Overreactions have piled up across the net when we should all RELAX since it was only the first game of the season. So, with Week 1 in our rearview mirrors, we look at where San Francisco’s positions rank amongst each other.
1.) Defensive line
San Francisco’s defensive line is the bread and butter of the John Lynch and Shanahan duo. As a result, the Niners have invested in their defensive line like no other position on the roster.
Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw stonewalled the run all game Sunday. However, Samson Ebukam’s sack to end Chicago’s first drive was uplifting. He posted the third-highest run stop win rate (43%) as an edge defender in Week 1.
Niners will struggle against mobile quarterbacks without an edge that consistently bends the corner. Kemeko Turay is a liability against the run, but the Niners may need to use his twitch to help contain mobile quarterbacks going forward.
The defensive line held up against the run but needs to be more impactful when quarterbacks extend plays. Chicago’s offensive line is one of the worst in the league, and DeMeco Ryans’ defense finished dead last in pass block win rate.
2) Wide receiver
San Francisco’s wide receivers must have strong patience this year with a developing quarterback. Three touches are not enough for Brandon Aiyuk, who has not unlocked his potential. Shanahan should have gotten him more involved.
This ranking may be high for some, but it shows how deep this 49er receiver group is. Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Aiyuk all had 20-yard receptions. The pass catchers will give Trey Lance an opportunity for an explosive play on every drop-back.
The linebackers let me down a bit Sunday, but the sky is still bright for this group. Fred Warner leads the potential top-five linebacker core in the league, and he may have to give extra coaching tips. Azeez Al-Shaair is looking to mirror his near All-Pro year last season and can continue that trend by holding up in pass coverage.
Dre Greenlaw had blunders against the Bears, and his stock has plummeted since the 2020 season. San Francisco needs Greenlaw to revert to his brute run-stopping self. Without knowing the exact call, I will lean towards Greenlaw being responsible for the curl flat on the Dante Pettis touchdown. He and Hufanga both are in hook zones, so it is hard to tell who was supposed to be where. Penalties, missed tackles, and miscues in coverage will have Lynch looking elsewhere in a contract year.
The cornerbacks held up well outside of Chavarius Ward’s holding penalty that helped Chicago get in the endzone. Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy left the corners unblocked on zone runs, and San Francisco’s corners passed the test. They were not at the top of the leaderboard in tackles, but they looked to correct the faint missed open field tackling phase they had last season.
The 49ers have good depth at corner and could see the return of Jason Verrett this season. However, Seattle’s receivers will challenge this secondary to great measures next week.
San Francisco has two adequate quarterbacks. However, I remain stout on Lance playing the rest of the season regardless of any struggles he faces. The second-year Quarterback led the NFL in Big Time Throw percentage in a monsoon. Shanahan spent the entire offseason backing Lance and will continue to keep the young Quarterback’s spirits up.
Jimmy Garoppolo is on the roster for emergencies only (I hope.) Dak Prescott’s fractured thumb should be enough for the Dallas Cowboys to bite on a trade. However, it looks like Dallas is rolling with the homegrown Cooper Rush.
6.) Offensive line
Jake Brendel posted the second-highest run block win rate as a center at 83 percent. Tackles Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey both had forgettable games. I wondered about the tackle depth before the season, but the thought was the interior offensive line would struggle. Chris Forester’s offensive line will improve. The unit must move as one, and it can take a while to establish continuity. A calmer pocket will allow Lance to play a cleaner game.
Talanoa Hufanga headlined the defensive against the Bears. He forced a turnover, repeatedly stopped the run, and most importantly, played with his hair on fire. San Francisco needs Jimmie Ward back to slow down opponents passing attacks. The safeties have been a major concern for me, and they may end up proving me wrong.
8.) Tight end
The Niners tight end group shocked me with the high snap count of Tyler Kroft. He was a force as a run blocker and could get free on routes. We could see Shanahan use him more in the future. George Kittle’s health has been a liability for far too long. Hopefully, the 75-million-dollar man can help the offense see new highs in his return. Finally, Ross Dwelley has kept fighting to keep his name alive on offense. Look for him to be open near the middle of the field every time.
9.) Running back
The running back room is in shambles. Shanahan needs to turn back to Deebo Samuel at running back. We saw the 2020 All-Pro get eight rushes and had a few drops. Elijah Mitchell’s replacement needs to be able to take on a workload, and who is better for the job than Samuel? Putting Samuel at running back could also help Lance with check-downs. In addition, Shanahan’s running back room has no pass-catching back, which is a true necessity now.
Robbie Gould did not get a ton of usage against his former team. Taylor Pepper is neither a kicker nor punter, but I thought it would be cool to mention him because he is a fun follow on Twitter. Mitch Wishnowsky downed three out of his four punts inside the 20. The 49er’s special teams already look sharper than last year.
I get it Kickers are people too, but I just cannot see myself putting them higher than the other guys. I am sure I will change my mind once Gould hits a few game-winning kicks this year.
These rankings will flex week to week. Lance cannot be blamed for the loss, but we can acknowledge that he did not make enough plays to win the game. A team game where the Niners have above-average players across the board. The Seattle Seahawks shocked everyone by upsetting the Denver Broncos. It is time for San Francisco to fight through their first piece of adversity and secure a win next week.