By: Stewart Mathurin (@SoLockedIn)
Final Edit: @Zachhernan
With last season slowly fading away in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to take a look at a few players who showed signs of promise in 2016. Also, breakdown why I’m looking forward to their improvement and development come training camp and the start of the season. Without further ado, let’s get to the list!
He came to this team from the Detroit Lions via trade last preseason and immediately became a play-maker for a team that desperately needed help. Once Anquan Boldin left, Kerley seamlessly slotted into the wide receiver group alongside veteran Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton. He led the team in receiving with 667 yards and grabbed three touchdowns – one less than the team-high, four, per ESPN Stats. Kerley showed he was willing to make tough catches over the middle of the field and more often than not he managed to get open in aid of his quarterbacks. He played well enough to earn a new contract during free agency. Now, I’m looking forward to development under his new regime. The additions of Aldrick Robinson, Pierre Garçon, and Marquise Goodwin will help with motivation (which never comes into question in Kerley’s case) and also attract more attention from corners.
#33 is a long-armed, super confident press-corner. Coming out of D(efensive)B(ack)U(niversity) aka LSU, Robinson has all but developed into a true shut-down corner for the 49ers. He was quite the pleasant surprise of 2016. standing out with his press coverage and rapid development. We all have been hoping for the 49ers to acquire a top-notch corner, well we might just have one in our hands with Robinson. The 21 year-old racked up 28 tackles and one interception. Also, Robinson finished the season with 13.2 coverage snaps per reception, which ranked #1 among rookie corners (with over 250 snaps), per PFF. As a 4th-round pick, Robinson has certainly out-played his draft spot, which is usually a key attribute of successful teams. Not to mention his development came at the perfect time, as the team had just released veteran corner Tramaine Brock right after news broke of an arrest for domestic violence. A young group of corners to lead and a starting spot should really bring out the best in Robinson. I know I’m not the only one extremely eager to see how he improves come both training camp and the season.
By now, many people know of Kyle Shanahan and his running back coach Bobby Turner’s well-noted success with backs in their respective careers. So, when they drafted Joe Williams and signed vet Tim Hightower this off-season, some assumed the writing was on the wall for Hyde. They might argue Hyde has yet to play all 16 games in a season. Well, I’m here to tell you that Hyde had 217 carries for 988 rushing yards, resulting in six touchdowns behind an atrocious offensive line (worst in the league, per PFF) and he did not have much help in terms of other weapons on the offense to take the attention off of the running-game. Hyde’s physical style was a must behind the aforementioned OL, 83.9% of his runs for positive yards occurred after contact, per Rob Lowder of Ninerswire and Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus. His noted battles with injuries are in honesty, are a bit worrisome at the least. Hyde came from a zone-based scheme at the Ohio State University where he thrived. He put up the numbers mentioned earlier in Chip Kelly’s version of the zone scheme. Kyle Shanahan is now in charge, and brought in not only help, but competition as well all along the offensive side of the ball. A new group of wide receivers and tight ends can only bode well for Both Hyde and the run-game overall. New general manager John Lynch said of Hyde, “we’re really high on him and what he can do in this offense and he is a very talented young man” per Chris Wesseling of NFL Network. That statement echoes my sentiments regarding Hyde completely. A big, talented, fast back with something to prove, I’m eagerly awaiting Carlos Hyde’s answer to all those who ever questioned him.
When you’re drafted inside the top-10, you’re expected to make sudden impacts. Well, Buckner did just that! He gave fans a glimpse of his abilities – long, high-motored with brute strength. The former Oregon Duck was a standout for a 49ers team who were practically begging for stars last season. Ever-present on the defensive line (which struggled mightily), Buckner still managed to amass 73 tackles and 6 sacks, per ESPN Stats. This upcoming season, Buckner will have the benefit of having worked out with other top NFL defensive linemen this off-season. I’m really looking forward for Buckner to show better pad-level and strength. He’ll have former Oregon teammate Arik Armstead healthy and this year’s first, first-round pick Solomon Thomas to help ease his troubles. Also, the 49ers won a bidding war over veteran lineman Earl Mitchell, frequently of Miami. Having the help will take some pressure off Buckner, he’ll be fresh and also face less double-teams. If he can build off of his solid rookie season and shows the expected development, the 49ers could have an All-Pro brewing in Buckner.
Mr. Versatile, Jimmie Ward was a first-round pick who mainly had experience in the slot or as a nickle corner. When he came into the NFL, the 49ers asked him to play outside-cornerback. He showed some promise last season as a cornerback – 53 tackles, one interception, and also one sack, per ESPN Team Stats. Ward is currently transitioning into a new position as the 49ers convert to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4. New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will implement Ward as a single-high free safety, one of the most important positions in the 4-3 defense. The free safety cleans up the mistakes made by corners or linebackers in coverage. Ward played some safety in college at Northern Illinois, but this is his first stint at the role full-time in the NFL. Ward has displayed his speed, shiftiness, and ability to cover in the league. He has great feet, which should help him thrive in the middle of the field. What gives me pause is that there aren’t many natural fits behind Ward on the depth chart after rookie free-agent Lorenzo Jerome, meaning Ward could be on the field for extended periods of time. The team also picked up his fifth-year option which may be an indication of how highly the staff regard Ward, or it could just be an oversight. If he is consistent and concentrated, I fully expect Jummie Ward to have an impressive season. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the first reports on Ward at training camp.
Training Camp Watch List
- Daniel Kilgore vs Jeremy Zuttah: a nice battle for the starting center gig, but the loser still has a shot at the offensive guard positions.
- Arik Armstead vs Aaron Lynch vs Elvis Dumervil: the fight for the LEO position will be a major talking point, as these three men will give it their all for the premiere pass-rushing spot. A vet fighting to prove he is still in his prime vs two young guns with a lot to prove – should be plenty of fun.
- Trent Brown vs Garry Gilliam: the battle of the right tackles! I’m actually a huge fan of Trent Brown. I think he has the potential to be a great tackle. Brown is up against a former Seattle Seahawk Garry Gilliam who is very athletic and seemingly fits what the head coach wants to do. The loser of this battle might be forced out to be the swing tackle.
- Kyle Shanahan’s beard: I saw a nice photo of Kyle Shanahan rocking a beard on NinersNation and I must be honest – it looked great, check it out for yourself!