Here is Part II of the 49ers’ 2018 season grades. Part I, which included each of the 49ers’ offensive position groups, ran Wednesday.
Defensive linemen: A-minus
They defended the run well. The 49ers ranked seventh best out of 32 teams in rushing yards per attempt allowed.
They also rushed the quarterback well at home, where their sack percentage was 10th best. They clearly have the talent, yet their sack percentage fell to 27th on the road.
But the entire defense played poorly away from home.
More on the road issues below.
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is one of the 10 best pass rushers in the NFL. He recorded 12 sacks and 20 hits. And defensive ends Ronald Blair and Cassius Marsh each recorded 5½ sacks and 14 QB hits — solid numbers for two young players who combined have started only seven games in their careers. Both play with high energy.
So does defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, the 49ers’ first-round pick in 2017. He just doesn’t make an impact. He recorded just one sack and six quarterback hits.
Rookie middle linebacker Fred Warner made 124 tackles — 12th most in the league. He never played middle linebacker before this season.
Second-year outside linebacker Reuben Foster was a bust, and the 49ers released him after he allegedly hit his girlfriend during a road trip at the team hotel in Tampa, Florida.
But the 49ers may have found an upgrade for Foster: Elijah Lee. He started five games this season and recorded 47 tackles during those starts — 9.4 tackles per game. If he maintains that average for a full season, he will make 150 tackles in 2019.
Lee and Warner form an intriguing duo, but they must force more turnovers in the future. Each forced just one in 2018.
Defensive backs: C-minus
Left cornerback Richard Sherman played well, considering he came off a torn Achilles tendon. Opposing quarterbacks rarely threw at him.
Instead, they threw lots of passes at right cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who broke up only four throws and intercepted zero passes in 14 games. He also gave up six touchdown catches and committed 10 penalties before he injured his knee and missed the final two weeks.
Rookie Tarvarius Moore replaced Witherspoon and broke up two passes and forced one fumble in two starts. Moore may beat out Witherspoon for the starting job next season.
Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt injured his shoulder Week 2, and that injury hurt his performance and caused him to miss eight games.
When healthy, he still is an important member of the defense.
Free safety Adrian Colbert broke up just one pass in seven games before an ankle injury ended his season. The 49ers probably will look to add a new starting free safety for 2019.
Special teams: C
Here’s the good:
Robbie Gould was the most accurate kicker in the league. He made 33 of 34 field-goal attempts. And Richie James is a dangerous kickoff returner. He is one of only four players who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2018.
Here’s the not so good: