San Francisco 49ers: 2015 Outlook

 
 
 
 
Football > Teams > NFC West > 49ers > Outlook

San Francisco 49ers

By Shawn Childs, Thursday, July 2, 2015

After three straight strong seasons in which they compiled a 36-11-1 record, the 49ers faded to the .500 mark and missed the playoffs last season. Their defense finished among the top five in fewest yards allowed for the fourth straight year, but they fell to 10th in points allowed (340). Jim Harbaugh had a great run as the head coach (44-19-1). He achieved three playoff berths and one trip to the Super Bowl. With some dissention in the ranks, Harbaugh was sent packing in December. Jim Tomsula was promoted to head coach after spending the past eight seasons teaching the team's defensive line. Geep Chryst was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Geep has been with San Fran for the past four years. The 49ers have ranked 20th or worse in total offense three times in the last four seasons. Besides ranking 20th in yards gained, the 49ers also ended up 25th in points scored last year. Eric Mangini takes over as the defensive coordinator after coaching the 49ers' tight ends in 2013 and 2014. Eric had two failed runs as a head coach, going 33-47 across five seasons spent between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers have won five Super Bowl titles and have made the playoffs 26 times in the team's 67-year history. They have the fifth-best winning percentage all time (.557) and the sixth-most wins (553).

Free Agency

San Fran's offensive line lost three starters. Tackle Anthony Davis decided to retire at age 25. He was a 2010 first-round pick. Davis was at his best in 2012 when he was impact run blocker, but he did allow nine sacks, five QB hits and 31 QB hurries. Last year, Davis missed nine games due to a sprained knee ligament. Guard Mike Iupati signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Iupati had upside in run blocking with some struggles as a pass blocker. Tackle Jonathan Martin left to play for the Carolina Panthers. He had losing value as a run blocker while allowing six sacks, one QB hits and 11 QB hurries. Guard Erik Pears was brought it for depth on the offensive line. Pears had no value in any area in 2014 with the Buffalo Bills.

The 49ers also lost Linebacker Patrick Willis, defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Chris Borland to retirement. Smith was at the end of his career at age 35 with his game showing decline in 2014. Willis has been fighting a losing battle with a toe issue over the last couple of years. Borland, after an outstanding rookie season, was fearful of concussion issues going forward. Defensive end Darnell Dockett, who missed the entire 2014 season due to an ACL tear, was signed to help fill the voids.

Cornerback Perrish Cox signed with the Tennessee Titans. At best, Cox was a league-average player last season. CB Chris Culliver will collect his next check from the Washington Redskins. Chris played well in pass coverage in his first season as a full-time starter. Shareece Wright was brought in to compete for the starting CB job. Wright has been a failure over the past two years in pass coverage. He allowed 41 catches on 71 targets for 532 yards and three touchdowns last year.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree left to play with the Oakland Raiders after the 49ers added WR Torrey Smith. Crabtree failed to deliver on his elite upside after being drafted in the first round in 2009. Smith will add big-play ability to the passing game and has developing value at the goal line. Running back Frank Gore decided his best chance for success was with the Indianapolis Colts. San Fran took a flier on RB Reggie Bush with the hopes that he'll be another receiving option for Colin Kaepernick. WR Jerome Simpson was also signed while backup wideout Stevie Johnson will try to revive his career with the San Diego Chargers.

Draft

Amid an offseason full of change on defense, the 49ers selected three defensive players with their first three picks – defensive tackle Arik Armstead, safety Jaquiski Tartt and linebacker Eli Harold. Armstead has the skill set to be an impact player across the board once he refines his moves as a pass rusher. Arik has power and a plus first step to disrupt at the point of attack. Tartt will add a physical presence to the secondary. He is a solid tackler and has upside against the run. He can sometimes get frozen in coverage on play-action plays. Harold has the skill set to be an upside pass rusher. He plays with power and speed.

In the fourth round, San Fran drafted tight end Blake Bell. He has limited experience at the TE position, but his game has shown high upside. He needs to improve his route-running skills, reaction time and get a better feel for the game. His blocking improved last year, which will be key to his playing time. Blake will need some time to develop.

