Scouting Report: San Francisco 49ers

Welcome to my preseason team by team scouting report series.  Each day in August and September 1, I will be previewing one team’s season, making bold predictions, answering team questions and telling you what sleepers and rising players to focus on.  I will also give my input on the team’s schedule and remind you of my season prediction for that team.

 

The 49ers may be one of the most stuck teams in the NFL.  Even the Browns have a better shot of bouncing back from these tough times.  The Niners have minimal defense, declining offense, and overall aren’t looking great. Chip Kelly doesn’t look to be the answer.  But could there be some positives hidden between all the misery?  How do I know?  That’s one of many things I will show you today.

 

3 Players to Watch For

1. Aaron Lynch, OLB

I could say the entire linebacker corps should be monitored.  They may not have stellar defense, or many stars, or enough to win more than 4 or 5 games, but they have some decent pass rushers all around.  They actually ranked 18th in total defense last season. DeForest Buckner could make an impact as a rookie, veteran Ahmad Brooks and Michael Wilhoite could also step it up beside NaVorro Bowman, even guys like Glenn Dorsey or Arik Armstead.  But I chose Lynch because of all these linebackers, Lynch has the most breakout potential.  Lynch put up decent numbers in his first two seasons, and 2016 could finally be the year for him to pile up some sacks.  Still, this defense isn’t great otherwise.

2. Bruce Ellington, WR

Although he is more established as a special teamer, and he’s playing behind Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton, Ellington could be a deep sleeper.  The 49ers could use another weapon for whoever starts at QB.  It will make up for the problems at quarterback.  Torrey Smith can’t do what he used to do anymore, and Quinton Patton never really established himself as a quality starter.  Sure, he had 394 yards and 30 receptions in 2015, but that’s nothing for an NFL starter.  If Ellington could do what he does on special teams on offense, that would be helpful.

3. Colin Kaepernick, QB

I know, Kaepernick has done nothing to prove himself in the last two seasons, and Blaine Gabbert looks to be the favorite to start unless training camp position battles change things, but if Kaep can get it done in training camp, he could win his job back.  Then comes the big question.  Will he ever return to his 2013, even his 2014 state?  I think if he works hard enough in the preseason and regular season in the next year or two, that could eventually happen.  Honestly, I think Kaep’s the starter around here.  He’s the fan favorite, Chip Kelly’s favorite, and in the few scenarios where he does bounce back to his 2013 or 2014 form, it pays off.

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

1. Who will win the battle at quarterback?

Personally,  I think that this is Colin Kaepernick’s job to win.  If he can have a strong preseason and stay in shape, I think he will win the job.  It doesn’t matter how well Blaine Gabbert does, he’s not fit for a starting job.  Kaepernick was once a quality starter, he just needs to prove he still has any willpower at all.  A few years ago this wouldn’t have even been a discussion!  I think Kaepernick will have a strong preseason, and things will come close, but in the end, Kaepernick will pull ahead and prove he’s still in starting condition.

2. Will we see major defensive improvements, finally?

I think we will see some guys step it up this season.  When they were good, the Niners had a powerful offense, and not the greatest defense, but they have a decent group of pass rushers, some veterans like NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea, and an overall acceptable defense.  They haven’t lost much since then, except quality plays from the same group of guys.  I could see DeForest Buckner having an awesome rookie season, maybe Aaron Lynch or Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman will each give you a half dozen sacks, but nothing major.  The 49ers are already in hot water on offense, it would sure be helpful to have an above average defense again.

3. Will the offensive line make things even tougher under center?

The quarterback holes are already an issue.  If the offensive line continues to have problems too, it wouldn’t be any help.  They do now have Joshua Garnett at guard where Alex Boone was.  Joe Staley is still in the mix at tackle.  But there are still some problems on the right side, even though Kaep’s blind side is taken care of.  Anthony Davis was reinstated after coming out of retirement, but is he still elite, and will he be in football shape?  Who do they have behind him, Trenton Brown?   Zane Beadles will be a help, but the issues surrounding him at right tackle and center will definitely make things tougher under center if they don’t take the next step.

