Grant Cohn: Midterm report card on 49ers, Part II

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Dear Jed York,

Here’s Part II of the 49ers midterm grades. Make sure you read Part I first.


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.


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.


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.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has not. He refuses to change his philosophy as a play caller. So, he has the same problems every season scoring in the red zone and winning close games.

Last season, the 49ers scored a touchdown 47.1 percent of the time they reached the red zone — sixth worst in the NFL.

This season, the 49ers have scored a touchdown 46.4 percent of the time they’ve reached the red zone — sixth worst in the NFL. Shanahan doesn’t understand how to score touchdowns consistently when the field is compressed.

Nor does he understand how to finish off an opponent. The 49ers have lost three games which they led during the fourth quarter, mostly because the offense couldn’t move the ball in crunch time. The 49ers average negative 0.5 yards per play when leading with fewer than four minutes left in a game. They go backward.

Recently, the 49ers have played cleaner football. They’ve stopped committing so many penalties, missing so many tackles and turning over the ball at a historic rate. All that reflects well on Shanahan.

But, their season is over already. And Shanahan mostly is to blame.

Of course, losing Jimmy Garoppolo was a blow. But, Shanahan made it even worse.

Shanahan thought C.J. Beathard was the answer at quarterback after Garoppolo tore his ACL.

Shanahan thought Beathard was better than Nick Mullens, even though Shanahan watched both of them practice for two years and should have known Mullens was superior.

Shanahan stuck with Beathard for five weeks this season, even though Beathard lost every start and committed 10 turnovers.

Shanahan went to Mullens only after Beathard hurt his throwing hand and the 49ers’ record was 1-7. At that point, Shanahan had no choice.

At the very latest, Mullens should have made his debut Week 6 after Beathard lost to the winless Arizona Cardinals at home by 10 points and committed four turnovers.

Shanahan robbed his team of a chance to compete.


It’s a group effort. It’s not just GM John Lynch.

He may be a figurehead. I’m including Vice President of Player Personnel Adam Peters, Senior Personnel Executive Martin Mayhew and Shanahan, plus his father, Mike, who may have a say in personnel.

This brain trust drafted linebacker Fred Warner in the third round, and he was a good pick.

But, this brain trust also traded up in the second round to take wide receiver Dante Pettis, who has almost as many fumbles (two) as catches (three).

The 49ers spent their-first round pick on Mike McGlinchey, who seems like a solid right tackle, but may never become a Pro Bowl left tackle.

After drafting McGlinchey, the 49ers traded Trent Brown, who has played left tackle at a Pro Bowl level this season for the New England Patriots. He is what the 49ers hope McGlinchey will become.

The 49ers sold low on Brown. They gave him and a fifth-round pick to New England in exchange for a third-rounder, which the Niners spent on Tarvarius Moore, a special teams player.

The 49ers never should have traded Brown. He was under contract for another season. They should have kept him and played McGlinchey at guard for a year. Or, they should have traded Joe Staley and moved Brown to left tackle. Staley is 34. Brown is 25. The 49ers kept the wrong tackle.

This front office is inept, Jed. You need to fire Peters and Mayhew this offseason, and re-hire the only person who ever built a successful roster for you – Scot McCloughan. Make him the Vice President of Player Personnel, and keep Lynch as the designated mouthpiece. Build this team right.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

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