RB Mike Davis and WR DeAndre Smelter were also selected in the fourth round. Davis has some qualities similar with the departed Gore. He runs hard between the tackles with power while lacking breakaway speed. Mike may add value on third downs with a chance to hold his own in pass protection. He just needs to show more commitment to the game. Smelter has plus size (6 feet 2, 226 pounds) and stellar athleticism. The Georgia Tech product has a short resume of football experience and tore an ACL in December. Smelter could have impact upside in a couple of years.

Punter Bradley Pinion was drafted in the fifth round.

San Fran added two offensive linemen in the final two rounds -- guards Ian Silberman and Trenton Brown. Silberman plays with strength but has limited range due to his slow foot speed. He may need to add more bulk to earn snaps at the next level. Ian will have risk in pass protection. Brown has all the tools to develop into an NFL starter. He plays with power and also has some questions about his foot speed. He is a project.

With their final pick, the 49ers selected TE Rory Anderson. Rory struggled with some injuries in his college career while flashing plus speed and athletic ability. He looks the part as a receiver and has shown value as a blocker, but he needs to add more bulk. Also, his hands can be inconsistent.



San Francisco 49ers DT Arik Armstead

Offensive Line

The 49ers finished fourth in rushing yards (2,176) while averaging 4.6 yards per rush with 10 rushing TDs. San Fran allowed 52 sacks last year, which is pretty amazing when you consider they have a running QB. The 49ers finished 30th in passing yards (3,063) with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Left tackle Joe Staley has played at a high level in his career. He'll offer value in the run and the pass. Last year, Joe allowed four sacks, three QB hits and 22 QB hurries.

Left guard Brandon Thomas tore an ACL during a pre-draft workout in 2014, which led to him falling to the third round. Thomas played left tackle at Clemson. His game should work well at guard. Despite his limited power, he is a very good pass protector.

Center Marcus Martin has been unimpressive in his three years in the league after being selected in the second round in 2012. Martin has allowed 19 sacks and has below-average value as a run blocker. He can also play guard.

Right guard Daniel Kilgore will probably battle Pears for this job. Kilgore suffered a broken leg last year and may move back to center if he can't hold his own here. He made seven starts at center in 2014, showing value as a run blocker with no sacks allowed.

RT Alex Boone was an elite run blocker in 2012 while allowing four sacks. His game faded in 2013 where he was a liability as a pass blocker and provided only a slight edge in run blocking. Last year, Alex allowed three sacks and provided average value as a run blocker while playing guard. He has been moved to tackle following Anthony Davis' retirement. Pears is a candidate for this job as well.

This line has a lot to prove in 2015. It has one elite player and risk at the center position. They need to find a way to keep their QB upright. They could struggle in run blocking.

Schedule: Offense

The above chart shows the 49ers' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).

This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.

2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.

2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.

2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.

San Francisco's offense has three tough games versus the run: the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks (twice). The Detroit Lions should also still be decent against the run. San Fran also gets to face the Cincinnati Bengals' and the New York Giants' poor run defenses. Even with two meeting versus the Seahawks, the 49ers' passing game has a slightly favorable schedule with nine games that grade above the league average.