 

3 Bold Predictions For The Season

1. Not one, but two running backs will rush for 500+ yards

When someone asks me about Shaun Draughn, I would say, big sleeper.  Carlos Hyde is already a workhorse RB when he’s healthy.  He was the next man up when Frank Gore was still here.  He’s healthy, now it’s time to shine.  You can’t expect too much from Carlos Hyde in his first full season as a starter, no more Reggie Bush, and hopefully no more injuries.  But 500 yards isn’t too much to ask from a 2014 2nd round pick.  Shaun Draughn may also get some time in the backfield, especially if Hyde is still developing or getting hurt.  This guy has been bouncing from team to team, being cut numerous times, maybe he’ll finally have a nice stay with the 49ers and work some yardage as a handcuff to who was once one of the top breakout candidates in the NFL.

2. Three of the four 49ers starting linebackers will rack up at least 8 sacks

I know I only said minor improvements but come on!  Eight sacks is nothing, at least for two of them, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.  The wild card here, Aaron Lynch.  I mentioned his name yet again.  This guy got 6 and 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons, it’s time for him to make the leap.  I could see 9 or 10 sacks out of him.  Bowman and Brooks could even rack up 11, 12 even 13 or 14 for Bowman.  I think the defense, especially the pass rush, could be the reason the 49ers win these games, at least the three I think they will manage to win.

3. Vance McDonald or Garrett Celek will lead the Niners in receptions

Half of you may have never even heard of one or both of these guys.  Neither of them are elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski or Greg Olsen.  The 49ers just lack a wide receiver so badly that a low end tight end has a better shot at 750 yards than their #1 wide receiver.  I actually think the tight end two are a pair of sleepers, that could easily beat out Torrey Smith for the most receptions on the Niners.  I think which one of the guys leads in receptions has to do with who starts at QB.  It seems like Kaepernick prefers McDonald, but Blaine Gabbert threw to Celek more.  Will this happen?  I’m pretty convinced.

 

Schedule Breakdown

Any team at the Niners’ level’s schedule could be considered tough, but the 49ers do have a few winnable match-ups.  The Niners open up the season hosting the Los Angeles Rams.  The Rams have a strong pass rush but have holes scattered around the defense, especially in the puzzled secondary.  Todd Gurley leads an offense that lacks receiving weapons for rookie quarterback Jared Goff.  Tavon Austin had a decent 2015 season, but hasn’t fully proven himself yet.  With the home field advantage, the 49ers should be able to use their own pass rush and rushing game to get past the Rams.  I don’t actually see much the Rams have that the 49ers don’t, but both teams will have a tough time in 2016.

After that comes a 4-game stretch against some of the NFC’s best, Carolina, Seattle, Dallas and Arizona. They have decent match-ups against Buffalo and Tampa Bay after that, but they won’t get the W on the road, and the underrated Bucs should edge them.

Then comes another NFC South team, the Saints.  The Panthers and Bucs are out of the way, and personally, I think those two teams are the division’s only contenders.  They have both acceptable offense AND defense, so they will thrive.  Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde should be all over the Saints D, and again they have home field, they’ll pick up the win.

After two more tough match-ups comes two road games, against the Dolphins and Bears.  Neither team is dominant, but both have the weapons to pick up a few wins themselves, and San Francisco will fall to them without home field advantage on their side.  The easy end of their schedule continues, but they might actually have a chance in the second part because in between two pairs of road games is a home game hosting the Jets.  Resigning Ryan Fitzpatrick will help the Jets, but the few 49ers sleepers should edge out the Jets D and win.

The Falcons and Rams are up next after that, on the road.  Neither of those teams are very good, but they should edge out the 49ers, considering they have home field advantage, and personally, I think the 49ers are the worst team in the league, despite having the ability to pick up a few wins.  In Week 17, even though the Seahawks may not need the game to make the playoffs, they’ll go for it and take down San Francisco to get past the Cardinals for the division win.

