The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first between now and the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 29 on our rankings are the rebuilding, still quarterback-starved San Francisco 49ers.
2016 in a nutshell: Still reeling from a disastrous 2015 campaign in which half of their starters jumped ship, retired or got into so much trouble the team was forced to dump them, the 49ers finished in last place again. Their 2-14 record was tied for the worst in franchise history and at one point, they lost 13 consecutive games. They ranked in the bottom six in terms of both points for and points against.
What’s different: New head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have already been receiving lots of praise for the work they did in free agency and the draft. They brought in the underrated Pierre Garcon along with intriguing potential Swiss Army knife Kyle Juszczyk to work with new quarterbacks Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and third-round rookie C.J. Beathard.
Why they could be awesome: This is a crazy-ass, parity-ridden league and Shanahan and Lynch have a good thing going after sprucing up the offense and robbing the Bears at the top of the draft while still getting their guy in Solomon Thomas. Thomas, DeForest Buckner and Reuben Foster make up one hell of a young trio in the defensive front seven, so they’re on the right track. Can they speed it up?
Why they could suck: Did I mention that Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard are the quarterbacks? Kirk Cousins could have changed everything, but that’s at least on hold for now. It does seem as though they’re willing to spoil this season before priming themselves to contend in 2018.
Major additions: Those three quarterbacks, Shanahan and Lynch, Thomas, Foster, Garcon, Juszczyk and speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin.
Major losses: Do Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert or Torrey Smith count?
Breakout watch: A top-10 pick last year, Buckner had a strong rookie season with six sacks and 73 tackles in 15 starts. But they’ll be looking for him to become a star in a new system in 2017. He’ll likely be asked to do a lot more in that 4-3 defense, and he’ll also probably have more chances to let loose without having to read and react. That’ll be fun to see.
Looks leaner and quicker. pic.twitter.com/otQF5UDs42
— PirateLife Football (@PirateLifeFF) August 8, 2017
Position to watch: Despite buzz about him possibly falling out of favor in a new scheme entering a contract year — there was even talk he could be a surprise training camp cut — Carlos Hyde has sent a message thus far and appears to have a grip on the starting running back job. Will he hold it? Veteran Tim Hightower has a strong track record, rookie fourth-round pick Joe Williams tore it up last year at Utah and Juszczyk is being paid far too much money to be ignored. There’s a crowd back there.
Prediction: Again, it feels as though their approach at quarterback and in free agency in general indicates they know they’re still a year away. But the defense could be much better than it was last year and Hoyer really isn’t a terrible stopgap option. They won’t be good, but they’ll be better.
6-10, last place in the NFC West