NFL schedule

New Year, New Team, New Look

By: Zach Hernandez (@Zachhernan)

The 49ers have continued with their complete makeover of the entire franchise. Unlike previous years when Owner/CEO Jed York essentially bought a can of Fix-a-Flat when in reality the car needed an entirely new engine, the 49ers appear completely committed to this rebuild on all fronts. When the team hosted its Open Practice, the new decor was on full display for all of the Faithful making their way in to enjoy. 

 

The 49ers also announced their plans to add a Ring of Honor to commemorate their lucrative, Lombardi-filled history. Along with their five Super Bowl wins, the 49ers will also recognize 26 players, coaches, and executives. Also, this season legendary fullback Tom Rathman will inducted into the Ring of Honor as well. 

All of these visual changes are a beautiful sight to see. It shows the new regime trying to not only connect to the fan base, but also helping former 49ers greats feel right at home at Levi’s Stadium. 

The team also announced the presence of HOF’ers Jerry Rice and Steve Yound were at practice Monday (08/14/2017) and even participated themselves in a few drills. 

 
The new visuals up at Levi’s look fantastic if you ask me. 

It looked like the perfect place for something magical like this to happen. 

All in all, I know I’m not the only one who is loving the new appearance of Levi’s Stadium. Having 49ers greats such as Jerry Rice and Steve Young is great for not only the fans, but the team as well. They get to learn under and practice with some of the greatest to ever play the game. The banners and player photos (current and previous) are doing a great job of making the 49ers’ new house finally feel like a home. I can’t wait to get this season started and hopefully get some new good memories to add to Levi’s Stadium. 

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Running With 49ers Rookie Running Back Joe Williams

By: Chris Sanchez (@Chucky__Sanchez)img_1386
Final Edit: @Zachhernan
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The 49ers used their 4th-round pick on Utah RB Joe Williams.

Much has been made about Kyle Shanahan and the notorious offense that comes with him.  Big, explosive plays in both the running and passing game.  The stat sheet is filled with eye-popping statistics from the starters all the way to the little-known role players.  I can just picture it in my mind: the quarterback running a play-action bootleg while the speedy slot receiver sprinting down the seam for a long reception and subsequent touchdown.  That is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring play-calls in all of football if you ask me.  A lot of factors have to go right for that precise play to work properly.  Suffice it to say that for that play to be successful (and several others for that matter), Shanahan’s bread and butter has to be clicking.  I am referring to the outside-zone running game, more specifically what are referred to as “stretch” running plays.  The main concept within stretch running plays is to get the defense moving in one direction.  This “stretching” of the defense ideally allows the offensive line for the easier and more natural creation of lanes for the running backs.

 

Most recently, ATL running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were massively successful as ball carriers when reaping the benefits of the outside-zone running game.  However as we all know, Kyle Shnahan isn’t in Atlanta anymore.  It was up to him and running backs coach Bobby Turner to find backs that are tailored to fit this offense.  Carlos Hyde will certainly get the lion’s share of the opportunities to be the starter.  However after him, the 49ers had cloudy depth at the position, at best.  John Lynch and Shanahan went out and signed veteran Tim Hightower to add a leader presence and depth to the running backs group.  But, they weren’t done.  They also selected standout running back Joe Williams out of Utah with the 121st overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Williams is a superb athlete with all the physical traits a team looks for in a premiere running back.  Further, when John Lynch removed Williams from the 49ers Big Board due to character concerns, Shanahan lobbied for Lynch to put Williams back on the board and select him.  That tells me everything I need to know about how Shanahan feels about Williams and his chances of being an instant -and long-term- contributor.

With that in mind, let’s go over a quick overview of Williams.


STRENGTHS

 

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  • Excellent all-around athlete.
  • Possesses breakaway speed (4.41 40-yard dash).
  • Equally adept at running between the tackles or to the outside (see “stretch” plays).
  • Great lateral movement.  Can put together moves to elude defenders in tight spaces.
  • Able to finish runs by lowering his pads and punishing defenders.

 

 


WEAKNESSES

 

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  • Needs to work on his patience.  Sometimes reluctant to wait for blocks to develop, causing him to run into traffic.
  • Has to focus on ball security.  Six fumbles on 289 carries at Utah.
  • Pass-catching skills need to improve for him to be a receiving threat out of the backfield.
  •  Off-the field concerns are a factor.  Needs to put those doubts to rest through work-ethic and professionalism, on and off the field.