My Season Prediction

The 49ers won’t do much without a reliable QB or receiver, plus poor defense, but with a reasonable schedule, I think they pick up 3 or 4 games and make sure the worst team in the league has at least one win.  The 49ers should be able to pick up a few wins with a reasonable schedule, but you never know with this bad a team.

Projected Finish: 3-13, 4th In NFC West

 

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The 49ers are still an NFL team, but they won’t replicate one very well, and may have regressive offensive struggles throughout the season despite slight improvements on the defense, which was already close to average.

 

 

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NFL 2016 Mock Draft 1.0: Jets Find QB, Elliott Finds Perfect Home

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Welcome to my 2016 1st round mock draft.  With just one week left till the big day, I decided to make my first mock of the year.  My mock draft is new and improved with in depth analysis on each pick.  Some picks might surprise you, others may be obvious to you.  I would like to give credit to NFL.com for the format and logos of my mock.  Let’s get started.

 

  1. LOS ANGELES RAMS
    LA
    CARSON WENTZ
    QB
    NORTH DAKOTA STATE

    Wentz has quickly emerged into the top QB prospect in the draft.  He put on a show at the Combine, and would be a good fit for the Rams system.  Jared Goff has the small hand issue, and despite being from a small school, Wentz has the most future upside of any quarterback in this draft class.  

     

  2. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
    PHI
    DEFOREST BUCKNER
    DE
    OREGON

    The most likely outcome of this pick is that the Eagles, who recently traded up, take advantage of it and go with QB Jared Goff.  But what the Eagles don’t realize is that they should’ve shut their mouths and sat tight, they have plenty of talent at the position now that they re-signed Sam Bradford and signed Chase Daniel as backup.  What the Eagles really need is a flex defensive end/defensive tackle.  Joey Bosa is strictly an edge rusher.  Buckner can do both and is a much better fit in Philadelphia.

  3. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
    SD
    JALEN RAMSEY
    FS
    FLORIDA STATE

    As one of the top prospects left at this point, Ramsey would be a good fit in the Chargers’ secondary.  Ramsey fits the needs of San Diego very well, and the Chargers do lack a defensive line, as Joey Bosa would still be available.  Laremy Tunsil would also be available, and he is the top prospect in the draft and is at a position the Chargers kind of need.  But Ramsey is a very strong prospect who can bring serious change of tone to the secondary.

     

  4. DALLAS COWBOYS
    DAL
    JOEY BOSA
    DE
    OHIO STATE

    Bosa has a ton of upside and has been atop the boards since the start of the season. He really fits the Cowboys system and knows how to fix a defensive line.  This would be a great pick for Dallas, and Bosa is my top prospect of this draft.    

  5. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
    JAX
    LAREMY TUNSIL
    OT
    OLE MISS

    At first I thought this team wanted an OLB like Myles Jack with this pick but now I’m having second thoughts.  First, it has been rumored lately that Jack still has knee issues, and second the Jags need serious o-line help  Laremy Tunsil, possibly the best prospect in this draft is still on the board is available here.  Tunsil will fill in opposite Luke Joeckel and will play right tackle. Sorry Mr. Jack, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer.

  6. BALTIMORE RAVENS
    BAL
    RONNIE STANLEY
    OT
    NOTRE DAME
    The Ravens no longer have the temptation of DeForest Buckner hanging from a thread.  With Buckner going 2nd overall, the Ravens have to move on to assess their other need, o-line, offensive tackle in particular.  Laremy Tunsil was just taken, but there is a prospect left worth going top 10.  Ronnie Stanley.  Stanley has been atop draft boards since the first mocks were coming out around mid-season.  Stanley has nearly as much potential as Tunsil and is an amazing alternative.
  7. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
    SF
    JARED GOFF
    QB
    CALIFORNIA

     

    If Goff plummets this far, the 49ers need to take advantage of it.  The 49ers may have a need at pass rusher, offensive line, wide receiver, even running back, but their main need by far is QB.  Goff will be ready to start in Week 1, and he’s the best option when your starting QB spot is between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert before the draft.

