Dear Jed York,
Here’s Part II of the 49ers midterm grades. Make sure you read Part I first.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
DeForest Buckner is the 49ers’ best player. He is on pace to record 10 sacks this season, which would be a career high.
The 49ers finally may have found someone who complements Buckner, and that’s Ronald Blair. He recorded three sacks the past four games. He and Buckner could form a terrific interior-rush duo for the future.
Former first-round pick Solomon Thomas might be the worst pass rusher on the team. He has recorded just one sack and three quarterback hits this season. He is useless on third downs or whenever the opponent has to pass. He strictly is a run defender.
And the 49ers’ run defense is good. It has allowed just 4.0 yards per rushing attempt this season – eighth best in the NFL.
The 49ers’ defensive line is solid as a unit. To become great, it needs just a couple decent edge rushers. Cassius Marsh and Dekoda Watson aren’t good enough. They play well only against backups or injured offensive linemen.
Reuben Foster is an injury-prone linebacker who doesn’t create turnovers. That’s why 30 teams passed on him during the first round of the 2017 draft. The 49ers traded up to get him. Mistake. He has been one of the worst linebackers in the NFL this season.
Rookie middle linebacker Fred Warner has recorded 73 tackles in 10 games — fifth most among NFL linebackers. Plus, he has forced a fumble and recovered one. Warner is a promising young player.
Malcolm Smith is one of the highest-paid linebackers in the league, but has recorded just 18 tackles. The 49ers should cut him during the offseason.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D
The 49ers thought Richard Sherman would make their secondary better.
He hasn’t. It’s worse.
In 2017, the 49ers defense allowed an average passer rating of 93.9. This season, the defense has allowed an average passer rating of 98.5. Sherman is a non-factor. Teams can avoid him, because the rest of the 49ers defensive backs are so bad.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, nickel back K’Waun Williams, free safety Adrian Colbert and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt all have regressed since last season. Jimmie Ward bounces back and forth between safety and cornerback. The 49ers have no plan for him.
They must remake their secondary during the offseason. Even Sherman needs to go. He’ll be 31 in March.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-MINUS
The 49ers rank sixth in yards per kickoff return, 10th in yards per punt return, 10th in field goal percentage and second in punts that landed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Impressive stats.
But, the 49ers’ special teams also rank dead last in turnovers. They have committed five in just nine games. Those turnovers overshadow all the good this group has achieved. Turnovers are one big reason the 49ers’ record is 2-7.
Most of the position coaches are learning on the job and failing. Almost none of their first-season and second-season players have improved.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is learning on the job, too. He came to the 49ers as a dogmatic scheme coach who simply ran Pete Carroll’s defense. That’s all Saleh knew. Now, he puts his own twist on the defense. He has evolved.