 

 


OVERALL

 

 

I believe Williams is now in the perfect situation for his career to blossom.  He has the one of the best play-callers in the NFL as both his head coach and offensive coordinator, and the best running back coach in the game as his position coach.  If Williams is willing to put in the work and learn from those individuals and stay out of trouble, the sky’s the limit for him.  I can see him as the perfect compliment to Carlos Hyde in this offense, and a mainstay of this new era of 49ers football. The running back position battle will be one of the more interesting areas of competition to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the off-season and into the preseason.

 


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Close, But No Cigar: 9 Players Who Will Almost Do Well Enough to Make the Team

By: Mike Messner (@teachermike72)img_1386

Final Edit: @Zachhernan

One of the most painful parts of life, in and out of sports, is the near miss.  Everyone goes through it at some point. You put in the hours, you memorize the lines, you study for the test for hours, you get in top shape.  You do everything right, and you go to the audition, the test, or the tryout, and you put in the performance of a lifetime. Then after all of that, you still don’t get the part, or the grade you want, or in this case, the spot on the roster.

This is going to be the fate of at least 37 men who currently bear the title of “49er.”  Even if Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch wanted to keep all of the guys who just left OTAs, they can’t.  They have to build this new team with the best material available, and that means tough decisions — no more tough on the players than the coaches, perhaps.

For some of the athletes who are told “thanks but no thanks,” it means they will be picked up by another organization.  For a few, they will be sticking around Santa Clara for a stint on the Niners practice squad — not a glamorous gig, being a tackling dummy, but at least it’s an NFL job.  Unfortunately for others, it will likely mean the end of a career path.

Here are nine players whom I expect will give a pretty good training camp performance, but who, for better or worse, will probably be given their walking papers.


Kapri Bibbs |RB| 

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  This may be one of the more painful cuts the team will make.  The team traded a 4th round pick in 2018 to nab Bibbs from the Broncos this offseason, and in so doing they got a Super Bowl winner from Denver’s last appearance there (at Levi’s Stadium, of all places).  However, they also got a player who was not drafted, and who didn’t do much other than occupy practice squad places until 2015 — when he was active for a single game against the Niners.  Plus, he was rated an unimpressive 63.3 by PFF (below average).

So why is this so painful?  Two reasons: Bibbs suffered a high ankle sprain late last season and is coming off some time on IR — and he didn’t finish his degree at Colorado State before turning pro.  Granted, he can go back to school, but to be out of a job after such a big gamble has got to hurt.


Raheem Mostert |RB| 

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Mostert has bounced around a lot since being signed as an undrafted free agent with the Eagles in 2015; he has hung his hat in Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, New York (Jets) and Chicago before joining the 49ers’ practice squad in November 2016.  When he finally did get promoted to the active roster, he carried the ball exactly once from scrimmage.

However, I can see Mostert being a close call, because the guy can return kicks.  Okay, plenty of people can do the same job, but Mostert averaged 32 yards per return last preseason.  You don’t get those kinds of numbers without having stamina and a certain amount of ability to evade tackles; his talent belies the 65.0 PFF rating he got.  Sadly, I think he will return to the practice squad circuit for as long as the NFL rules will allow him.  After that, all bets are off.


DeAndre Smelter |WR|

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I can only imagine how disappointed he will be, because he has had a run of hard luck.  Smelter spent his rookie season on the NFI list as a member of Trent Baalke’s ACL All-Stars, and then injured a hamstring, which kept him out of the preseason a year ago.  Plus, his shoulder has been a sensitive spot, which means his body catches have been less than ideal and his drops have been more frequent as time has gone on.

Smelter has good size, knows how to stiff-arm defenders after the catch, and has some natural athleticism.  It’s just that the team has already cut him once (after that hamstring injury), and his return didn’t really impact the team in a meaningful way.  As much as the 49ers need a skillful wide receiver, I haven’t seen anything to merit him staying around. I’m thinking the Kansas City Chiefs might take some interest when he is cut, though.


Blake Bell |TE| 

 

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Blake Bell, TE:  Damn, damn!  How I wish that had worked out.  Bell looked like a great developmental prospect when he was drafted in 2015 — he had been a quarterback before switching to tight end, and he had some size and blocking ability.  I actually had Bell on my fantasy team during the very brief experiment I did with that pastime. What’s not to like, right?

Well, the competition was, and is, just too much for the guy.  Bell will get lost in the crowd of players who want the starting position…read ‘em and weep: Celek, Paulsen, Kittle, Hikutini, and maybe Juszczyk.  His versatility notwithstanding, Bell will be given his walking papers, or asked to stay on the practice squad.


Vance McDonald |TE| 

 

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Vance McDonald, TE: The ultimate blasphemy, I know.  Haven’t we been down this road before with McDonald?  And why would you cut a player with a 71.6 PFF rating, who also just happens to be the highest ranked 49ers tight end? Besides, we just re-signed the guy!

