Kyle Shanahan is the new head coach in San Francisco as he replaces Chip Kelly, who lasted just one season at the helm of the 49ers, the team’s second straight head coach who was one-and-done. Kelly’s departure could have something to do with the team’s 2-14 record, which matched a franchise-worst mark that last happened in 2004. The new regime in San Francisco had a busy offseason, signing QB Brian Hoyer, WRs Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, RBs Tim Hightower and Kyle Juszczyk, and LB Elvis Dumervil, among other lesser players. Hoyer is expected to be the starter under center, with Garcon and Goodwin expected to lay big roles in the receiving game. Early in the offseason, the team waived WR Torrey Smith and recently traded TE Vance McDonald to the Steelers for a draft pick, making rookie TE George Kittle — the team’s fifth-round draft pick — the likely starter at the position.
Neither of last year’s quarterbacks — Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert — are on the roster this year. Hoyer played in six games with the Bears last season, throwing for 1,445 yards and 6 touchdowns, with no interceptions. QB Matt Barkley, who will serve as Hoyer’s backup, was also with the Bears in 2016 and played in seven games, totaling 1,611 passing yards and 8 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. WR Jeremy Kerley was the team’s leading pass-catcher with 64 receptions for 667 yards and 3 touchdowns. With the Redskins last year, Garcon had 79 receptions for 1,041 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Goodwin caught 29 passes for 431 yards and 3 touchdowns in 15 games in Buffalo. RB Carlos Hyde led the 49ers with 217 carries for 988 yards and 6 touchdowns in 13 games. With the Saints, Hightower ran the ball 133 times for 548 yards and 4 touchdowns. In all, the 49ers offense scored the sixth-fewest points in the league last season and the defense allowed opponents to score the most points in the NFL.
The offense should be improved this season. Hoyer isn’t going to get a team to a Super Bowl, but he’s a veteran who can put up decent stats and doesn’t throw many interceptions. The team gave him some nice offensive weapons in the offseason with Garcon and Goodwin, who should have significantly better numbers in this offense than he did with the Bills a year ago. When healthy Hyde is a good running back, but he’s never played a full season and is just two years removed from a 2015 season in which he played in just seven games. Given his history, he’s likely to miss at least a game or two, with Hightower having to carry the bulk of the rushing work in those games. Of course the defense is a major issue. Even though the 49ers offense should be better than last year, it won’t necessarily be good and it won’t be able to keep up in shootouts that are caused by the defense allowing teams 40-plus points, as they allowed four times last season.
The 49ers open the season with a home game against the Panthers, then head up the coast to take on the Seahawks in Seattle. Next on the schedule is a Thursday night home game with the Rams. Three road games follow that, beginning in Week 4 against the Cardinals and continuing with visits to the Colts and Redskins. In Week 7, the 49ers host the Cowboys, then take on the Eagles in Philadelphia. Weeks 9 and 10 have the 49ers taking on the Cardinals and Giants, respectively, both at home. Their bye comes in Week 11, and after that is a home game with the Seahawks. The 49ers visit the Bears in Week 13, then take on the Texans in Houston. Weeks 15 and 16 bring two more AFC South games as the Titans and Jaguars come to San Francisco. The 49ers finish their campaign in Los Angeles in Week 17 to take on the Rams. I expect the 49ers to win three or four games this season.