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10 Bold Predictions for the 2022 49ers

Brian Renick
Sep 10, 2022 at 3:17 PM--

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The 49ers kick off the 2022 NFL season in less than 24 hours in Chicago against Justin Fields and the Bears.

I don't know about you, but I am as excited as Navin R. Johnson when a new phonebook arrives. The new NFL season is here! The new NFL season is here!

I am excited at the dawn of every new season, but for me, this team feels different. There is the excitement of a new era beginning at quarterback, the best stable of pass catchers in recent memory, a ferocious and unrelenting defensive line, and a secondary led by the two Wards—Jimmie and Charvarius.

In the spirit of that excitement, I wanted to make some bold predictions for the upcoming season. Should be exciting to read the comments and replies!

1. The 49ers will win the NFC West

This prediction doesn't seem as bold after watching the defending Super Bowl and NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams get absolutely dismantled by the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football two days ago, but we can't really take too much from Week 1 performances, good or bad. The Rams had some glaring issues in that game that look like they could be season-long, but they absolutely cannot be written off after one week.

However, the NFC West is a two-horse race in my opinion as I do not, at all, believe in the Arizona Cardinals and their diminutive quarterback Kyler Murray, nor their coach, whose second-half season collapses are so well-known that I have since trademarked Week 10 of the NFL season the Kingsbury Kliff™. Then there are the Geno Smith-led Seattle Seahawks. Enough said about them.

That leaves the 49ers and Rams to battle it out for NFC West supremacy and with the Rams' issues along the offensive line, their inability to run the ball, and a brutal schedule, the 49ers will find themselves atop the NFC West again for the first time since 2019.

2. Trey Lance will become the first 49ers' quarterback to surpass 4,000 yards passing since Jeff Garcia 22 years ago in—*high pitched voice*—the year 2000

It may come as somewhat of a surprise that, in the five seasons that Jimmy Garoppolo was the starting quarterback in San Francisco, he never surpassed 4,000 yards passing. Then again, with the number of games he missed, maybe it's not—even with his stellar 2019 campaign. That 2019 season was the closest that Garoppolo got to the 4,000-yard mark, and it was really close at 3,978 yards.

Lance will have the advantage of a 17-game season to achieve this goal, which is an advantage—though one that Garoppolo had last season as well. Over the course of 17 games, Lance will need to average 235 passing yards per game to get to 4,000. That's a very reasonable expectation. There will be games where he may fall short of that mark and games where he will likely far exceed it, but over the aggregate, I don't think it's actually that bold. Though, as with almost every prediction when it comes to football, this one is *health-permitting*.

3. Rookie slot cornerback Samuel Womack III will lead the team in interceptions—which will have him in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Samuel Womack has been, arguably, the most impressive rookie during the preseason. He showed the coaching staff and front office enough through training camp and the first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers—where he had two stellar interceptions on back-to-back posessions—that they released their previously-anointed starter, Darqueze Dennard, just three days after.

Womack was unheralded coming out of Toledo, which enabled the 49ers to draft him all the way in the 5th round of the 2022 Draft, but his play on the field was anything but underwhelming. In fact, Womack, playing primarily outside for the Rockets, led the MAC in pass breakups for three consecutive seasons and was second in the entire nation in 2019. The man has a nose for the football, and in a defense that boasts Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley on the outside, and could see the return of Jason Verrett at some point this season, he is likely to get picked on a little bit, giving him ample opportunity to make plays on the ball

4. Elijah Mitchell will become the first 1,000-yard rusher in the Shanahan era

This one is bold simply because there hasn't been a running back in the Shanahan era that has repeated as the leading rusher for the 49ers in back-to-back seasons, and Mitchell was a bit injury-prone last season, having missed six games due to injury. However, in the 11 games that he did see action, he racked up 963 yards—a 49ers franchise record for a rookie—while averaging 4.7 yards per attempt.

Mitchell is entering 2022 as the unquestioned lead back in the offense, and they are likely gearing up to run the ball. A LOT. Especially to begin the season as Trey Lance works to get his feet under him as a first-year starter. The team has a healthy Jeff Wilson Jr., and rookies Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason to help ease the load on Mitchell, but I think he will still get the lion's share of the carries as long as he remains healthy. If he does, I think he'll surpass that 1,000-yard mark easily.