The 49ers will give McDonald his walking papers because the guy is consistently inconsistent.  No matter what quarterback he was working with, McDonald kept dropping passes last year.  I can count on one hand the number of times he made any sort of superstar moves, and in a time where the team is completely rebranding its offense — there will be much more running than passing, mark my words — he isn’t a good fit.  The team will eat the guaranteed money and move on, either via release or trade.


Tim Barnes |C| 

 

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This seemed like a good move when the 49ers signed Barnes away from the Rams back in May.  Barnes was indefatigable when he played in St. Louis; he won the starting center position after time on their practice squad and as a backup, and started all 16 regular season games in 2015 and 2016.  Kudos for his work ethic.

Except…he rated as one of the worst centers in the NFL during those two years.  He hasn’t played any position except center, and he has competition that has much more ability to switch out on the offensive line.  No one called him a camp body when he came to San Francisco, but my sense is that title applies to him this year.  I predict he will be sent packing and end up with the Saints, if he is active at all this next season.


Ray-Ray Armstrong |OLB |

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos

On paper, Armstrong seems like he was a solid performer. Before coming to the 49ers, he had played 20 games for the Rams and 21 for the Raiders, and had put up respectable numbers on both special teams and defense.  Since coming to San Francisco, though, his productivity has been halved, he missed a number of coverage assignments, and has generally shown a lack of discipline  on the field.

Armstrong’s PFF rating isn’t bad (80.4), but between his low performance last season and the presence of the more seasoned (if not more talented) Malcolm Smith, the Niners aren’t going to be enthusiastic about him.  The two year contract extension they offered him is a small price to pay if they let him go.  My sense is he returns to the Rams.


Will Davis |CB|

 

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This is one that makes sense to me.  Davis was signed to a one-year contract at the league minimum by the 49ers after 2 years in Miami and 2 more in Baltimore.  The latter two seasons, he appeared in less than 16% of the Ravens’ games and registered a grand total of five tackles, two passes defensed and one interception. Within the space of 11 months, he tore his ACL not once but twice (Trent Baalke would have loved this guy).

There isn’t much tape on Davis, and although there is a huge amount of change going on in the Niners secondary this year, I don’t see the team being so pressed for talent that they settle for Davis.  They could just easily (and probably will) keep Rashard Robinson, Keith Reaser, Ahkello Witherspoon, Dontae Johnson, and K’Waun Williams. A ticket to Cleveland is likely in Davis’  future.


Will Redmond |CB| 

 

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This one may be the most unfair.  Redmond was drafted last year in the 3rd round with idea of strengthening the 49ers nickel package, but he immediately was placed on IR and was never activated.  As a result, he’s spent most of his time as a 49er either rehabbing or waiting for the season to roll around again; he hasn’t played a snap in a regular season game yet.

I truly feel that Redmond ought to be given a chance and that the team should honor the contract he signed.  Alas, that contract was under the Kelly/Baalke regime, and Shanahan/Lynch may not feel especially indebted to Redmond.  The presence of those other competitors will make it tough for him, too. I would be thrilled if he made the 53, but his window may have closed in San Francisco.


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@teachermike72

@49ersHive

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2017: Make it or Break it Year For Two 49ers

By: Matt Llewellyn (@Atax1s)img_1386

Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)

 

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The start of a new era? 49ers CEO Jed York (center) certainly hopes so.

It’s been a few months since John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over the reigns of a 2-14 49ers team. In that time, they have gone to great lengths to improve the roster in hopes of being more competitive immediately. Beyond their wizardry in the draft, in which they somehow acquired two of their top three talents in the first round, the tandem has essentially gutted the roster. 53 players, essentially an entire team, are brand new to the organization. This is a huge statement to the remaining incumbent 49ers that any one of them could be next on the chopping block. For two notable 49ers, Arik Armstead and Carlos Hyde, the pressure is on to stay healthy and preform well in 2017.


 

The Case for Carlos Hyde

 

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Carlos “El Guapo” Hyde finished only 12 yards short of 1,000 yards rushing last season.

When Hyde was drafted coming out of Ohio State, he was expected to come in and sit behind the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Frank Gore, in the hopes that he would eventually succeed him as the bell cow. Hyde had just come off a season in which he was named to the All Big-10 First Team after rushing for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns to add to that. He was a strong, bruising back who didn’t shy away from contact and had a mean streak in him. The 49ers second round selection split time with Gore in his first season and showed flashes of excellence. His second season also started with a bang as he opened the 2015 season with a brilliant 126 yard, two touchdown effort in the Monday Night Football match up against the Minnesota Vikings. His season however, would soon be derailed.

 

 

Hyde would fracture his foot in week 5 in a close loss to the New York Giants. He had been humming along before the injury with 470 rushing yards on a healthy 4.1 YPC average. The 49ers were hopeful that he would return, but eventually decided to put him on injured reserve. Last season, Hyde had an even more impressive campaign in which he rushed for 988 yards, 6 touchdowns, on an even more impressive 4.6 YPC. Unfortunately, the injury bug would come back to bite Hyde once again. “El Guapo” would go on to miss two games with a shoulder strain before tearing his MCL against the Rams in week 16.

That’s two major lower body injuries on a running back that thrives on contact. Hyde turns 26 in September and, while he is not old, he is showing the wear and tear of his playing style at a position where the shelf life is one of the most limited in all of football. On top of that, the 49ers drafted Utah product Joe Williams in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Williams was someone that head coach Kyle Shanahan was so enamored with that he said he’d feel sick if the 49ers didn’t draft him. This should be concerning to Hyde, as a new regime is coming in and have already drafted his possible replacement.

Hyde is in the last year of his rookie contract and if he’s unable to stay healthy and produce, the 49ers may end up letting him walk in free agency. Even if Hyde doesn’t command a huge salary, the running back position has been devalued. Replacements for often-injured, 27 year old backs are plentiful, especially given Shanahan’s track record of finding mid-round talent at the position. If Hyde doesn’t have a healthy, breakout year, this will almost certain;y be his last in San Francisco.


 

The Case for Arik Armstead:

 

49ers Photos@49ers.com

Armstead (91) is poised to have a breakout season under new D.C. Robert Saleh.

If the expectations on a second-round running back are high, you can exponentially increase upon those for Arik Armstead. The 17th overall pick back in the 2015 NFL Draft, Armstead is a mountain of a man with a ton of potential. Things got off to a rocky start for Armstead in his rookie season. He played in all 16 games, but he didn’t produce like the team was hoping for. He seemed overmatched at times, and it seemed his lackluster combine had bled over into how he played on Sundays. Still, the potential was there and many young defensive linemen often struggle in their adaptations to the NFL in their rookie seasons.

In 2016, the expectation for Armstead had only increased. Even coming off of a difficult first year, optimism remained high. He came into camp and quickly looked like a beast. He was joined by his former fellow Oregon D lineman, DeForest Buckner. Together, the hope was that they would improve upon a line that was one of the worst in the NFL the previous year. The optimism quickly evaporated when the 49ers displayed just how bad of a team they were. Armstead was producing at a slightly better clip than he was during his rookie year, but was soon lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. He played in only eight games and was rated as one of the worst defensive linemen in the NFL against the run, per Pro Football Focus.

 

 

Coming into his third season, Armstead now finds himself in a difficult position. In year three, potential needs to turn into production or the dreaded “bust” label could soon start to be thrown around (if it isn’t in some places already). Once thought to be an anchor of the defensive line, Armstead now finds himself having to reinvent how he plays. New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is installing his 4-3 defense and Armstead is one piece of a now a crowded group. Buckner, coming off a very productive rookie season, will be starting at the end position. The 49ers also brought in Earl Mitchell to play on the interior and he looks to get significant snaps. Not to mention, the team also went out and used their first pick this year on the versatile defender Solomon Thomas, who can play multiple positions on the line. They also drafted D.J. Jones, a defensive tackle out of Ole Miss, as well as Pita Taumoepenu, an edge rusher from Utah, in the sixth round. Throw in the recent signing of veteran pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, and Armstead now finds himself needing to separate from a suddenly-talented and very crowded defensive line.


 

2017 Outlook:

 

 

Hyde and Armstead both will face an uphill battle in 2017. Lynch and Shanahan have shown they are not afraid to massively turn over the roster, in an effort to jump-start their rebuilding process for the 49ers. The new GM and HC tandem are preaching patience, but also know that they can’t be beholden to potential without the realization of that talent. Hyde and Armstead both have the talent and potential to be excellent football players, but injuries and a lack of production threaten their spots on this challenging roster. Both face new, talented competition at their positions and need to stay on the field in order to produce at a level that will ensure they remain a part of the San Francisco 49ers for 2017 and well beyond.


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@Atax1s

@49ersHive

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Summer School: Learning About LBs in the New 4-3 Defense

By: Mike Messner (@teachermike72)img_1386

Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)

School’s out, Niner Fans!  (Except it’s not.)

