The San Francisco 49ers enter this season as a team of both hype and uncertainty. Some, such as Peter King, are buying that they will return to the form of their five-game winning streak to finish out the 2017 campaign while others are far more cautious in anointing them as contenders after last year's roller coaster season. The success and failure for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers rests on a litany of unknown factors. Here is a look at the biggest ifs going into the 2019 season.

If All Players Return From Injury at Full Strength


It is no mystery that injuries have been a major issue for this team for many consecutive seasons. Last year saw two cornerstones of the offense, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon, go down before Shanahan was able to implement his full playbook. The highest profile free agent signings, linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Jason Verrett, also finished last season on injured reserve. The 49ers will be counting on these players to bounce back so that Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh are finally allowed to see their gameplans come to fruition.

If Jimmy Garoppolo Reverts to 2017 Form


During the aforementioned 2017 five-game winning streak, Jimmy Garoppolo looked like the second coming of Tom Brady. Week in and week out, Garoppolo dominated defenses and seemed to be a step ahead of everyone else. His shortened 2018 season was a mixed bag of results as he did not appear to really get comfortable in the offense until the second half of Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. In order for Garoppolo to prove he was worth his monster contract, he must return to the Jimmy Garoppolo who torched the Jacksonville Jaguars and hung 37 points on the best defense in football. He has considerably better weapons surrounding him now than he has ever had during his 49ers tenure and must take advantage.

If Richard Sherman is the Old Richard Sherman


Last season, Richard Sherman was one of the least targeted cornerbacks across the entire league. As impressive as that is, it was not necessarily because of his stellar play. Sherman shared the field with a rotating group of young cornerbacks lined up across from him. Ahkello Witherspoon was up-and-down before being placed on IR, Greg Mabin looked consistently overmatched and Tarvarius Moore was making the rookie transition from safety to cornerback. Now that Sherman has had two full offseasons to recover from a torn Achilles, he needs to be the "Legion of Boom" version of himself. For a team that set an NFL record low with only two interceptions, Sherman cannot have another season with a zero in that column.

If Failing to Upgrade the Safety Position in the Offseason was the Right Move


Speaking of the secondary, John Lynch and the rest of the front office decided that they did not want to address the safety position in either free agency or the draft, both of which were loaded with talent. The only player who was signed to a new contract was Jimmie Ward being awarded a one-year extension. However, Ward suffered a broken collarbone on the second day of OTAs, leaving the depth chart quite bare yet again. Saleh is counting on Adrian Colbert to rebound from a poor sophomore season and for Jaquiski Tartt to remain healthy for 16 games. Of all the moves made during the offseason, the lack of moves at the safety position could be the ones that comes back to bite them the hardest.

If the Wide Receiver Group Justifies to the Hype


The hype surrounding the 49ers' wide receivers before last season was very real; however, none of the receivers could live up to it. Kendrick Bourne wound up leading the team in both receptions and yards from the outside. While tight end George Kittle had a breakout season, many of the receivers could not stay on the field for a multitude of reasons. Dante Pettis flashed the ability to be a high-level receiver but struggled with injuries. Marquise Goodwin did not develop a rapport with QB Nick Mullens and dealt with some deeply personal issues that led to him stepping away from the team for a time. Even third down machine Trent Taylor dealt with back injuries that prevented him from replicating his successful rookie season. Shanahan has added two wideouts, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, in this year's draft class and is looking to revamp the whole group. Now that all of these players have had a chance to recover, they need to be the weapons that Shanahan hopes they can be to alleviate pressure off of Kittle and create opportunities for Garoppolo to excel.

If Solomon Thomas Finally Lives Up to his Draft Pedigree


During a recent interview, Solomon Thomas spoke about how his sister's suicide affected his own mental state both on and off the field. Up to this point, his career has been a disappointment for someone who was drafted third overall. Last year he only registered one sack but did appear to be playing better down the stretch. With the additions of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa on the defensive line and a shift back to his more natural position on the interior, Thomas could see a major uptick in his productivity. While he will be competing with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead for playing time, fortunately the physical demands of the position require fresh legs throughout the game. Thomas may never truly live up to his draft position but he will need to improve on his first two seasons if he wants to avoid the "bust" label many are already slapping on him.
  • Matthew Barr
  • Written by:
    Matthew Barr has been writing for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub since 2018 and co-hosts the 4th and Gold podcast which can be found on all podcast platforms. He can be found on Twitter fighting an endless battle to get the underscore removed from his handle, @MattBarr_.