49ers

49ers' DeForest Buckner snubbed from Pro Bowl, and that's ridiculous

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AP

49ers' DeForest Buckner snubbed from Pro Bowl, and that's ridiculous

The 2019 Pro Bowl rosters were announced on Tuesday, and two 49ers made the NFC team. That's probably a fair number for a team that has won its last two games to double its win total on the season, with two weeks left to play.

The problem is: DeForest Buckner wasn't one of them.

Don't get it twisted, George Kittle and Kyle Juszcyzk are very deserving in their own right. Kittle burst on the scene this year and firmly established himself as a top-five tight end in the league moving forward. Juszczyk caught 29 balls for 309 receiving yards, and his impact on the 49ers' 10th-ranked rushing attack cannot be overlooked. That said, how many other fullbacks can you name off the top of your head?

This isn't about Kittle or Juszcyzk. This is about Buckner, the 49ers best player, who just happens to be having a phenomenal season of his own. You don't have to look further than San Francisco's win over the Seahawks on Sunday to see how drastically he can affect a game.

[RELATED: Buckner had a career day in 49ers' overtime win vs. Seahawks]

Only 13 players have sacked the quarterback more often than the 11 times Buckner has this season, which is a career-high. Only one of those 13 plays the same position (in terms of Pro Bowl rosters), and that's the Rams' Aaron Donald (16.5), who will almost certainly be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in a matter of months.

There were three interior defensive linemen named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Donald was one of them. The other two -- Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox and Chicago's Akiem Hicks – have combined for 12.5 sacks between them.

Sacks aren't everything for interior defensive linemen, you say? Damn right.

Through 14 games, Buckner has recorded 60 tackles; only Minnesota's Danielle Hunter (66), Jacksonville's Calais Campbell (62) and Indianapolis' Darius Leonard (NFL-leading 146) have recorded more tackles among players with at least 6.5 sacks this season.

Of Buckner's 60 tackles, 16 have been for a loss. Again, that's nearly as many as Cox (nine) and Hicks (11) combined.

So, to summarize: Buckner has more sacks, tackles and tackles for a loss than two of the three players named to the Pro Bowl roster ahead of him. When it comes to interior defensive linemen, shouldn't those be the stats that matter?

Then again, the stats clearly don't matter, and Buckner isn't alone in being snubbed. NFL stars such as Saints running back Alvin Kamara, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck were all left off their respective conference rosters, as were Leonard and fellow standout rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch of Dallas.

In most, if not all, of those cases, it's simply a matter of too many deserving candidates for too few spots. But the process is clearly flawed if the most deserving of the candidates -- on a statistically objective basis -- are passed over for others. It's the 2019 Pro Bowl, not the 2016-2020 Pro Bowl, after all.

As for the "team performance should matter" argument -- it's a flawed one. If that were the case, the Chargers wouldn't be the only NFL team with more Pro Bowlers than the 8-7-1 Steelers, who will be sending six players to Orlando.

With that being said, Buckner's exclusion is likely temporary. He's the first alternate at his position, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.

Should any of the Rams, Eagles or Bears make a deep run in the playoffs, it's likely that Buckner would assume the place of Donald, Cox or Hicks. Given that Los Angeles and Chicago have already locked up postseason berths and Philadelphia is knocking on the door, the chances are decent that Buckner will not only make his first Pro Bowl, but could perhaps even start in it.

Buckner's Pro Bowl recognition is far less important to the 49ers than his evolution into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL is. It's a shame he wasn't rewarded for putting together one of the top defensive seasons in the NFC, but there's time for that mistake to be fixed, even if it will be slightly tainted.

And, really, the All-Pro teams are always a better indicator of who the best players were in any given season than the Pro Bowl rosters are. Here's venturing a guess Buckner won't be passed over a second time when those are announced.

49ers' Kyle Shanahan ranked as 23rd-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

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USATSI

49ers' Kyle Shanahan ranked as 23rd-best veteran head coach by NFL.com

The first two years of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan's tenure has been light on wins, yet expectations remain high. 

San Francisco was 10-22 in Shanahan's first two seasons at the helm, searching for a quarterback before acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 and scrambling to replace him after he tore his ACL last year. There have been some promising moments, but not enough to move the 49ers out of the top 10 of the NFL draft in either of the last two years. 

Because of that, NFL.com's Elliot Harrison ranked Shanahan 23rd out of the 26 returning NFL head coaches. 

This might not be a fair ranking for a guy who kept the 49ers competitive in the second half of the season while having to play musical chairs at quarterback," Harrison wrote. "The problem here is that Shanahan hasn't really accomplished anything yet as a head coach, which makes the criteria for evaluating his performance somewhat narrow."

To his credit, Shanahan coached up two rosters short on talent. The 49ers finished in the top half of the league in total offense in each of the last two seasons, despite Garoppolo only making eight starts. 

But the 49ers have not had the same success on defense, and heavily invested on that side of the ball over the offseason. The potential for improvement is there in 2019, but San Francisco enters the year having won fewer than a third of its games under Shanahan.

[RELATED: Why Peter King thinks Jimmy G is key to 49ers' playoff hopes]

"That [10-22] record isn't masked by the obvious upside of the roster, or the potential many see in Shanahan," Harrison continued. " ... Shanahan seems to be a good communicator, and is both confident and comfortable with himself. Whether that will translate into contention in the NFC West remains to be seen."

A 2019 turnaround should move Shanahan up Harrison's rankings. After his first two seasons coaching the 49ers, there isn't much room anywhere else. 

Jimmy Garoppolo calls learning from Tom Brady on Patriots 'invaluable'

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USATSI

Jimmy Garoppolo calls learning from Tom Brady on Patriots 'invaluable'

Jimmy Garoppolo spent three-and-a-half seasons as Tom Brady's backup quarterback in New England. Over that span, the 49ers' current QB appeared in only 17 games, starting two. 

Still, he learned plenty behind the six-time Super Bowl winner. 

More than anything, Garoppolo witnessed the immense amount of preparation Brady put into his game every day.  Garoppolo recently told The Ringer's Kevin Clark that it was "invaluable" to watch the legendary signal-caller as his backup.

"I can barely put it into words. What you learn is playing the game within the game, that’s a big part of Tom," Garoppolo said. "I don’t even know if he told me that [directly], but he would always talk about the game within the game." 

The story has been told time and time again. Brady beat the odds years ago as a sixth-round draft pick who ran the 40-yard dash in quicksand. Garoppolo emphasized that sweating the small stuff made Brady a Patriots legend and an all-time great. 

"The little details and how he ties them all together -- that’s what separates you," Garoppolo said. 

[RELATED: Why Peter King thinks Jimmy G is key to 49ers' playoff hopes]

The two QBs have remained friends after Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers on Halloween in 2017. They were even seen together at the Kentucky Derby this year.

As much knowledge as Garoppolo soaked up from Brady, the 49ers hope it shows in a healthy year this season.