Not long ago, I was talking to Zach Hernandez, my editor and friend, about the 49ers linebacker corps.  I told him there needed to be something on 49ersHive about the different types of linebackers, now that the team has shifted to a 4-3 base defense.  There’s too much jargon, I told Zach.  Someone should sort it out for the readers.

Well, I thought I’d take a stab at it.  Here come the disclaimers!

In getting ready for this piece, I consulted a number of different resources, to whom I will give attribution to at the end — inasmuch as I never played the game in high school or college, I thought I should get as much background as I could on the terms and their roles.  Anything that ends up getting posted on the blog that is incorrect, blame me first and Zach second.

You should also know now that I am not going to address the pass rusher, or LEO role, that Robert Saleh is introducing.  This is going to be a discussion and clarification of the meaning of the three linebacker roles in the 4-3, as well as some speculations on who might be on the depth chart in those roles this season.


In the 4-3 defense, you have 11 men on the field playing defense, just as you would have had in the 3-4.  Difference here is that you have four “down linemen,” or in other terms, big-ass guys who are there to keep the offensive tackles, guards and center from opening running room for running backs.   In previous years, the 49ers have used three such men, and although that’s not the only reason they couldn’t stop the run last year, it certainly didn’t help.  So now, the team will have a fourth body trying to maul the other team at the line of scrimmage.

The defense will also generally have two cornerbacks to try to pick off passes, and two safeties to stop any plays that get way downfield from the defensive line.  That leaves three men to work the rest of the defense.  Here are their titles and their duties.


“Mike” Linebacker:

 

  A Mike tends to be the leader of the defense, by virtue of his athleticism (e.g., he’s gotta be big, strong, and fast) and his intelligence (e.g., he’s gotta be perceptive about what’s going on during a play).  He plays in the middle of the defensive backfield.  More often than not, a Mike is there to stop runs through the middle of the line, though he will sometimes double as a pass defender for mid-range throws if an offense has a large number of receivers during any one formation.

Players who can’t tackle effectively will not be considered for the role of Mikes, since a lot of what they are supposed to do is to stop a charging halfback.

NaVorro Bowman, whom most observers consider the spiritual leader of the team, not just the defense, is a shoo-in for the Mike position.  My guess is that he will be backed up by Brock Coyle and/or Donavin Newsom.


 “Sam” Linebackers:

 

Sams play on what is called the “strong side” of the defense, across from the tight end — it’s called that because the strong side of the offense has more men on that side of the center than the other.  A Sam will do quite a bit of blitzing when the quarterback is dropping back for passes, but he also has to have the size and the muscle to take on blockers and stop a run play, especially on end runs.  As if that wasn’t enough, a Sam also has to cover the tight end across from who he was lined up in the first place.

So, if you don’t have a bevy of skills, and the ability to call on each one of them at the drop of a hat, you won’t be a good Sam.

If Ahmad Brooks is retained this year, he seems likely to play the Sam role.  If not, the 49ers have Eli Harold, Dekoda Watson, and Jimmie Gilbert waiting in the wings.


 “Will” Linebackers:

 

Wills are sort of the opposite of the Sams — they play on the “weak side,” the side of the offense that doesn’t have a tight end.  A Will has a lot more freedom to blitz than a Sam, but he also has to do more coverage of passing targets, either out of the backfield or in screen pass situations.  At times, you’ll see a Will be switched to a safety position because of his coverage talent.

Can’t get by a fullback or a tackle?  Can’t jump over a matchbox?  Forget being a Will.

I’m blown away by Reuben Foster’s ferocity and his style, but I also think he needs to be groomed a little before he sees long-term playing time (we ain’t in ‘Bama anymore).  Plus, his shoulder is one that the team cannot afford to gamble with until he refines his tackling. For the sake of experience, I’ll go with Malcolm Smith in the starting role,  backed up by Foster and Ray-Ray Armstrong.


I would like to thank Brian Peacock of Pro Football Focus, my former students Sean Diamond & Christian Dzambic, and my brother-in-law Mark Potter, for their expertise.

49ers Traverse Through an Unconventional Path to Find Stability in GM John Lynch

By: Stewart Mathurin (@SoLockedIn)img_1386

Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)

Sunday January 1st 2017 – shortly after the San Francisco 49ers complete their 2-14 season, which is tied for worst in franchise history, word broke out that both head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke will be relieved of their duties by CEO Jed York. This was the second time in as many years that Jed York has had to relieve a head coach after one season. This time he’d be relieving his general manager and right-hand man of six years as well and embarking on an expansive search for new leadership to steady a franchise that was sinking quickly. York was armed with his trusted assistant Paraag Marathe, the 49ers chief strategy officer who had spent sixteen years with the organization in more than one capacity. The two men quickly set about making contact with teams notifying them of interest in possible head coaching candidates and possible General manager candidates.

