I feel could give me valuable snaps; as you know, there are teams out there dying for defensive line depth.
Again, there hasn’t been any Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, or Javon Kinlaw on the field. Still, the defensive line has only allowed 3.3 yards per play, including only 3.96 net yards per pass attempt. So you can thank the defensive line and its nine sacks for that.
We keep talking about who starts at quarterback, but the way the defensive line is playing won’t matter early on in the season.
Do the 49ers have a kicker problem? Robbie Gould hit 95 & 97% of his field goals during his first two seasons with the 49ers. In 2019, that number dipped 74% before getting back up to 82% last season.
Gould is 39 and has missed two extra points in two games. It’s evident based on recent seasons that Gould is not his former self. We should keep an eye on whether this carries over into the season.
The last thing the Niners need is kicker troubles hanging over their head as they figure out their quarterback situation.
“How good that defense is and how much better when all starters play together”
I mentioned this in the defensive line stats above, but the defense has given up next to nothing in two games. San Francisco is second in yards per play allowed, is giving up only 25% of third downs, and are fifth in total defensive EPA.
To me, what’s been most impressive is how everyone plays as a unit and rallies to the ball. It doesn’t matter if it’s Dre Greenlaw or Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. Each defender does their job. That’s a big credit to DeMeco Ryans. This side of the ball looks poised to be a top-five unit this season.
“That Sherfield has been the best WR”
Move over, Kory Sheets; there’s a new sheriff in town. If Sherfield doesn’t make a play in practice, then it’s a surprise. But, unfortunately, there are times when certain players are standouts in practice but disappear in the games.
For Sherfield, that’s not the case. Instead, he’s been the most pleasant surprise on the roster. We’ve spent most of the offseason discussing who would serve as the third wideout, and that answer is clear now.
Sherfield isn’t limited to a big-play threat. He can be a possession receiver who catches the underneath contested throws as well. I like him over Mohamed Sanu as he can win on the perimeter, allowing you to kick Aiyuk or Deebo inside.
Kendrick Bourne averaged 40 receptions during the past three seasons. Sherfield should top that number while adding more value to the 49ers' offense this season. It may not happen right out of the gate, but Sherfield could be a big asset to the Niners' passing offense.