While there are few starting spots sewn up on the 49ers’ defense entering the 2019 offseason, most of the pieces are set on the offensive side of the ball.
As the 49ers approached the 2018 season, coach Kyle Shanahan built the offensive system around quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon. But McKinnon sustained a torn ACL a week before the opener, and Garoppolo was lost for the season in Week 3 with an ACL tear of his own.
The organization expects Garoppolo to be ready to take part in workouts when the 49ers get back on the practice field in May. There is some concern about McKinnon making a full recovery due to the nature of the position he plays.
Shanahan wants to add at least one more legitimate playmaker in the passing game to go along with George Kittle, who had more receiving yards this season than any tight end in NFL history.
The most continuity figures to be along the offensive line, where four of the five starters from a year ago are locked in at their positions.
QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Jerick McKinnon/Matt Breida
FB: Kyle Juszczyk
The only quarterback competition will take place behind Garoppolo, where C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens will battle for the No. 2 job. It is not a foregone conclusion that Mullens will win the job, even after his solid play over the final eight games of the season.
If McKinnon regains anything close to the form the 49ers envisioned when they signed him in free agency a year ago, he will be relied upon to create conflicts for the defense as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. The presence of McKinnon, Juszczyk and Kittle working the middle of the field will force defenses to make some difficult decisions in coverage. The 49ers should be able to exploit the weak link with any of those options.
Breida proved that he is a fully capable runner. Despite battling injuries for most of the season, Breida rushed for 814 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. However, the 49ers lack a traditional short-yardage back.
WR (X): Dante Pettis/Marquise Goodwin
WR (Z): Kendrick Bourne
Slot: Trent Taylor/Richie James
TE: George Kittle
One of the biggest offseason priorities on offense is to find another wide receiver who can take the load off Goodwin, whom Shanahan believes is not best-suited as an every-down player. Pettis, coming off a 27-catch rookie season in which he averaged 17.3 yards a reception, should be a starter. Bourne was the 49ers’ top-producing wideout with 42 catches for 487 yards. Bourne, like Goodwin, is probably best in a limited role.
The 49ers need to get more from the slot position in 2019. Taylor had a good rookie season, but he was not the same player in his second year. Taylor underwent back surgery in the offseason and never fully got involved in the offense. James showed some promise but was extremely raw.
Kittle was the team’s brightest star this season. The other tight ends (Garrett Celek, Ross Dwelley and Cole Wick) combined for just seven catches for 104 yards. The 49ers need better depth.
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Laken Tomlinson
C: Weston Richburg
RT: Mike McGlinchey
Staley, the veteran, was good for McGlinchey, the rookie. And McGlinchey was good for Staley, who seemed energized by the interaction with his protégé. The tackle positions are set for another year or two. And when Staley steps aside, McGlinchey will likely move over to the left side.
Tomlinson’s offseason will be impacted by a knee injury that will keep him sidelined for three months. But he should be ready to go for the offseason program. Richburg will enter his second season with the 49ers. There are no questions there, either.
The only spot where there could be some competition for the starting job is at right guard, where Person started 16 games and proved to be a great bargain for the club. He is scheduled to be a free agent. It would seem likely he will be back. Joshua Garnett could also enter into the competition, and the 49ers might add a youngster, too.