  8. CLEVELAND BROWNS
    CLE
    MYLES JACK
    OLB
    UCLA

    The Browns have four main needs, quarterback, wide receive, linebacker and defensive end.  It’s a little early for LaQuon Treadwell to be selected, same with Paxton Lynch and Shaq Lawson.  Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are gone and Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner are long gone.  Who’s left at the four positions?  Myles Jack. Jack, the top linebacker prospect passed up for Laremy Tunsil by the Jags, fits into the Browns scheme and is the best option remaining.

  9. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
    TB
    VERNON HARGREAVES III
    CB
    FLORIDA

    After signing Robert Ayers to help the D-line, the Bucs’ top need is to find a consistent top prospect for the secondary.  With Jalen Ramsey long gone, Hargreaves is by far the best fit in Tampa.  Hargreaves will play right corner, where they have their biggest hole of all, by far.  

  10. NEW YORK GIANTS
    NYG
    LAQUON TREADWELL
    WR
    OLE MISS

    Treadwell’s strong upside makes him an amazing counterpart to OBJ.  I could see this rookie wide receiver playing at Odell Beckham Jr.’s level by the end of the season.  Who do the Giants have behind OBJ at receiver that is at full health?  Victor Cruz could still be hurt and Dwayne Harris just isn’t ready to be WR2 for New York.  

  11. CHICAGO BEARS
    CHI
    SHAQ LAWSON
    DE
    CLEMSON

    NFL experts have this defensive end all over the place.  The Bears could use this strong pass rusher as a big upgrade at defensive end.  With Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner gone, Lawson should have an easy way into Chicago.  

  12. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
    NO
    SHELDON RANKINS
    DT
    LOUISVILLE

    Rankins has shot up draft boards to become #1 DT in recent days, and he is the Saints best option after his breakout.  Robert Nkemdiche and others have gone down in stock.  Rankins remains the best option at DT, and New Orleans is the perfect fit for him.  

  13. MIAMI DOLPHINS
    MIA
    EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
    RB
    OHIO STATE

    After losing Lamar Miller to free agency, the Dolphins may have the biggest hole at running back in the entire NFL.  After the Eagles, Cowboys, Browns, Ravens, 49ers and Giants pass on the running back Elliott will be left for the Dolphins to snag as a steal.  

  14. OAKLAND RAIDERS
    OAK
    NOAH SPENCE
    DE
    EASTERN KENTUCKY

    After a change of schools, Spence quickly became a top prospect, but his stock has gone down most recently.  But with the big guys off the board, Spence has a decent shot of making it with the Raiders.  

  15. TENNESSEE TITANS
    TEN
    JACK CONKLIN
    OT
    MICHIGAN STATE

    Even if the Titans traded down, they might want a lower tier offensive tackle instead of Laremy Tunsil.  If Conklin isn’t taken by the Bears, he would be a strong fit in Tennessee.  Marcus Mariota is ready to breakout in his sophomore year, but he’s a sack target if he doesn’t get some o-line protection in currently weak spots like tackle.

  16. DETROIT LIONS
    DET
    TAYLOR DECKER
    OT
    OHIO STATE

    It’s the trade effect again, with Laremy Tunsil falling to Jacksonville and Ronnie Stanley heading to Baltimore, the Titans now take Jack Conklin.  That leaves Detroit with this tackle out of Ohio State.  I see a lot of potential for this guy, and personally, I would take Decker over Conklin, but I think Tennessee will go after Conklin over Decker.  

  17. ATLANTA FALCONS
    ATL
    DARRON LEE
    OLB
    OHIO STATE

    Wow, that’s the second straight OSU pick.  It’s a good school with a good 2016 class, what can I say.  This top linebacker fits what the Falcons are looking for.  The Falcons were somewhat active this off season, but have serious holes to fill.  Darron Lee could easily take care of that issue at outside linebacker.  Lee has amazing upside and is a good next prospect behind Myles Jack.  

  18. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
    IND
    CODY WHITEHAIR
    OG
    KANSAS STATE

    Whoa, there, Whitehair already?  That’s no error.  The Colts have some issues all over the offensive line, but their need for a guard is so urgent, that I say they go for one (Whitehair) rather than going for a top tackle (Germain Ifedi or Jason Spriggs).  Even if the guard and center positions are weak in this draft, like I said, Whitehair is good enough that the Colts will grab him in the first round to fill a big need.  

  19. BUFFALO BILLS
    BUF
    KEVIN DODD
    DE
    CLEMSON

    Dodd could go a lot earlier, and he has been a trending name lately on draft boards, but not as many teams need an early defensive end as you think, and if other teams with the need pick other guys or go with another top prospect at a position they need, Dodd could fall to the Bills, who are in desperate need for veteran DE Mario Williams, who was cut early this off season.  

  20. NEW YORK JETS
    NYJ
    PAXTON LYNCH
    QB
    MEMPHIS

    With the Rams trading up to snag Wentz or Goff,  the Eagles passing on the remaining guy, and the Niners stealing Goff, the Browns would be left with Lynch, and they would not want him that early in the draft.  So Lynch now falls to the Jets, who can’t seem to tie the knot with Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Just Geno Smith, one of the worst starting quarterbacks of 2014 (led the Jets to 4-12 season), and Bryce Petty (2015 rookie, may not be ready, hasn’t seen a start) are left to fill his gap.  It would be very helpful to get this top draft prospect if they can’t sign Fitzy or new free agent Brian Hoyer before Draft Day.  

  21. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
    WAS
    REGGIE RAGLAND
    ILB
    ALABAMA

    The Skins still need some pass rush help, but the defensive line appears to be all set, and the rumored signing of Josh Norman may rule out drafting a corner. The signing of Junior Gallette will fill the hole at outside linebacker.  That leaves a space at inside linebacker.  Ragland is a very strong prospect who could be a serious playmaker in Washington.  He won’t just fill the hole, he’ll make sure he has a strong rookie year in the process.  

  22. HOUSTON TEXANS
    HOU
    COREY COLEMAN
    WR
    BAYLOR

    The Texans need a partner in crime for top receiver DeAndre Hopkins.  Nate Washington left for New England.  Free agency is practically over.  They missed out on LaQuon Treadwell.  That leaves this Baylor playmaker.  Coleman plays an important role in making Brock Osweiler comfortable in his new home of Houston and makes sure he has enough weapons.  They do also need a tight end, but I don’t think Hunter Henry will be first round material.  

  23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
    MIN
    VADAL ALEXANDER
    OG
    LSU

    Again with a long shot guard?  The Vikings may need a wide receiver in this draft, but they have Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson, that can wait.  Maybe they’ll pick someone in the later rounds like Sterling Shepard who becomes the next Stefon Diggs.  For now they may need to focus on offensive line help.  They already picked up LG Alex Boone and RT Andre Smith, and already had LT Matt Kalil and C Joe Berger.  That leaves right guard.  Alexander is the next best guard behind Cody Whitehair (selected by Colts) and should at least be a placeholder in Minnesota, if not a long term option.  

  24. CINCINNATI BENGALS
    CIN
    WILL FULLER
    WR
    NOTRE DAME

    If you haven’t been following free agency, Cincinnati lost two of their top receivers behind A.J. Green, Marvin Jones (to Detroit) and Mohamed Sanu (to Atlanta).  They did sign Brandon LaFell, but he’s a risky WR2.  Who do they have behind him and Green?  Brandon Tate?  James Wright?  Half of you probably have never even heard of those guys.  If the Bengals go after this Notre Dame stud, he will probably be the WR2 over LaFell, who will fall to WR3.  Now that’s a little better.  I can accept Brandon Tate at WR4 and James Wright at WR5.  Most of all, I accept Fuller as WR2.  

  25. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
    PIT
    VONN BELL
    SS
    PITTSBURGH

    Besides flex defensive back Jalen Ramsey, this Pittsburgh prospect is the top safety of the draft.  The Steelers need some secondary help.  They could draft a corner, as Eli Apple would still be an option, but the need for a safety is stronger in Steel City.  Vonn Bell is ready to take on the NFL, and it would be even better to stay in Pittsburgh while in the pros.  I like Bell as a first round pick, and without the temptation of Taylor Decker (who would have been drafted here if my mock was released before the trade), and they can focus on the secondary with this pick.  

