Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Offseason Grade -- Fact or Fiction?

Jul 8, 2018 at 8:40 AM

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In a recent article, Sports Illustrated gave the San Francisco 49ers a "B" offseason grade. Proponents of the moves made by 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan cite re-signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million deal, Garoppolo having an entire offseason to grow within Shanahan's offensive system, and free agent additions such as All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, as reasons the 49ers are poised to potentially make a playoff run during the 2018 season.

Critics of the 49ers' offseason approach usually point to perceived reaches for their top picks in the NFL draft, for players like wide receiver Dante Pettis (44th pick overall) and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (9th pick overall), to go along with ho-hum additions to the pass rush, signing players like edge rusher Jerry Attaochu and re-signing edge rusher Cassius Marsh, as reasons for concern.

49ers beat writers with sources inside 4949 Centennial Blvd have indicated that the core offseason focus for the 49ers management is to acquire players who fit Shanahan's offense, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's 4-3 Seattle style defense, and players who offer a "team-first" mentality. It is believed that Lynch and Shanahan are willing to stick out their proverbial necks and reach to add players who they think are the best fit for their program.

Is it logical for us as fans to buy-in to the 49ers' offseason approach of "risk" by seemingly reaching for players who fit their system? Here we will examine many of the key moves the team has made in acquiring and re-signing players this offseason and create our own grade. We are only rating players who are entrenched as starters or are likely potential starters heading into the 2018 season.

49ers 2018 Free Agent Signings:

Cornerback - Richard Sherman:

If this was Sherman of two years ago, when he was up to his old tricks (58 tackles, 4 ints and a Pro Bowl nod in 2016), this move would have been an obvious A. In 2018 however, Sherman is a 30-year-old cornerback coming off of two offseason surgeries, including one for a torn Achilles, which required months of rehabilitation. Still, for all intents and purposes, Sherman has quickly and easily adopted a senior leadership role in the Niners' secondary and is a perfect fit as the prototypical cornerback for the team's current defensive scheme.

Sherman has been very proactive in coaching up the 49ers' young secondary. Emerging 2017 draft pick, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, even joined Sherman last month for some work in what was dubbed "Elite Cornerback Academy" alongside other top-tier NFL cornerbacks. Despite concerns over Sherman's ability to return to form post-injury, his elite knowledge of the defensive system, alongside his ability has a leader, make his addition to the team a good-to-great move.

GRADE: B (4 points out of a possible 5)

Running Back - Jerick McKinnon:

Adding a player like McKinnon is one of many addition-by-subtraction-like roster moves Lynch and company have made this offseason. Running back Carlos Hyde, a holdover from the Trent Baalke era, and the team's leading rusher last season, was a bit of a duck out of water in Shanahan's offense, which requires quality pass-catching ability from its backs.

Hyde signed a 3-year deal with the Browns in March, and the 49ers signed McKinnon to a 4-year, $36.9 million dollar deal soon after, making him currently the fourth highest paid running back in the league. In the eyes of many, this was a bit of a gamble for a running back who has never been the featured centerpiece of an offense and has a 4.0 yards-per-carry average over his career. However, last year McKinnon had his best year as a receiver with 51 receptions on 68 targets for 421 yards, 8.3 yards per reception, and 2 touchdowns. By comparison, Hyde had 59 receptions on 88 targets, 5.9 yards-per-reception and no touchdowns. It is believed that McKinnon will be relied upon heavily as a pass-catcher this season.

Here we have a great case study on how Shanahan and Lynch aren't afraid to make a strong push for a player who fits their brand of football. Add in the fact that resident salary cap expert and VP of Football Operations Paraag Marathe has ensured that McKinnon's contract provides an opportunity for the team to cut its losses after this season should the running back be a bust. The 49ers have a moderate gamble on what is perceivably an emerging young player and a great scheme fit.

Grade: B (4 out of 5)

Center - Weston Richburg:

By starting the last 5 games of 2017, Garoppolo had seemingly built great chemistry with last year's starting center, Daniel Kilgore. The team had even re-signed Kilgore to a 3-year contract extension early this offseason before signing Weston Richburg, who played center and guard his first 4 years in the league with the New York Giants, out of free agency.

Richburg signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $28.5 million in guarantees, is a more natural fit at center than guard, and wasn't going to sit on the bench with that kind of salary. The writing was on the wall when the 49ers traded Kilgore to the Miami Dolphins for a swap of seventh-round picks.

The Richburg signing is being heralded by many as similar to the move the Atlanta Falcons made in signing Alex Mack away from the Cleveland Browns in 2016 (with then offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan), with both contracts even having similar dollar figures. Richburg is known as a natural leader, fantastic pass blocker, quality run blocker, and possesses the athleticism Shanahan covets in his offensive linemen. Any way you slice it, this appears, at least on paper, to be a significant upgrade at the center position.

Grade: A (5 out of 5)

Guard - Jonathan Cooper

Cooper was the 7th pick overall by the Arizona Cardinals back in 2013. Since then, he's also had stops with the Browns, Patriots, and Cowboys. Pro Football Focus graded Cooper a 67.0 overall last season which is slightly below average in comparison to other guards throughout the league. Still, as we saw in the final 5 games of last season, even marginal line play can be enough to help keep the 49ers offense on schedule with Garoppolo at quarterback. With left guard Laken Tomlinson recently signing a three-year extension, it is looking like a battle between Cooper and 49ers 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett to start at right guard.

Grade: C (3 out of 5)

Guard - Laken Tomlinson

The 49ers traded a 5th round draft pick in 2019 to the Detroit Lions for left guard Laken Tomlinson late last August. Tomlinson started 24 of 32 possible games with the Lions during his first two years in the league and had mostly underwhelmed as the 28th overall pick in 2015 out of Duke University. Tomlinson was slow to acclimate to his new surroundings, but, like many of his 49ers teammates, his play picked up significantly once Garoppolo took over at quarterback.

