49ers Mailbag: Draft Reactions and Brian Hoyer

Al Sacco
May 2, 2017 at 9:04 AM1

The 2017 NFL draft is in the books, and a new era of San Francisco 49ers football is set to begin. John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the new regime were both aggressive and poised in their first go-round, and came away with an impressive haul. Obviously, fans want to know how the new players will fit it, and what roles they might fill. Even while there's a lot of excitement about the future, questions still linger in some important places, including the quarterback position.

Q: Do you really think the 49ers can win with Brian Hoyer? (@thedjsmith2108)
What's your prediction on the 49ers record this coming year? (@a2puola)

A: If you're looking for proof as to whether or not San Francisco can really compete with Hoyer as their starting quarterback, you need to look no further than the 2014 Cleveland Browns. With Shanahan as his offensive coordinator, Hoyer posted a 7-6 record, and led to team to 21 points or more in 10 of his 13 starts. By comparison, the 49ers have only scored 21 points or more 10 times in the last two seasons combined. Hoyer's statistics weren't prolific by any means that season (55.3 completion percentage and 12 touchdown passes), but he was more than competent running an offense that featured Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Terrence West and rookie Isaiah Crowell. Hoyer knows Shanahan's offense and will be able to run it effectively, which is all you can ask for with a placeholder behind center.

Believe it or not, Hoyer actually has a winning record as a starter in the NFL (16-15), and has put up big numbers over his last 17 starts with 4,051 yards passing, a 25/7 TD-to-INT ratio, and a rating of 93.4. But like I pointed out above, numbers can be misleading, and there has to be a reason the Niners are Hoyer's fourth team in the last four years. Still, certain players fit certain systems better than others, and I believe that's the case here. So how many wins could the 49ers get with Hoyer? I'll say six or seven would be a fair estimate for 2017, as long as the defense can hold up and not fall apart like it did last season.

Q: Who is your favorite 49ers draft pick and why? (@ptulini)

A: Anyone who follows me on Twitter or listens to the podcast knows how great of a prospect I think Reuben Foster is. To me, as long as the shoulder's healthy, he's a can't miss player who projects to be a perennial Pro Bowler. His sideline-to-sideline speed reminds me of Patrick Willis, and while it's not fair to say he'll be that good, he'll definitely hold his own. He was second on my overall board, and NFL Films executive producer Greg Cosell felt the same way, even going as far as to say that he didn't have any weaknesses.

"I think Foster, to me, was the second best prospect in this draft behind Myles Garrett," said Cosell. "There's nothing not to like. In fact, I do an excel spreadsheet, and I go strengths, weaknesses, transition. I had nothing under weaknesses. I think as a player on the field — and I know there are other issues and that's probably why he dropped. Some injury concerns, perhaps some other things."

Q: Out of the later round picks and undrafted free agents, who has the biggest chance of making the team and an impact? (@PhillipPhipps)

A: As far as later round guys go, I loved what team did in the fifth-round, grabbing George Kittle at tight end and Trent Taylor at wide receiver. You really can't say that the Niners have any answers at tight end right now, and Kittle's a tremendous blocker and can be versatile in the passing game. According to Pro Football Focus, Kittle had one of the top blocking grades for tight ends in this draft class, and allowed just one hurry in 73 pass blocking snaps from 2015-16. In the passing game, I've seen him compared to former Washington Redskin Chris Cooley, who was often used in an H-back type role. In fact, also per Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a 114.2 passer rating when targeting him in 2016.

Taylor is an intriguing slot option, and was incredibly prolific in college. Last year alone, he caught 136 passes for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns. Taylor's role could end up being similar to Taylor Gabriel's in Atlanta, as he could be deployed on screens and short passes. At Louisiana Tech, 40 percent of his receptions came on screen passes. Personally, I think Taylor is a near lock to make the team, which leaves the future of Bruce Ellington very much in doubt. Taylor also returns punts, which is an area he can make an impact in right away.

Looking at the undrafted free agents, I'm a big fan of tight end Cole Hikutini, who was a safety valve for quarterback Lamar Jackson at Louisville. Hikutini caught 50 balls for 668 yards and eight scores in 2016, and only went undrafted because of an injury. He'll be healthy moving forward, and has a legitimate shot of sticking around.

Q: What kind of role do you think Joe Williams plays in year one? (@imbooth)

A: Shanahan likes to use multiple backs, and I think Williams will get plenty of opportunities as a rookie. His 2016 season with Utah was prolific, as he gained 1,407 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns. He had 22 runs of 15 yards or more, which was 10th amongst draft eligible backs (also per Pro Football Focus). Shanahan is a huge fan of Williams' game, which is evident by the fact that he went to bat to get him put back on the team's draft board. The head coach will get his new back touches, especially considering he may be the only runner on the roster who's signed for 2018 and beyond when the season begins. What remains to be seen is how much of an impact Williams can make in the passing game, as he only had 20 receptions over this last two collegiate seasons.

Q: Do you think C.J. Beathard's comparison to Kirk Cousins is accurate? Do you think that the Niners still make a push for him (Cousins) next season? (@markeestylz)

A: It's tough for me to compare players, but if Shanahan thinks he's similar to Cousins then who am I to argue?

"He processes the game so well," Shanahan told (Peter)King. "Tough as (expletive). Got a chance. He reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins."

I knew very little about Beathard when he was selected, so I had to go to school on him a bit. What I saw was a quarterback who played in a pro-style system, and was already doing a number of things he'll need to do in the NFL. What do I mean by that? Well, to me, he has good anticipation on his passes and throws receivers open. You can't put a price on that at the next level, as receivers aren't going to be running as wide open as they are at times in college. He's said to be a football junkie who sleeps and breathes the game, so he's going to study hard in the film room. What he lacks on the physical side he'll make up for on the mental side, and sometimes the latter can get you farther at the next level. Now, are the 49ers still going to make a run at Cousins despite Beathard's selection? It's hard to predict what will happen a year from now, but San Francisco has so much capital (in cap space and draft picks), it can pretty much make a play for any available quarterback it wants. While it's not a certainty, it's a strong possibility that guy will still be Cousins.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013 and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast presented by 49ers Webzone. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • mbniner
    A lot of media have questioned our taking Solomon Thomas citing that he is going to be another lineman in a crowded group and we had needs at other positions. However, think back to what George Siefert did in the 80's and 90's. He had 8 or 9 DLs which he freely rotated in and out of the game to keep them fresh. Also, the talent level was very high so there was little or no drop off (thanks, Eddie D!). Pete Carroll, an ex-Niner asst coach, has adopted the system in Seattle and Saleh will no doubt install it here. You can never have too many good DLs or OLs. I don't think we can carry 9 DLs due to reduced roster size over what it used to be, but 8 is not out of the question.
    May 2, 2017 at 9:32 AM

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