The San Francisco 49ers finished the 2017 regular season on about as high of a note as possible. After a mid-season trade with the New England Patriots that netted them a franchise quarterback, the 49ers won the last five games of the season with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. In those five games, San Francisco beat three eventual playoff teams, but the 49ers didn’t get a chance to continue their hot streak into the post season. This has led to an off-season full of positive speculation. Despite finishing with a lowly 6-10 record last season, the 49ers have the ninth best odds to win Super Bowl LIII. Keeping with the hype, here are three very audacious and optimistic predictions about the 49ers offense.
Bold Predictions for 2018 Season for the San Francisco 49ers Offense
Jimmy Garoppolo Will Lead the League in Passing Yards
Almost all of the 49ers off-season hype is centered around the man who lines up under center. He is straw that stirs the drink of this offense. Consider the fact that the 49ers went 1-10 in games in which Garoppolo did not start last year. Kyle Shanahan may be an offensive wizard, but his offense cannot get up and running without sprinkling a whole bunch of magic Garoppolo dust all over it.
Garoppolo has only started seven games in his four-year career; two with the Patriots, and five with the 49ers. This small sample size makes extrapolating out his numbers a risky ploy. However, if the 49ers were willing to make him the highest paid player in the history of football (albeit, for a brief time), they obviously felt comfortable that what they had seen was what they were going to get for the foreseeable future.
In those seven starts, Garoppolo threw for a combined 2,038 yards. In one of those games, he was removed shortly after half-time, so he put up those numbers in six and a half games. Therefore, Garoppolo averages roughly 314 yards per start. Extrapolate that out to 16 games, and Garoppolo should have about 5,024 yards. That would make him the sixth quarterback in history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in one season. This mark is good enough to have led the league in three of the last four seasons.
Dante Pettis Will Lead the 49ers in Receiving Yards
Surprisingly, the 49ers have a relatively deep wide receiver corp. Rumors swirled during the off-season that they could be looking to add a big name at the receiver position, such as Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins. The 49ers have even been linked to Julio Jones in recent days due to his contract dispute with the Atlanta Falcons. Despite all this, the 49ers only made one significant addition to their group of receivers, and it was Dante Pettis.
The 49ers traded up in the second round to select Pettis out of the Washington in the 2018 NFL Draft. Shanahan was enamored enough with Pettis to break several trends. The 49ers had not selected a wide receiver higher than the fourth round since 2012. Also, no team in which Shanahan was offensive coordinator or head coach has drafted a wide receiver higher than the third round. This shows Pettis really caught Shanahan’s eye.
Pettis’ playing style seems to fit perfectly with what Shanahan wishes to create, which is offensive mismatches. He has the quickness to excel in the slot, but the versatility to play all receiver positions. Pettis may technically be lower on the depth chart than Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, or Trent Taylor, but that is a poor way of looking at it.
All three of those receivers fill a certain role, whether it be a deep threat, possession receiver, or in the slot. Being more versatile will allow Pettis to take advantage of more mismatches with opposing defenses. Pettis’ skill set will allow him to steal snaps and stay on the field longer. He will benefit the most from Shanahan’s scheming and Garoppolo’s arm.
Jerick McKinnon Will Enter the 1,000 – 1,000 Club
While the rival Los Angeles Rams were in the headlines every day of the off-season with splashy acquisitions, the 49ers were more prudent. The 49ers really only made a few significant splurges into the free agent market, and one was for Jerick McKinnon. With the departure of Carlos Hyde to the Cleveland Browns, McKinnon appears poised for a monster year with the 49ers.
McKinnon has spent most of his career as a super-sub for the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings used him as a complementary back, and only featured him when their starter was injured for the season. In those years, however, McKinnon showed flashes of exactly what Shanahan covets, which is a versatile offensive weapon.
Consider Shanahan’s recent history with running backs. In Hyde and Devonta Freeman, his two most recent starting running backs, both saw a significant uptick in receptions and receiving yards. Hyde’s skillset was not ideal for catching passes, but he had more receiving yards and receptions in his one year with Shanahan than his entire career prior. Freeman averaged 1.9 receptions per game before Shanahan, and 4.9 with him. Imagine what Shanahan could do with McKinnon, who is one of the best athletes at the position.
Last year, McKinnon had 570 yards rushing and 421 yards receiving. This was a season in which he only started one game, and was behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray on the depth chart. In San Francisco, he is firmly locked in atop the 49ers depth chart. A huge increase in playing time could result in a huge uptick in production. McKinnon will need to more than double his total production from last year if he wishes to become the third player in history to have both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. But he has the coach, the quarterback, and the skill set to make it happen.