  26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
    SEA
    RYAN KELLY
    C
    ALABAMA

    Alright, the Seahawks could upgrade their already all-powerful defense.  Or they could upgrade a free agency weakened offensive line.  Which sounds better?  We all know the o-line does.  Kelly will fill the hole at center.  They also have a hole at guard, but the need for center is greater, and my gut feeling leans on this.  

  27. GREEN BAY PACKERS
    GB
    LEONARD FLOYD
    OLB
    GEORGIA

    Alright, the Packers definitely need a linebacker.  They may need a potential replacement for Julius Peppers.  They may need an outside linebacker on the other side.  They may need an inside linebacker if Clay Matthews is going back to being an OLB.  I think it makes more sense to go for an OLB than to push Clay Matthews into a different position and draft an ILB!  Reggie Ragland isn’t even available anymore!  Could you really see Green Bay drafting Kentrell Brothers at ILB and moving Matthews when Matthews could stay at MLB and the still remaining Leonard Floyd is free to be picked by Green Bay?   I can’t.  

  28. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
    KC
    ELI APPLE
    CB
    OHIO STATE

    Although Marcus Peters already boosted the secondary last year, Sean Smith’s departure left yet another hole on the opposite side of Peters.  Now Peters needs a partner in crime, not veteran corner Smith.  Peters made such a splash in season one, that he’s playing at Smith’s level now.  Apple is in a similar position in this year’s draft to the situation Peters was in last year.  Not the very top prospect at the position, but worth some serious first round consideration.  They chose the right breakout corner in the first round of last year’s draft. Why can’t it happen again?

  29. ARIZONA CARDINALS
    ARI
    A’ SHAWN ROBINSON
    DT
    ALABAMA

    The Cards already got a defensive end.  This strong defensive tackle prospect, once the top defensive tackle just ahead of Alabama’s Robert Nkemdiche, could continue to reformation of a strong defensive line in Arizona.  Yes, the Cardinals already have a strong defense, but it has holes, and the offense appears to be all set now.  This is just a good football team.  Why not improve it further with this intriguing pick?  

     

    (Note: The New England Patriots lost their pick that would be in this spot because Roger Goodell had some stupid suspicions that Tom Brady and the Pats were responsible for the partially deflated footballs in the 2014-15 AFC Championship game, not science.)

  30. CAROLINA PANTHERS
    CAR
    MACKENSIE ALEXANDER
    CB
    CLEMSON

    Yes, the Panthers did sign Brandon Boykin to fill the position, but he’s no permanent option.  He doesn’t match up to Charles Tillman either.  Therecent loss of Josh Norman could also be a deciding factor if he doesn’t sign with the squad long term.  This top corner prospect in the draft doesn’t necessarily match up to Norman or Tillman yet, but has a long career ahead of him and could greatly improve.  Boykin isn’t a permanent option, but he can at least start some games over the next couple of years until Mackensie Alexander fully emerges.  Right now, the Panthers have an amazing team so this pick should be and will be spent on the future of the franchise.  

  31. DENVER BRONCOS
    DEN
    CONNOR COOK
    QB
    MICHIGAN STATE

    Look, the Broncos aren’t going to start Mark Sanchez come Opening Night.  Unless they get Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer or Colin Kaepernick (not much of an upgrade), they will go after a quarterback in the first couple rounds of this year’s draft.  If one of the top four QBs (Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook) is still available on this pick, they’re going to take advantage of it.  John Elway may be content with Sanchez as starting QB, but it doesn’t mean he may be interested in upgrading.  It just means if they can’t find anyone better, he’ll start.  Connor Cook, the only top 4 QB that would be left on this pick, is a better option than the declining seven year veteran.  

That concludes my 2016 one-round mock draft.  How do you think the first round will play out?  Comment below or go to predictpick.nfl.com.  Once you get there, go to groups and join my group.  It is a public group called Boston SportsMania (no password required).  Also be on the lookout for my recap of free agency in the NFL.