The 49ers opted to decline the 5th year option of Tomlinson's rookie contract, leading many to believe his days as a 49er were numbered, despite Lynch's assertions to the contrary. To the surprise of some, Tomlinson wound up signing a three-year contract extension in June, and barring injury, appears to be slotted to start at left guard for the 2018 season.

Grade: B (4 out of 5)

Edge - Jerry Attaochu

The 49ers signed Attaochu, 26, a former second-round pick by the then San Diego Chargers back in 2014, to a one-year $5.125 million contract with $2.5 million in guarantees. Attaochu has never had more than six sacks in a single season, and he had zero sacks in 2017. Still, the Chargers run a similar defensive system, and the hope is that Attaochu can make some strides with his pass rush ability. Considering pass rush is still an area of concern for many fans and media alike, we'll keep our fingers crossed that someone, or perhaps a by-committee approach, can alleviate the 49ers' pass rush woes in 2018.

Grade: C (3 out of 5)

Edge - Cassius Marsh

The 49ers signed Marsh to a two-year contract extension in February after signing him off of waivers from the New England Patriots last November. Marsh is a high-motor pass rusher who made notable contributions late in the season, tallying 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 10 tackles in limited playing time. Marsh has experience in the 49ers' current defensive system, earned his extension through effort, and while best deployed as a rotational player, appears poised to contribute as a pass rusher in 2018.

Grade: B (4 out of 5)

Wide Receiver - Marquise Goodwin

Goodwin was an under-utilized deep threat his first four years in the league with the Buffalo Bills, never eclipsing 500 receiving yards in a single season. That all changed when he signed a 2-year deal with the 49ers last year.

Goodwin would go on to have a career year in 2017, adding 962 yards receiving to go along with two touchdowns to his resume. Goodwin had to step in as the go-to receiver after No. 1 receiver Pierre Garçon was lost for the season due to a neck injury he sustained during a Week 8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Goodwin also added the George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to his credit after suffering some personal tragedies during the season. All of this added up to a 3-year contract extension Goodwin signed in March, and a secure spot as one of the 49ers' starting receivers heading into the 2018 season.

Grade: A (5 out of 5)

Quarterback - Jimmy Garoppolo

There is no question that the No. 1 priority of Lynch and Shanahan's offseason agenda was to re-sign Garoppolo. And they bet big on the obvious potential he showed through his 5 games as the 49ers' starting quarterback. Garoppolo led the league in points-per-drive over those 5 weeks and boasted a 67.4 completion percentage to go along with a 96.2 quarterback rating.

Teams will have an opportunity to watch film on Garoppolo to learn his habits and tendencies, but this is mitigated, at least in part, by "Jimmy G" having an entire offseason to grow and learn within Shanahan's complex offensive system. Garoppolo has already endeared himself to his teammates, coaches, and 49ers brass, and has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the team's offense, at least for now.

Grade: A (5 out of 5)

49ers 2018 Draft Picks:

Offensive Tackle - Mike McGlinchey (No. 9 Overall)

Another case of addition by subtraction, where Lynch and Shanahan are unafraid to go after "their guy". There were whispers of McGlinchey being a dark horse pick for the 49ers first-round selection in the 2018 NFL draft, and yet him being selected 9th overall by the team was a surprise to many. After all, the 49ers had Pro-Bowler and eleven-year veteran Joe Staley entrenched at left tackle, and an emerging Trent Brown as a returning starter at right tackle.

The latter, however, was plagued by issues surrounding his willingness to stay in shape, and while he excelled as a pass blocker, Brown was a near liability in the run blocking department.

Enter McGlinchey, who played his college football at Notre Dame, graded out as college football's No. 1 run blocking tackle in the nation according to Pro Football Focus, along with being heralded as the No. 1 overall tackle in the entire 2018 NFL Draft. Soon after the McGlinchey selection, and with a lingering contract extension due, Brown was traded to the Patriots.

When you add in McGlinchey's high character, ability as a leader, and solid pass protection skills, you have what on the surface appears to be an upgrade at right tackle.

Grade: A (5 out of 5)

Wide Receiver - Dante Pettis (No. 44 Overall)

The 49ers traded up in the 2nd round to select Pettis with the 44th selection in the 2018 NFL Draft out of the University of Washington. Shanahan envisions Pettis as a chess piece, capable of being deployed at any of the wide receiver spots, and adds special teams value as the NCAA record holder with 9 career punt returns for a touchdown.

Critics point to Pettis' slight frame ( lists him at 6'1", 186 lbs) and insinuated lack of full commitment to football due to outside interests as areas for concern. Still, here we have yet another case of Shanahan and company not being afraid to pull the trigger on a player they feel can be a weapon for the 49ers offense moving forward. Time will tell if this selection will pay off.

Grade: C (3 out of 5)

So, we graded eleven player acquisitions, with a total of 5 points possible per player, and a maximum possible score of 55/55.

Out of the eleven players evaluated, four players received As, four received Bs, and three received Cs (no players received a D or an F). Each "A" is worth 5 points, each "B" 4 points, and each "C" 3 points.

By adding each grade, we have a total of 45/55 points, or 82% (rounding up), giving the 49ers a "B" grade, much like what was handed out by Sports Illustrated.

Obviously, the general consensus is that it takes three years to fully evaluate a draft pick and it is too early to tell how any/all free agent additions will mesh with the team and current regime, but it appears, at least for the moment, that the San Francisco 49ers are heading in the right direction.
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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