San Francisco 49ers: 3 Takeaways from the 2019 offseason so far

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25: Nick Bosa poses with a jersey after being picked 2nd overall by the San Francisco 49ers on day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25: Nick Bosa poses with a jersey after being picked 2nd overall by the San Francisco 49ers on day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

With free agency and the draft in the rear-view mirror, we look at what the San Francisco 49ers’ moves say about the direction of the franchise.

With the dust very much settled on the 2019 NFL Draft, attention will turn to preparations for the regular season and what we can expect from each team in the upcoming season. The San Francisco 49ers got to work with the newest members of their roster over the past weekend during rookie minicamp as they begin preparations for a season in which they will be under huge pressure to start winning.

John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were aggressive in adding talent to both sides of the ball ahead of what they know is a crucial third campaign of their regime. What can we glean from the moves they have made this offseason?

Here, we look at what the Niners’ various acquisitions say about the direction of this franchise going into 2019.

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49ers banking on secondary improvement

San Francisco, as expected, addressed the pass rush this offseason after consistently struggling to pressure the quarterback in recent years. The no-brainer pick of Nick Bosa second overall followed a trade for Dee Ford. Yet, beyond adding the oft-injured Jason Verrett to their cornerback group, little was done to bolster the back end of the defense.

Last season, San Francisco gave up 35 passing touchdowns and made unwanted history by snagging just two interceptions. Conventional wisdom suggests the Niners should have made additions to the secondary in the draft. Yet the fact they did not so until taking Tim Harris in the sixth round indicates they are banking on recent draft picks Tarvarius Moore, D.J. Reed, Marcell Harris, Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrian Colbert making significant strides.

Both Witherspoon and Colbert had difficult sophomore years after impressing as rookies. Wholesale changes to the secondary could be on the horizon in 2020 should they and veterans like Verrett and Richard Sherman fail to inspire a turnaround in the fortunes of the defensive backs group with an improved pass rush in front of them.

Shanahan loading up on versatile playmakers

It is no secret that Shanahan values versatility extremely highly. The decision to make Kyle Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in football in the first year of his tenure provided an obvious indication of his fondness for multi-faceted players.

And, after a draft in which there was a heavy focus on the offense, the 49ers may have the most versatile attack in the NFL. They spent a second-round pick on Deebo Samuel, a receiver ideally suited to Shanahan’s system with his ability to play on the outside and in the slot and aptitude for racking up yardage after the catch.

Yet it is the selection of running back turned receiver Jalen Hurd that may take the element of disguise in the Niners’ scheme to another level. The 6-4 Hurd showed significant promise as a receiver after transferring to Baylor from Tennessee, where he was deployed predominantly in the backfield, while Shanahan also opened up the possibility of using him as a tight end in his post-draft press conference.

Shanahan expressed excitement at the possibility of being able to use Hurd to go from being in 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) to 21 personnel (2 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE) instantly because of his versatility.

Hurd and Samuel join an offense that includes a second-year wideout in Dante Pettis who can play all the receiver positions, a superstar tight end in George Kittle who can excel in-line and in the slot, and a Swiss army knife fullback in Juszczyk.

The signing of Tevin Coleman gave the 49ers a third running back who can catch the ball well out of the backfield and, with the talent he now has at his disposal, Shanahan has the possibility to present defenses a plethora of different looks. If everyone stays healthy this is an attack that has the potential to utterly confound defenses in 2019.

No excuses for Garoppolo, Saleh

Health, or lack of it, was what derailed the 49ers in 2018 after Jimmy Garoppolo‘s Week 3 ACL tear. Despite not playing since September, the array of acquisitions leave Garoppolo no room for error in 2019 and put him under immense pressure to perform right off the bat after initially underwhelming prior to his injury last year.

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Just as key to the 49ers’ playoff hopes as Garoppolo will be defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, whose defense endured a dreadful 2018 but did improve down the stretch in December. After seeing two exciting pass rushers added to a defensive line already boasting Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and his linebacking core solidified by the signing of Kwon Alexander, Saleh has absolutely no excuse for another poor season from his group this time around.

Serious questions will be asked of Garoppolo if he cannot perform in an offense as quarterback-friendly as Shanahan’s and with a  smorgasbord of weapons at his disposal. Should Saleh’s defense struggle again, 2019 will likely be his last as a coordinator for the Niners.