49ers

How 49ers' starting lineups look after first wave of free-agent signings

How 49ers' starting lineups look after first wave of free-agent signings

Through the first wave of the free-agent signing period, the 49ers have added some starters and others who will unquestionably compete for starting jobs.

Short of a blockbuster trade, it is doubtful the 49ers will add anyone to be inserted into the mix for a starting job between now and April 25 – the first day of the NFL draft.

Here is a look at the most likely 49ers starting lineups for the 2019 season:

Offensive starters

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
RB: Jerick McKinnon/Tevin Coleman
FB: Kyle Juszczyk
WR (X): Dante Pettis/Marquise Goodwin
WR (Z): Kendrick Bourne/Jordan Matthews
Slot: Trent Taylor/Richie James
TE: George Kittle
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Laken Tomlinson
C: Weston Richburg
RG: Mike Person
RT: Mike McGlinchey

Garoppolo and McKinnon are on schedule to be cleared for full work at the beginning of training camp – if not long before then. The 49ers are likely to dial back the workloads of both players during organized team activities as a precaution with both men returning from ACL injuries.

The backup QB job -- C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens? -- will be worth watching.

Coach Kyle Shanahan loves the idea of having four explosive running backs on his roster. History has shown that depth will at some point come into play at running back. McKinnon and Coleman are the front-runners to share the load. Raheem Mostert will be active as the No. 3 running back for his superlative special-teams contributions. Matt Breida has a chance to crack the top-two, but he can also be a valuable reserve because of the difficulty of keeping running backs healthy.

The 49ers could use the No. 36 overall draft pick on a wide receiver to compete – along with Goodwin, Bourne and Matthews – for one of the main roles. Shanahan figures to mix and match receivers week to week, as well as through the course of games to take advantage of matchups.

The 49ers re-signed Person, giving him a guaranteed $3 million, which sends the signal they expect him to be a starter. Joshua Garnett, entering the final year of his contract, has an outside chance of playing himself into a prominent role. Shon Coleman, whom the 49ers acquired last year in a trade with Cleveland, is slotted to be the swing tackle to serve as the backup to both Staley and McGlinchey.

Defensive starters (base)

DE: Arik Armstead/Solomon Thomas
NT: D.J. Jones
DT: DeForest Buckner
DE: Dee Ford
SLB: Malcolm Smith/Mark Nzeocha
MLB: Fred Warner
WLB: Kwon Alexander
LCB: Richard Sherman
RCB: Jason Verrett/Ahkello Witherspoon/Tarvarius Moore
FS: Jimmie Ward
SS: Jaquiski Tartt/Marcell Harris

Thomas was the 49ers’ starter at the pass-rush defensive end spot. That job now belongs to Ford, whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with Kansas City. The 49ers still consider Thomas best-suited to play defensive end on base downs. Armstead seemed to find his niche in a similar role. He also has the ability to play some nose tackle.

Strong-side linebacker is unsettled. The 49ers may have the option of investing the No. 2 overall pick in Kentucky outside linebacker/edge rusher Josh Allen, who proved his versatility in college. He is equally adept at dropping into coverage as he is rushing the passer. The inside positions are interchangeable. The 49ers have not determined the specific positions for Warner and Alexander.

Right cornerback is wide open. Verrett has to remain healthy in order to put himself into a position to win the job. The 49ers invested third-round picks the past two years in Witherspoon and Moore, so the door is open for either of them to seize the job.

If Ward can remain healthy, he’s starter at free safety. Adrian Colbert gives the club a good option as a backup. Harris came on strong last year and will be given an opportunity to compete with Tartt.

Defensive starters (nickel)

DE: Ronald Blair
DT: Arik Armstead/Solomon Thomas
DT: DeForest Buckner
DE: Dee Ford
MLB: Fred Warner
WLB: Kwon Alexander
Nickel: K’Waun Williams

The 49ers released edge rusher Cassius Marsh last week. Blair saw more action rushing the passer from the outside than anyone other than Marsh. They tied for second on the team, behind Buckner's 12 sacks, with 5.5 sacks apiece.

The 49ers could select Nick Bosa or Allen with the No. 2 overall pick. If that occurs, whichever player they choose would line up on the edge to rush the passer in nickel situations. Armstead and Thomas will be part of a rotation on the inside, as well affording Buckner the opportunity to catch his breath from time to time.

Williams appears set as the nickel back, but at some point D.J. Reed may be ready to take over.

Special teams

K: Robbie Gould
P: ___________
LS: Colin Holba/Kyle Nelson
KR: Richie James/D.J. Reed
PR: Dante Pettis/Trent Taylor

The 49ers do not have a punter on the roster after Bradley Pinion signed a four-year, $11 million free-agent contract last week with Tampa Bay.

Gould was tagged as the 49ers’ franchise player. He has not signed his tender, and there’s no indication whether he plans to show up for the team’s offseason program. There’s little concern, however, that he will be ready to go once the season begins.

[RELATED: 49ers signed two starting defensive players ... if things go as hoped]

Holba begins the season as the long-snapper. Nelson is slated to regain his spot upon his return after Week 6 from a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

It has been two weeks since the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That’s more than enough time to turn the page and look ahead.