 

A list of names quickly made it to the media, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area that list included Josh McDaniels – Patriots Offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn – Bills interim head coach, Vance Joseph – Dolphins defensive coordinator, Tom Cable – Seahawks Offensive line coach, George Patton – Vikings assistant General manager, Chris Ballard – Chiefs director of player personnel, Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer co-player personnel directors of the Seahawks, Terry McDonough – Cardinals vice president of player personnel and Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. Kyle Shanahan – Falcons offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins – offensive coordinator Sean McVay, Green bay executive Eliot Wolf and scout Brian Gutekunst, Colts assistant GM Jimmy Raye, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and assistant General manager Brandon Beane were added to the list per ESPNs Nick Wagoner. Fans and media alike immediately began speculating as to who the best fits and the best pairings would be. Like anyone, I had my preferences – I was super excited by Chris Ballard, George Patton and Eliot Wolf, as people involved in scouting for a long time it only seemed natural.

However, the 49ers needed more than a natural scout – they needed a leader of men, a motivator, a captain to help a franchise that was desperate for a glimmer of hope. Jed York has rightfully taken on criticism from fans for his handling of team matters, especially after leaks and the firing of a successful (and popular) head coach amongst the fans in Jim Harbaugh. York set sail with a plan to get a general manager and head coach tandem who could work together to right the ship in a collaborative effort. York made absolute sure that the next tandem did not have prior issues in their past. The task was not without its share of bumps, as candidates were rumored to be seeking assurances that they would be given time to turn this franchise around. One candidate who was very highly thought of  was Nick Caserio – New England Patriots director of player personnel. Caserio declined the opportunity to interview for the vacant general managers position. Also, Chris Ballard of the Kansas City Chiefs was denied permission to interview with the 49ers, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. Ballard would later fill the vacant Indianapolis Colts general manager opening after Ryan Grigson was fired by owner Jim Irsay.

 

Fans were starting to worry about the desirability of the 49ers opening and whether York’s apparent affinity for firing people had an adverse effect on the search for new leadership. As more names dropped out of the running for both positions, the fan base grew even more restless. After an arduous process it slowly started to become clear that the 49ers were honing in on Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, one of the most highly respected and regarded OC’s in the National Football League. Not to mention the son of former 49ers super bowl winning offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. Kyle was locked into his current position, which was trying to get the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Due to being barred by league rules from signing a contract with another team until his current team was eliminated from the playoffs,or after the Super Bowl, leaving 49er fans waiting even longer for an official answer.

There was movement however on the general manager front though, as the list was down to three candidates: Terry McDonough of the Arizona Cardinals, George Patton of the Minnesota Vikings and a suddenly a “mysterious third candidate” had entered the fray. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out news of a mysterious new name in the pool of general manager candidates for the 49ers. I couldn’t help but think, “Great here we go again” fearing a crazy (but foolish) twist from York. It was later revealed by Rapoport that the third candidate was none other than John Lynch, former Buccaneers and Broncos legendary safety. At the time, he was working as an NFL analyst on Fox. Lynch, known as a hall of fame candidate based on his playing credentials, had no prior front office experience. This certainly set Twitter ablaze with fans in confusion.

Hit by shock and dismay, I too was blindsided. I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘What is this Fox analyst going to be able to bring to my beloved team?’ and I was not alone in these sentiments. It was later confirmed that John Lynch would become the 49ers new general manager. Honestly, I was not pleased. Why pass over two well regarded scouts working for successful franchises in Terry McDonough and George Patton for a NFL analyst with no prior front office experience? It’s going to be Matt Millen all over again I thought. Lynch had to deal with these kinds of sentiments while taking over a leaky, two-win team in complete disarray with angry and confused fans. John Lynch addressed the local media for the first time on January 30th 2017 via conference call. Immediately I must admit I was impressed with his openness and transparency, something hardly seen from this franchise especially recently.

 

John Lynch, when ask about his doubters said, “I would say I’m eager to earn their trust” via Jennifer Chan of Ninersnation. He knew he had a lot of work to do and most importantly, he remained humble. He went on to say, “We are going to aggressively pursue persons I have a relationship with that I think are the best in the business” showing right away that he knew he needed help and believed he had the relationships in place to assemble an elite staff around him. Lynch then stated, “I think that’s one of my strengths. It’s something I’ve done throughout my career is I’ve had the ability to bring people together.” Something the San Francisco 49ers badly needed was in fact, cohesion. Somebody to get the entire franchise moving in the opposite direction.

Chris Ballard was the other general manager hired in the 2017 cycle and I’m a big fan of his, by all accounts he is a talented, hard nose scout. He can find players and help construct a team, he left a really talented team in Kansas City. He was part of the staff that drafted Marcus Peters, Tyreke Hill and Spencer Ware. However, his task would be much more complicated had he taken over the reigns of the 49ers organization. The fan base needed an instant spark of hope, the leaks needed to stop, the rapport with the media needed to be smoothed and he would have to rebuild strained relationships with the 49er greats. By all accounts, that wasn’t one of Ballard’s strengths. With that said, he’s still off to what looks like a decent start in Indianapolis, where he drafted Chris Biderman of the NinersWire’s draft wish for the 49ers in Malik Hooker. Later in the draft, Ballard and the Colts selected Florida corner Quincy Wilson in the second round Matt Miller’s number one corner in the 2017 NFL draft. He went about acquiring Johnathan Hankins, John Simon and Jaabal Sheard in free agency to help a tame Colts pass rush.

I just couldn’t help but wonder – did we miss out? I still had lingering doubts about Lynch’s  pedigree; whether or not he had the ability to galvanize a falling franchise or elevate the fan base that was broken. Not to mention, can he evaluate draft prospects? Immediately Lynch made some moves which shook up the media and front offices alike by hiring Adam Peters, the director of college scouting for the Denver Broncos. Peters was brought on as the new vice president of player personnel via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. He also brought in his ex teammate and former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew as a senior personnel executive per Jerry McDonald of The Mercury News. These moves seem to say, “I’m going to get some help to be the best I can be for this franchise.” I was impressed.

   Lynch also went out and created a Twitter account to interact with fans; building that bond and a togetherness that was surely lacking in previous years. Slowly Lynch began changing the perception of the franchise in the eyes of the media and fans alike. John Lynch faced his first big test leading up to the draft when his most senior corner-back, Tramaine Brock, was accused of domestic violence. He wasted no time in releasing the player sending a strong message to the locker room that transgressions would be frowned upon and no player is exempt. Brock, who played at a position in flux, was released and was subsequently charged for domestic violence and misdemeanor child endangerment via David Fucillo of NinersNation. The message had been delivered loud and clear: this behavior will not be tolerated by the new hierarchy.

     John Lynch was navigating the NFL world impressively but I still wanted to see how he would handle one of the most important parts of his new job, the 2017 NFL draft. All the talk leading up to the draft was based around what new general manager John Lynch would do with the second overall pick with Cleveland presumably taking the best player, Myles Garrett. Lynch played his cards close to his vest throughout the days leading up to the draft and it paid off handsomely. With the 49ers needing an influx of fresh young talent via the draft, he pulled off a great trade with the Chicago Bears moving down from the second overall pick to the Bears third overall pick. Per John Breech of CBS news, the 49ers received four picks to move one spot, the third overall pick, a third round pick 67th overall, a forth round pick 111th overall in the 2017 draft, plus a third round pick in the 2018 draft. Not only did Lynch give himself ammunition in 2017 but he also helped himself in 2018; veteran move from our rookie general manager. He was not done yet. Lynch moved back into the first round on draft night and picked a falling Reuben Foster who everyone saw as a top 5 player in the 2017 NFL draft. John Lynch later revealed he was the third ranked player on their draft board. The 49ers gave up their second round pick and a third round pick which they acquired from Chicago to the Seattle. Lynch maneuvered and drafted two of his top three rated players on the first night of the 2017 NFL draft; not bad at all. Deals would be made later in the draft and the 49ers would acquire a second round pick from the Saints in the 2018 draft. John Lynch has two extra picks in the 2018 draft which proves he’s learning quickly and already looking to the future, a future which looks bright.

 

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 The 49ers started out this hiring process with a long list of candidates but somewhere along the way they decided to make an unconventional hire that just might pay off. So far, John Lynch is off to a great start and long may it continue.

 


 

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Choose Your Own Destiny: NFC South – Offensive Edition

By: Dillon Frazier (@dillonfrazier98)img_1386

Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)

 

The NFC South has been a powerhouse of a division recently in the NFL. Don’t believe me? Look at 2015-16; the Carolina Panthers participated in Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos. Not to mention giving the ’72 Dolphins a scare while going 15-1 in the regular season, taking a loss from none other than the Atlanta Falcons.