Offense

The 49ers ran the ball 49.1 percent of the time, and their RBs gained 1,524 yards on 365 carries (4.2 YPC) with nine rushing TDs. The RB position caught only 15.1 percent of all completions (44 catches for 379 yards and three TDs). TEs saw only 13.4 percent of the action. Their wide receivers caught 209 passes for 2,595 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Kaepernick has 25-14 career record with 50 passing touchdowns and 21 interceptions across three seasons. His yards-per-attempt average has taken a nose dive in the past two years (8.3 in 2012; 7.7 in 2013; 7.0 in 2014). Fifty-two sacks last season contributed to that number. However, even with poor play from the offensive line, that average still seemed high based on Colin's value as a runner. In 2014, he had a career-high 104 rushes for 639 yards with only one rushing TD. In his career, Kaepernick has 10 rushing TDs. He finished the year as the No. 16 QB in Fantasy Football World Championship scoring. He ended only two games with 30 or more Fantasy points. Colin had only one game with more than 270 yards passing. He recorded fewer than 200 yards in five of his last seven starts. He was held to one score or less in 11 contests and threw three TDs just once. His upside as a passer is really limited by his lack of attempts; he averaged a hair less than 30 throws per game in 2014. During the offseason, Kaepernick has been working with Kurt Warner to develop his pocket presence and focus on becoming a pass-first player. In addition, Colin has spent time trying to improve his release and foot work. The reports have been positive in both areas. The coaching staff changes are expected to give him more freedom to run. His offensive line has less talent than in 2014 with Davis retiring and Iupati signing with the Cardinals. Overall, the 49ers don't have elite options in the passing game. They did add a deep threat in Torrey Smith and a pass-catching RB in Reggie Bush. With a bounce-back year from tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick has enough talent to throw for 3,500-plus yards. When his rushing yards are added in, Colin could earn close to 250 Fantasy points through yards alone in FFWC scoring (175 passing and 75 rushing). The key to his value in 2015 will be scoring more touchdowns. If he can record five rushing TDs and 23 passing TDs, Kaepernick would score 370-plus Fantasy points. Those numbers point to a solid top-10 opportunity, but that's a big 'if.' Colin is an upside gamble as a QB2 with possible starter talent.


San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

Hyde wouldn't have been my first choice in the 2014 NFL Draft if I was looking for a lead RB for my team. Carlos is a pure north-south runner with power, limited speed (4.66 40-yard dash at the combine) and no real value as a receiver. Ohio State ran most of its plays out of the shotgun with Hyde anchored at the quarterback's hip. He showed power and some acceleration when he broke into the open field. His doesn't have enough speed to beat a defense around the edge. He's a two-down back in the NFL with unimpressive blocking skills. He rushed for 1,521 yards in his senior year at Ohio State with 15 TDs. Carlos caught 34 passes in three seasons for 271 yards and four scores. His hands graded out better than expected at the combine, but he has no real experience with running routes out of the backfield. With the 49ers, Hyde rushed for 333 yards on 83 carries (4.0 YPC) with four TDs. He caught 12 of his 16 targets for 68 yards (5.7 yards per catch). He had only four games with 10 touches or more, but this season, Hyde has an excellent chance at rushing more than 250 times. Yet I can't expect much more than 1,000 yards because of the O-line. Kaepernick is capable of stealing some of his goal-line TDs, and Bush will heavily limit his receiving numbers. I'm not expecting him to repeat Frank Gore's numbers from 2014, which made the veteran the No. 18 RB in PPR leagues (292 touches, 1,269 total yards, nine TDs). I see at least a 10 percent drop in those totals just based on Hyde's talent -- or lack thereof. Carlos is a back-end RB2 with no real explosiveness and who will turn in many weeks with fewer than 10 Fantasy points when he doesn't find the end zone. Hyde has an ADP of 39 in the early draft season, making him the 14th RB selected. I won't be investing in him at that price.


San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde

At age 30, San Fran will try to squeeze one more plus season out of Bush. Last year, Reggie battled knee and ankle injuries for most of the season and missed multiple games. He finished with only 76 rushes for 297 yards and two TDs while gaining just 3.9 yards per rush. He did catch 40 passes for seventh time in his career, but he averaged only 6.3 yards per catch. Overall, the 49ers' RBs had 404 chances last year (365 rushes and 39 catches). Bush will add value to the passing game and should be a very good outlet for Kaepernick when he is under duress. Reggie's game is much more well-rounded than Hyde's, but he has injury risk and has shown some decline in his skill set. This year, I expect him to garner 12-15 touches per game depending on game flow. He'll have his most value when San Fran is trailing. If healthy for 16 games, Bush will take at least 150 touches, including 40 catches, for 750-plus yards and a few TDs. He looks like an RB4 with some underlying upside if he regains some of his past explosiveness.

Over his last two seasons at South Carolina, Davis rushed for 2,165 yards on 402 carries with 20 TDs. He also caught 66 passes for 720 yards with two more touchdowns. He tends to struggle when running parallel to the line of scrimmage since he lacks the acceleration to create separation from oncoming tacklers. Davis runs with power between the tackles with some stutter steps and shoulder fakes that seem wasted in tight quarters. Mike will be a serviceable pass catcher. His blocking skills give him a chance to play on passing downs, but he really needs to work on identifying things pre-snap. Davis also needs to get in better shape. He'll be the third option in this ground attack, but he could be the No. 2 receiving option out of the backfield.

