Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports


49ers’ second-year players set to have big roles in 2018

Jun 25, 2018 at 12:46 PM0


The 49ers had a lot riding on the 2017 NFL Draft. It was the first ever draft for new GM John Lynch and the beginning of a massive rebuilding project. On the bright side, the 49ers were set up nicely in the 2017 Draft through previous trade and compensation picks. Out of ten total picks, the 2017 draft class produced six projected starters for 2018.

Lynch selected Solomon Thomas as the third overall pick after trading down one spot with the Chicago Bears. After selecting Thomas, the 49ers chose four other players who are projected to start in 2018: LB Reuben Foster, CB Akhello Witherspoon, TE George Kittle and FS Adrian Colbert. Slot WR Trent Taylor could also be included as a sixth starter with the 49ers' offense often using 3 WR sets.

Here's a quick look at those projected starters:

Solomon Thomas


Thomas is currently slated to be a starter primarily at Leo, one of the most important positions on the 49ers' defense. Most onlookers believed that Thomas struggled in his rookie season, but the team and coaches think that he could make a significant impact as early as 2018. The plan is for Thomas to start at Leo on base downs and move him to the inside on pass rushing downs where he could use his speed and quickness as a pass rusher more effectively.

Reuben Foster


Foster has gone through a tumultuous offseason facing domestic violence and additional charges. He faces a possible suspension from the NFL to begin the season, but he is viewed as an impact starter once he hits the field. Last year, he injured his ankle during the first game of the 2017 season against the Carolina Panthers and missed a total of six games. But when he was on the field, Foster's sideline to sideline playmaking ability reminded fans of former 49ers' linebacking greats Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.

Ahkello Witherspoon


Witherspoon's 2017 season could easily be described as a roller coaster ride. He was a healthy scratch for the first four games of the season sitting at bottom of the CB depth chart. But Witherspoon, the 49ers' third-round pick, slowly worked his way up and got the opportunity to start in Week 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles in place of Rashard Robinson. Witherspoon had his first career interception and only allowed three receptions on eight targets in the game. He has stood out in the offseason and Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh said that the "sky is the limit" for the cornerback. Witherspoon is slated to start opposite Richard Sherman at cornerback and has been projected by some to be the 49ers' breakout player in 2018.

Adrian Colbert


Colbert is another 49er who is being talked about as a "player to watch" going into next season. Colbert went from being a seventh-round pick without a true position to starting at free safety by the end of the season. He made an impression on coaches during his six career starts, so much so that the team decided to move Jimmie Ward back to cornerback in the offseason. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports named Colbert as one of his top 10 NFL players to have a breakout season in 2018 and said that "he might be the next great safety in this league".

George Kittle


Kittle went on to record 43 receptions for 515 yards last season after seven starts. Kittle fought through injuries throughout the season but he had his first career 100-yard game against the LA Rams in Week 17. Kittle looks to carry that success over into 2018 as the 49ers' starting tight end.

Trent Taylor


Taylor tied Kittle for 43 receptions during his rookie season and became the 49ers' primary punt returner. He had his best game against the Chicago Bears while amassing 92 yards receiving and made key third down conversions that helped lift the 49ers to victory. Taylor is projected to be the 49ers' primary slot receiver but he will receive competition for snaps from rookie WR Dante Pettis.

Aside from the projected starters, a couple of 2017 UDFAs have found a place on the 49ers' roster. RB Matt Breida and WR Kendrick Bourne have propelled themselves into significant roles on offense. Breida has entrenched himself as the 49ers' number two back and Bourne filled in at wide receiver admirably after Pierre Garçon went on IR with a season-ending neck injury last season.

From top to bottom, the second-year players are poised to have significant roles during the 2018 season. The coaching staff was not afraid to rely on them as rookies last year so they will likely have even more responsibility in their sophomore seasons. Lynch's first rookie class will have a lot of eyes on it once the season begins and it is clear that the team believes that this group is ready to take the leap necessary for the 49ers to be successful in 2018 and beyond.
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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