Speaking of the Falcons, they were participants in the 2016-17 Super Bowl and had it locked in until an awful choke led to the Patriots making an incredible comeback to win. Not to mention the rising team of the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who did a lot to bolster their offense this offseason. Last season they were two wins away from the same record Atlanta had to win the division. This is including big wins against the Falcons, Raiders, Chiefs and Seahawks. Finally, the team that many don’t see as much of a threat, the New Orleans Saints. Be careful overlooking them this year with Drew Brees, who has brought the Saints to be in the top three in the NFL in passing yards for the past six years straight as well as being first in total yards last year. Also they’ve recently added the 2015 rushing-leader in Adrian Peterson.

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The guys of 49ersHive decided that we enjoyed the “Choose Your Own Destiny” series so much that we would carry over into a new division – the NFC South. We first decided to select from the offenses of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are the choices:


Zach Hernandez: Matt Ryan

 

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Having the title of 2016 NFL MVP makes Matt Ryan an easy candidate here. He is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league and helped to bring the Falcons oh-so-close to their first Super Bowl title. Bring that talent to the Bay to give them the skill at the position that they have been desperately craving for a while now. Not to mention we have all already seen how well Matty Ice works with Kyle Shanahan, the duo torched defenses all over the league and could have done the same in San Francisco. Atlanta was third in passing yards last year and easily could make an immediate impact for the 49ers looking to reignite their offense.


Chris Sanchez: Julio Jones

 

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Since we just finished talking about the MVP we look to his number one target, Julio Jones. With 1,409 receiving yards Julio was second in the league. Second to the Colt’s T.Y. Hilton by only 39 yards. But Atlanta was also fifth in rushing yards on the season while Indianapolis sat at twenty-third. Julio had a lot of players around him to share that workload of being third in NFL offense and yet he still proceeded to torch corners week in and week out. Especially in week twelve vs. the Carolina Panthers where Jones put up an astounding 300 yards. In the entire 2016 campaign, 49ers leading receiver, Jeremy Kerley, barely doubled that with 667 yards. The 49ers definitely gained some serious upgrades at WR but none of those could rival the talent and dominance Julio Jones would bring to San Francisco.


Stefan Krüger: Mike Evans

 

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Speaking of elite wide receivers in the NFL, there is another one in the division that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The most targeted player in the 2016 season also resides in the NFC South. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans have had quite the connection since they came together on the Bucs. Evans has put up over 1,000 receiving yards all three season in the NFL including one where Josh McCown was throwing to him. Not to mention he has improved his stats every season so far showing he should do nothing but grow to be one of the best in the NFL. Let’s not forget that with the new regime one of the first signees was Pierre Garcon who was brought in specifically for the targeting potential that he showed in his time with Kyle in Washington and Mike Evans has proven he can be an incredible target. In a rebuilding offense Mike Evans brings it all to the table; proven talent, young age, experience, and even more potential. He helped to bring Tampa from the worst team in the NFL to a legitimate contender once again.


Stewart Mathurin: Jameis Winston

 

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You can’t talk about Tampa Bay’s successful turnaround story without the center-piece of it all. First overall pick of the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston. Fans all over were not exactly in agreement on whether Winston could be the guy for Tampa Bay but yet he definitely proved his doubters wrong. While I was one of the ones who doubted Winston I liked him over Mariota but then they both came out to be extremely successful quarterbacks leading two teams that will surprise everyone this year. In his two years in the league he has passed for over 4,000 yards in both. To put it in perspective, Drew Brees who is on a team with virtually nothing but a QB and some receivers that passes 63% of the time (not to discredit one of the best QB’s in the NFL) threw for 5,208 compared to Winston’s 4,090 on a team with Doug Martin that passed on only 57% of plays. While that 6% doesn’t seem like a lot, in the NFL it is a big difference. Winston is on pace to be one of the dominant passers in the NFL and just like Evans brings a lot of young, talented potential to the bay.


Dillon Frazier: Greg Olsen

 

Carolina Panthers play against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, September 14, 2014.

Finally, for my choice I wanted to bring in a player that would excel at a position I thought we needed it the most. There was a great time in which we had both Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis together and the tight end position was doing great, but that time is not now. With sub-par tight end Vance McDonald all but shown the door as well as Blake Bell and Garrett Celek not far behind him, the tight end position is looking at all fresh faces in 2017 and after last season there’s no reason for anything different. The starting corps include Logan Paulsen as well as rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini. That is a bright crew for the future but a foundation is always good to make sure the young players start off on the right foot. What better foundation than the only tight end in NFL history to have three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Greg Olsen has without a doubt been the key to offensive success in Carolina and was a huge contributor in their near perfect season. Greg has been a playmaker everywhere he goes and that is something the 49ers could no doubt use.


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