Boldin was the saving grace for the 49ers' passing game in 2014. He claimed his seventh season with 1,000 yards and his seventh year with more than 80 catches. Over the past two years, at ages 33 and 34, Anquan has caught 168 passes for 2,241 yards and 12 TDs. Last season, he had just one game with at least 100 yards and saw double-digit targets three times. Boldin caught six passes or more in eight games. He is currently ranked 15th all time in catches (940) and 19th in receiving yards (12,406). In the early draft season, Anquan has an ADP of 97 (39th WR selected), which is quite a bargain when you consider that he was a top-20 WR in PPR leagues in each of the past two campaigns. However, the last time Boldin posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, he followed them up with three relatively subpar years. For me, he's a tough buy even at a discount due to his age and my 'rule of three,' which states to avoid owning a player who is coming off of two solid years due to the likelihood of regression.


San Francisco 49ers WR Anquan Boldin

When you look at Smith's 2014 stats, most Fantasy owners will see decline in his game. He set or matched career lows with 767 yards, 49 catches and 92 targets. But his lack of success was more the result of playcalling. And he still scored 11 touchdowns. That intrigues me, because the 49ers will able to use him in the red zone to beat one-on-one coverage. With the Ravens in 2014, Torrey had six games with two catches or fewer and seven games with six targets or fewer. He was held to fewer than 100 yards in every game. Torrey has just a 49.1 percent career catch rate since most of his targets come deep downfield. The poor play of the 49ers' offensive line is a concern as Kaepernick may not have enough time to get the ball to Torrey deep. I like his growth in scoring ability, and Smith can always take the top off of a defense. But his success will be limited by the low number of pass plays San Fran calls. Last year, Michael Crabtree had 68 catches, 698 yards and four TDs on 108 targets in what I would consider a down year. I expect Smith to see 120-plus targets, which will led to about 60 catches, 900 yards and 6-8 scores. Torrey should be drafted as a WR3 with boom-or-bust risk.

Over two seasons at Louisiana Tech, Patton had 183 catches for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns. He shined in 2012 as he caught 104 passes for 1,392 yards and 13 TDs. His success led to Fantasy owners believing he would have value as a rookie in 2013. However, a finger injury suffered during the preseason and a broken foot in September derailed his year. He played in only six games and caught three passes. He suffered a setback with his foot last summer and ended up missing 12 games in 2014, finishing with three receptions yet again. Finally healthy, Patton will battle for the No. 3 WR gig here. Patton's coaches have been very vocal about how well he looked in spring practice and how the plan is to expand his role greatly this fall.

Of all the back-end WRs on this team, Simpson has the best NFL resume despite missing all of 2014 after some off-field issues led to him being released by the Minnesota Vikings in September. The 49ers signed him to a two-year contract in March. In 2013, Jerome caught 48 of his 100 targets for 726 yards and one TD. He offers big-play ability and has a small chance of winning the No. 3 WR job.

Ellington won the snap battle versus Quinton Patton in 2014 (96-89) after being selected in the fourth round of the draft. Over three seasons at South Carolina, Bruce caught 106 passes for 1,586 yards and 16 TDs. Ellington has 4.45 speed and plus quickness coming out of the slot. His could have value in the return game as well. His route running needs more growth, and Bruce could use more upper-body strength. His overall package in probably a step behind Patton's, but his style of play may led to him earning the third-most WR snaps on this team. Either way, Ellington won't see enough action to make a Fantasy impact.

It was just amazing to see Davis come up empty week after week in 2014 after a handful of very successful seasons. He finished with only 26 catches on 59 targets for 245 yards and two TDs. Vernon averaged only 9.4 yards per catch, which was 3.5 yards below his career average. After Week 1, Vernon didn't score and gained fewer than 40 yards in each of his next 13 games. Davis suffered an ankle injury in mid-September and a back issue in early October. In his career, Vernon has 55 TDs in 131 games and has wrapped up two seasons with 13 touchdowns. He'll never see a ton of targets (averaging 5.2 per game in his career). His upside is created by his big-play ability; he averaged 16.3 yards per catch in 2010 and 2013). He has five 50-catch seasons on his resume and four years with more than 750 yards. Last season was a throwaway year due to injuries and poor play from San Fran's offense. Davis should be line for at least 55 catches, 700 yards and 5-7 scores. He is a complete steal in the early draft season; his ADP of 181 makes him the the 24th TE off the board. I expect Davis to finish 2015 as a top-12 tight end.


