It was a tale of two seasons for the 49ers in 2017. They were 1-10 in their first 11 games, using starting QBs Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. But they traded for QB Jimmy Garoppolo and started him for the last five games of the season; they went undefeated in his five starts to finish the season a semi-respectable 6-10. The team’s biggest offseason acquisition was signing RB Jerick McKinnon to a four-year contract, but he suffered a torn ACL in the final weekend before the start of the regular season. He was the anticipated starter at the position, and with him out for the season the 49ers are expected to turn to RB Alfred Morris — another offseason signing — to become the No. 1 running back. McKinnon’s injury also means a bigger workload for second-year RB Matt Breida, who the team signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. The running-back signings were facilitated by the loss of RB Carlos Hyde, who signed with the Browns.
The 49ers were 12th in the NFL with 5,587 yards and 20th with 331 points in 2017. In his six games — five starts — Garoppolo threw for 1,560 yards and seven touchdowns, with five interceptions. WR Marquise Goodwin had 56 receptions for 962 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie TE George Kittle recorded 43 receptions for 515 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games, including seven starts. WR Pierre Garcon played in eight games, catching 40 passes for 500 yards — but that was all before Garoppolo took over as the quarterback because Garcon missed the second half of the season with a neck injury. Breida had 105 carries in his rookie season, running for 465 yards and two touchdowns. In 14 games — five starts — with the Cowboys, Morris ran the ball 115 times for 547 yards and a touchdown. The defense was in the bottom third of the league in both yards and points allowed.
The 49ers have a tough opponent to begin the season, visiting the Vikings in Week 1. Another NFC North opponent awaits in Week 2, with a home game against the Lions. The 49ers visit the Chiefs and Chargers in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively, then return home to face the Cardinals in Week 5. After that, they visit the Packers in Week 6 and host the Rams in Week 7. The 49ers play at the Cardinals in Week 8 before back-to-back home games with the Raiders and Giants. After a Week 11 bye, the 49ers have road games with the Buccaneers and Seahawks on tap, followed by a Week 14 home game against the Broncos. They host the Seahawks in Week 15 and Bears in Week 16 before ending the season on the road at the Rams in Week 17.
With Garoppolo as the starting quarterback all season, the 49ers will get off to a better record than they did last season, but I don’t think he’s as good as he looked in the few games he played late last season, so I’m not sure if they’re better than a .500 team. That would represent a two-game improvement over last year’s record, but wouldn’t be good enough to keep the 49ers in a hunt for a playoff spot. Especially with McKinnon’s injury, meaning the team is relying on Morris and Brieda on the ground, I think the 49ers are a level below the elite teams in the conference. They’re probably still a year or two away from competing for the playoffs.