So that’s what we’re doing -- with the help from some of our Twitter friends. Here is the first offseason edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. I don’t think there’s even a question about that. Is there? So I can’t envision any scenario in which Shanahan stops doing the thing he does best.

Shanahan certainly believes McDaniel and LaFleur are ready to call plays. McDaniel and LaFleur are, in essence, co-offensive coordinators. They are responsible for putting together the first components of the weekly game plan.

Through the first three seasons together with the 49ers, they have found a pretty good rhythm together and Shanahan finds himself placing more trust in them. What they’re doing is working.

If the 49ers have the $19 million-plus in cap room to devote to a franchise tag for Arik Armstead, then I think they could work out a long-term deal that would work for both sides.

As for the question about a tag-and-trade, I’m sure you’re thinking about how the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford a year ago and, then, traded him to the 49ers. In that instance, the Chiefs had Frank Clark on the line, so that made sense.

In this case, I don’t think there’s anyone who plays Armstead’s position they would prefer over him. Armstead is exactly what the 49ers need: A defensive end on base downs who moves inside next to DeForest Buckner to rush the passer in nickel situations.

There is no need for the 49ers to do anything with Thomas, except work with him to continue to improve and become more valuable as a rotational player on the defensive line. The 49ers certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season. But with Thomas’ rookie contract guaranteed, there is no cap advantage in parting ways with him this year.

Regardless, Thomas should have a significant role next season. But if for whatever reason Armstead is not back, Thomas has a strong chance to be a starter.

The possibility of recouping a draft pick is part of the reason the 49ers felt compelled to make the trade in the first place. In my opinion, they would have preferred Mohamed Sanu, who was under contract through the 2020 season. But the Patriots offered the Atlanta Falcons a second-round draft pick, and the 49ers did not have a second-round pick after dealing it to Kansas City for Dee Ford.

Instead, the 49ers acquired Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver in return for third- and fourth-round draft picks. The 49ers do not figure to be active with veteran acquisitions on the free-agent market this offseason, so it is likely the 49ers have more losses than gains. If Sanders is a loss, the 49ers would stand a good chance of picking up a compensatory pick for the 2021 draft.

Get stronger. Work. Work. Work.

Pettis had a good offseason program a year ago, but he was not the same player when he came back for training camp. Other receivers on the team came back stronger at the opening of camp. Pettis did not. That is why Pettis struggled and fell out of favor to the point he rarely played in the second half of the season.

Pettis needs to take it up another few notches to get stronger and avoid the nagging injuries that also set him back last season. Pettis has more ability than almost anyone on the team to run some of Shanahan’s favorite routes. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in the offseason and training camp this year.

If Jalen Hurd and Pettis are both healthy, I think the answer is Hurd. The reason is because of his size and his unique skill set.

I envision Hurd being a big part of the 49ers’ two-minute offense because of his versatility. The 49ers can line him up anywhere in the formation, including running back. That puts the onus on the defense to figure out how they want to treat him. Is he a runner, wide receiver or tight end? Then, based on the defensive personnel, the 49ers can exploit those weaknesses.

[RELATED: Juice sick of Jimmy G, Shanahan criticism after Super Bowl]

The draft takes place more than a month after free agency. So the answer to this question could change, based on what the 49ers’ roster looks like at the time of the draft. But, right now, if the 49ers hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the team can choose among the best available wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman.

There are two ways to look at this. But if there’s a team willing to move up to No. 31 overall, then that is the default move. It would make a lot of sense to sit out the first round of the draft to come away with multiple picks on Day 2.

But if there is someone at No. 31 with whom the organization has fallen in love, then they should take that player. The advantage of holding onto the first-round draft pick is that the 49ers would control the contract rights to the player for five years, instead of four.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

Losing the Super Bowl was tough on the 49ers, to say the least. It was especially tough for the team's fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, who hated hearing the criticism of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, his quarterback and coach.

"Those are two guys that have absolutely nothing to prove to the rest of the guys in the locker room," Juice said Friday on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football." "You look at Jimmy, for people that are stats guys, 4,000 yards passing, better than a two-to-one, touchdown-interception ratio, 70 percent completion."

He added with that alone, you're looking at a "phenomenal quarterback."

"For whatever reason, Jimmy just gets this extra criticism, this extra heat, but I think at one point in the game he was like 19-for-22," Jusczyk said. 

"That's football, though -- you just change one or two plays in the game, and the whole dialogue changes, the whole narrative."

Juice mentioned the moment that could have put Jimmy G in the same category as Tom Brady as a Super Bowl MVP. The moment that could have led to the 49ers popping champagne in San Francisco amongst the faithful.

That could have been a game-changer.

The play in question caused wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to storm out of the media room following the Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs. Garoppolo's overthrow in the fourth quarter changed everything.

[RELATED: What Juice regrets most from 49ers' Super Bowl collapse]

And they know it. Jimmy knows it. Sanders knows it. Shanahan knows it. 

"It's a shame that one or two plays can really change everyone's outlook on someone," Juszczyk said.