San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis

Over the past four years, Dawson has been electric from 50 yards and out (24 for 30). His 2014 success rate (80.6 percent) was his lowest since 2006 and below his career average of 84.2. After a top-12 Fantasy finish in 2012 and 2013, Phil slid to 16th in kicker scoring in 2014. The 49ers tallied 25 FGs and 33 TDs on their 178 possessions. Dawson will start the year at age 40 but with plenty of life left in his leg. The 49ers' offense should improve, which will led to more scoring chances for Phil. He has an excellent chance of being a top-12 kicker and carries greater value in leagues that reward extra points 50-yard FGs.

The 49ers have five games against teams with weak rushing attacks: the Cardinals (twice), Bears, Lions and Atlanta Falcons. I believe four of those games will be tougher than expected. They have two bad matchups against the Seahawks' ground game, and the Bengals should run the ball well in 2015. San Fran's defense has four tough games versus the pass: the Falcons, Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. They have seven games versus below-par passing attacks: the Seahawks (twice), Cardinals (twice), Browns, Bengals and Vikings.

San Fran allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards last season (1,612). Opposing rushers gained 4.0 YPC with only seven rushing TDs. San Francisco managed only 36 sacks due to multiple injuries to their defense. They allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards (3,541) with 29 TDs and 23 INTs.

The 49ers will have three new starters on their defensive line in 2015. DE Arik Armstead could move right into the starting lineup after being selected 17th overall in this year's draft. Arik has upside as a pass rusher and the ability to disrupt the run game. However, he is very raw athlete who still needs to improve his pass-rushing techniques and vision. Nose tackle Ian Williams played pretty well in eight starts last year before a broken leg ended his season. He was primarily used a run stopper with no real upside in the pass rush. DE Darnell Dockett missed the 2014 season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Darnell has downside risk against the run and, at age 34, is declining as a pass rusher. Dockett is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Linebacker Aaron Lynch was a neutral run defender in his rookie season. However, he had six sacks, eight QB hits and 27 QB hurries. LB Michael Wilhoite was unimpressive in his first season with starter snaps after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He struggled against the run and didn't do much as a pass rusher. LB Philip Wheeler has a strong NFL resume despite struggling in 2014 with the Miami Dolphins. Wheeler has a chance to deliver league-average value if he earns a starting job in place of the retire Chris Borland. LB NaVorro Bowman missed the 2014 season due to a torn ACL in his left knee. When healthy, he offers upside in all areas of the game. LB Aldon Smith was suspended for the first 10 games last season. He was only slightly above average once he returned to the lineup, but he's an elite pass rusher. From 2011-13, he recorded 50 sacks, 48 QB hits and 130 QB hurries. Smith will also add value to the run defense.

CB Tramaine Brock dealt with toe and hamstring issues last year. He saw action in just three games after playing in every game in each of the two previous seasons. in 2013, Tramaine allowed 59 catches on 103 targets for 787 yards and six TDs with five INTs. Shareece Wright is expected to start at the other CB position after playing poorly in 2014 with the Chargers (41 catches for 532 yards and three TDs on 71 pass attempts). Safety Antoine Bethea is coming off his best season in pass coverage (24 catches on 41 targets for 303 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions). Safety Eric Reid has been a league-average defender through his two seasons.

This defense still has two studs at the linebacker position and two other first-rounders in their starting lineup. The defensive line may have risk against the run, and there are some big shoes to fill at linebacker without Willis and Borland. The secondary will only be as good as the passing window allowed by the pass rush. This defense will have an edge against second-tier offenses with mediocre QB play, but a top passing team will take advantage of its attacking style. I don't expect this defense to finish as a top-12 Fantasy option.