Before the 49ers decide what they need in the draft and free agency, they must take sober stock of what they have. They didn’t do that last year.
They fell in love with themselves after a five-game winning streak to end the season which gave them the illusion they’re better than they are. Then, they overvalued almost everyone who played during that streak, especially the players on defense.
Now, the defense has given up a grotesque 28 points per game this season, forcing just five turnovers — fewest in the NFL — and the 49ers’ record is 2-10.
How many keepers do the 49ers really have on the current roster? Which players are the true building blocks of a serious team?
Let’s count the fake franchise cornerstones, former cornerstones, potential cornerstones and legitimate cornerstones. And before we get started, yes, there’s hope.
Group 1: Players formerly considered potential franchise cornerstones who are now expendable.
1. Defensive end Solomon Thomas. The worst defensive lineman on the 49ers. They probably would have cut Thomas by now had they not taken him with the third pick of the 2017 draft. He’s a small, mediocre run-defending specialist who no longer plays during passing downs.
2. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. Seemed like a potential cornerstone during a six-week stretch late last season when he averaged 93.3 receiving yards per game. The 49ers rewarded Goodwin with a three-year, $19.25 million contract extension through 2021. But this season, Goodwin has caught just 17 passes and reverted to the injury-prone, unreliable receiver he was for four years with the Buffalo Bills.
3. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Intercepted two passes as a rookie last season, so the 49ers thought he was the next Richard Sherman. They handed Witherspoon a starting job for 2018, didn’t make him compete for it. And so far, Witherspoon has intercepted no passes, given up six touchdown catches, committed nine penalties, thrown one notorious hissy fit in a game and gotten benched twice.
4. Free safety Adrian Colbert. Broke up a few throws and forced a couple fumbles last season, so the 49ers thought he was their free safety of the future. This season, Colbert forced no fumbles, broke up one pass, missed lots of tackles and lasted only seven games before a high-ankle sprain ended his season.
5. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt. Injury prone since the 49ers drafted him in 2014. Made a few plays last season before breaking his arm, so the 49ers thought he was their strong safety of the future. They gave Tartt a two-year, $13 million extension and cut former Pro Bowler Eric Reid, who also plays strong safety. This season, Tartt remains injury prone — he has missed four games and won’t play this Sunday. Meanwhile, Reid is a healthy starter for the Carolina Panthers.
6. Defensive back Jimmie Ward. The 49ers drafted Ward with a first-round pick in 2014. Since then, he has intercepted just two passes and been on the injured reserve list four times. He’s on IR now.
7. Defensive end Arik Armstead. The 49ers drafted Armstead with a first-round pick in 2015, and he has just nine sacks in four seasons. When he gets close to the quarterback, he usually whiffs. He never improves.