I’m not saying the 49ers will make the playoffs next season. I’m not saying they won’t, either. Here are 20 reasons to feel optimistic about them in 2017.
1. Kyle Shanahan is a major upgrade over former head coach Chip Kelly, who couldn’t build a play-action passing game or make a halftime adjustment. Shanahan can do both.
2. Brian Hoyer is an upgrade over former quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s quarterback rating was 90.7 in 2016, while Hoyer’s quarterback rating was 98.
3. Pierre Garcon is the best wide receiver the 49ers have had since Anquan Boldin in 2014. Garcon will catch more than 80 passes next season and be the team’s leading receiver.
4. George Kittle is the best receiving tight end the 49ers have had since Vernon Davis in 2013. Kittle will catch more than 60 passes next season and be the team’s second-leading receiver.
5. Kyle Juszczyk is the best fullback in the NFL. The Niners didn’t even have a fullback last season. Juszczyk will catch more than 40 passes next season and be the team’s third-leading receiver.
6. Logan Paulsen is the best blocking tight end the 49ers have had since Vernon Davis in 2012. Paulsen is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He will improve the Niners running game.
7. Trent Brown will be slimmer and more experienced at offensive right tackle. Last season, he was an excellent pass protector and running backs averaged more than 5 yards per carry when they ran his direction. Next season, he could become one of the best offensive tackles in the league.
8. Joshua Garnett will be slimmer and more experienced at guard. Last season, he missed OTAs and minicamp and didn’t become a starter until Week 6. Now, the team is counting on him to be one of the best players on the offense.
9. Jeremy Zuttah will be a major upgrade over center Daniel Kilgore, who is slow and injury-prone. Kilgore will turn 30 in December and he missed 23 games the past three seasons due to leg injuries. He’s not fast enough to function in the 49ers’ new outside-zone running scheme — he would be a liability. Zuttah is an outside-zone specialist.
10. The Niners have three new running backs — Joe Williams, Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs — who can carry the running game if Carlos Hyde doesn’t adapt to the new offensive scheme or suffers another injury. The Niners have relied on just Hyde the past two seasons to carry the running game, but Hyde isn’t durable enough to carry it himself. Now, the Niners don’t have to rely to him.
11. The defense has a new, aggressive 1-gap scheme that should be more effective against the run than last season’s passive 2-gap scheme. Defenders will be asked to explode through gaps and penetrate the backfield, as opposed to last season when they were asked to play on their heels and grapple with offensive linemen.
12. The defense has a healthy nose tackle — Earl Mitchell. Last season, the Niners’ starting nose tackle — Glenn Dorsey — missed the first eight games as he recovered from a torn ACL. Without him, the Niners defense was historically inept at stopping runs between the tackles. Now, it will be adept.