After combining to win a total of 10 games the last two seasons, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch enter a crucial third year steering the ship in Santa Clara.
The 49ers recently have been closer to the No. 1 overall pick in the draft than the playoffs. It's time for that to change. But it won't be easy.
Rising up the ranks in the NFC West is a tough task. The Rams were an ugly Jared Goff game away from winning the Super Bowl last year, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are always competitive, and the Cardinals should be exciting with Kyler Murray and a healthy David Johnson.
In order for the 49ers to have a successful 2019 season, these three players will have to perform on the field.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Everything starts with Garoppolo. The 49ers go as he goes. It's simple as that.
Garoppolo says he's "good to go" for training camp, which begins July 27th, after tearing his ACL in the third game of the season last year. Through nine games with the 49ers -- eight starts -- Garoppolo has gone 6-2 as a starter while throwing 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's thrown for 2,278 yards in red and gold, and has completed 64.8 percent of his passes.
To contend for the playoffs, Garoppolo will have step up his game and prove he's worth his $137.5 million contract this season.
Ahkello Witherspoon, CB
This easily could have been Richard Sherman. The 49ers badly need their secondary to improve this season after snatching only two interceptions. In his first season as a 49er, Sherman failed to have an interception for the first time in his career. He also was coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“I’m much healthier. I was kind of out there on one leg," Sherman said to the Sacramento Bee in May.
Sherman should have a better year after going through an offseason where he didn't have to focus on rehabbing his Achilles. He's expected to still be the team's top cornerback, but as he ages, the No. 2 cornerback is just as important.
There's still plenty of competition for who will line up opposite of Sherman. It's Witherspoon's job to lose, though, and he looked like the 49ers' best player on defense at times during the offseason program.
Witherspoon, 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, has the same kind of long build at cornerback that Sherman has. He suffered a PCL injury last year and missed the final two games, but proved he's healthy during the offseason.
This could be a make-or-break year for the 24-year-old. If he proves the offseason program wasn't a fluke, Witherspoon might turn into one of the best surprises in the NFC West this season.
Fred Warner, MLB
Warner was one of the better draft picks in all of football last season. Selected in the third round by the 49ers, Warner started all 16 games and recorded 124 tackles.
This year, it's time for him to captain Robert Saleh's defense.
In just his second professional season, Warner is expected to man the middle with Kwon Alexander and Malcolm Smith playing on the outside. That could be an extremely athletic group of linebackers, but Alexander is coming off a torn ACL and Smith constantly has been injured the last two years.
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The 49ers are expecting big things out of Warner in his sophomore season, and reasonably so. Seen as a natural leader, Warner can't have a slump this season.
With a dominant defensive line, Warner must keep it going and turn the team's linebackers into a force to be reckoned with.