5. Nick Bosa will have 20 or more sacks

Nick Bosa is really good at football. He amassed 15.5 sacks last season after coming off an ACL tear. He would need just 4.5 more sacks to reach 20. He also has a LOT of help on the other side with Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, rookie Drake Jackson, and Jordan Willis and Kerry Hyder Jr. as well. That help should keep teams from constantly double-teaming the future All-Pro (a free bold prediction!) and there aren't many tackles in the League that are going to win a one-on-one matchup against Bosa. Add to that the motivation of a contract extension next offseason that will likely see him surpass $30 million in AAV, and you've got the recipe for a monster season.

6. Brandon Aiyuk will lead the 49ers in receiving yards

This prediction has less to do with fading the freshly-extended Deebo Samuel, and more to do with the ascendance of Aiyuk. Over the course of his last 11 games, Aiyuk had 41 receptions on 68 targets for 730 yards. Extrapolate that out over the course of a 17-game season and you get 63 receptions for 1,128 yards. Add to that his already established rapport with Trey Lance, and Lance's penchant for attacking the deep portions of the field, and you have a recipe for a breakout season for Aiyuk.

I would bet the over on that 1,128-yard number.

7. The 49ers will trade Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the trade deadline

The 49ers made it abundantly clear this offseason that they were moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo and handing the reins over to Trey Lance. Garoppolo's shoulder surgery made it impossible to trade the former starter, and when it became evident to both sides that a release was imminent, they worked out a deal to keep him as Lance's backup at a drastically reduced salary. That reduced salary not only helps the 49ers when it comes to cap space, but it is also a much more attractive and palatable number for any team that trades for him. Add to that the presence of Brock Purdy on the 53-man roster, and not the practice squad, along with HC Kyle Shanahan's comments that the team was prepared to go into the season with Purdy at QB2 prior to Garoppolo's contract restructure, and it's evident that the team would still like to trade Garoppolo as long as the price is right—which means for more than the 3rd-round comp pick it will receive when he signs with a different team next offseason.

8. Ray-Ray McCloud will have the 49ers' first punt return for a touchdown since 2011

McCloud does not have a punt return for a touchdown on his NFL résumé, but he did take one to the house during his junior season at Clemson in 2017. This prediction is based more on new Special Teams Coordinator Brian Schneider, who was brought in after former ST coordinator Richard Hightower's contract was not renewed following the 2021 season. Schneider spent ten seasons as the ST coordinator in Seattle and during those ten seasons, his unit ranked in the Top 10 in kick-return average six times and ranked in the Top 10 in punt return average four times.

McCloud doesn't have top-end speed like the last 49ers' player to return a punt for a TD—Ted Ginn Jr.—but he does have incredible acceleration, which can get him out of some tight spots and into the open field.

9. The 49ers will lead the NFL in scoring Defense

This is a bold prediction because the 49ers face some potent offenses on their schedule, including the entirety of the AFC West, as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LA Rams, and the Arizona Cardinals. However, the team faces the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers within the first ten weeks of the season, and the back half of their schedule isn't nearly as daunting. This defense, under DeMeco Ryans, was a Top 10 unit by the end of the season while giving meaningful snaps in the secondary to players like Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick. The investment the team made in the secondary is only going to make that unit better, while they still boast arguably the best defensive line in all of football. Those two units are likely going to lead to more coverage sacks, as well as more turnovers. The run defense is still a question mark with the loss of DT D.J. Jones to Denver, but third-year player Javon Kinlaw looks poised to step into that role and looks to be the healthiest he has been since entering the NFL.

Regardless of the question marks, this defense is going to be nasty.

10. The 49ers will face the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, yet again, in the postseason

On our most recent episode of the Denim Dungeon Podcast, my co-host Tim Sprinkles and I both predicted a 12-5 season for the team, earning them the #2 seed and a home playoff game. I predicted that the Packers would be the top seed and that the two teams would meet again, in Lambeau, for the NFC Championship game.

Check out the podcast if you want my prediction for the outcome of that game.

One last prediction: the 49ers will leave Soldier Field with a Week 1 victory over the Bears. Final score: 27-13
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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