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5 Bright Spots for the 49ers in 2018

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The 49ers entered 2018 as everyone’s sexy, sneaky playoff team before the season. Well, we know that didn’t happen and a lot went wrong this season, but let’s highlight a few bright spots. Contributions from Nick Mullens, Dante Pettis, and Fred Warner were in contention for the list of 5 but I had to narrow it down to these:

George Kittle

What more needs to be said about Kittle after his performance this season with three different QBs under center? Everyone will focus on the receiving yards record for a tight end, which obviously they should, but Kittle’s blocking was also impressive. PFF graded Kittle as the best TE on the season and plays like this show why:

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Kittle ended the season first in YAC with 881 yards after the catch. That’s not just first for tight ends; he had 14 more yards than Christian Mccaffrey to put him atop the entire NFL. George made a number of highlight reel plays that showed off his elite athleticism at the position and did enough to break the all-time record for receiving yards by a tight end in a season.

Here’s the record breaker:

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Here’s his insane one-handed catch vs the Raiders:

Okay, last one, this part of his 210-yard first half vs Denver:

In a season in which the Niners were decimated with injuries, Kittle became the rock of the passing offense and Kyle Shanahan showed creative ways to get him open for huge gains. There are sunny skies ahead for Kittle, who, considering his draft cost of a 5th rounder, looks like the absolute steal of a loaded draft class for TE in 2017.

Deforest Buckner

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The seventh overall pick of the 2016 draft had his breakout campaign this season. The 24-year-old played all 16 games, racked up 12 sacks and tripled his TFL total from last season with 17. He also finished the season second at his position with 55 pressures and PFF ranked him 21st among defensive lineman.

Brian Baldinger explains it best:

Buckner has shown growth year after year and looks the part of a player that can be built around. 36 solo tackles, second in the league. four batted passes, fourth in the league. His 83.1 percent snap share was good for 6th in the league. Buckner capped his phenomenal season with a pro bowl alternate nod which is disappointing considering he deserved a nod regardless of an injury or super bowl participant. One shudders to think what this line and defense could look like with the addition of an edge rusher. Fingers crossed for Nick Bosa!

Mike McGlinchey

One thing was apparent all season with this team and scheme. The 49ers ran the ball very well and it’s in large part due to Shanahan and this offensive line, which graded as the second highest run blocking line according to PFF. That’s higher than a lot of big-name running games this year. McGlinchey himself was graded with the second highest run block grade in the NFL behind only Rod Havenstein of the Rams.

Take a look at Mike blocking downfield for a Raheem Mostert TD:

That sort of athleticism was viewed as a great fit for Shanahan’s scheme and has looked great on that end. With that being said, McGlinchey does need to improve his pass blocking a bit but a second year in the offense should be very helpful in his growth.

Richard Sherman

Coming off a major Achilles injury, teams and fans alike were skeptical of Sherman’s ability to look like his All-Pro self. He was able to prove all the doubters wrong.

The beginning of the season saw Sherman re-emerge as a stout corner. Early in the season, Sherman saw very few passes thrown his way. Through the first four games of the season, Richard was on the field for 146 snaps and allowed one reception for 18 yards. Part of it is because of his play and part of it is defenses picking on Akhello Witherspoon.

Feeling comfortable in Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme from his Seattle days, Sherm was a leader for this young defense. As evidenced with his ejection in Week 16 against the Bears, standing up for his teammate was the only goal for Sherman.

Saying that he has many years left in him is something that is much more believable after playing 12 games this season.

Sherman will return next season with a clean bill of health and has stated that this defense has a chance to be “very stingy” next season.

Matt Breida

In a big offseason move, the 49ers added Jerick Mckinnon from free agency and it was assumed he would handle the majority of the work in the backfield. Shanahan had visions of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the form of McKinnon and Breida. Jet’s ACL injury in minicamp opened the door for Breida, even with Alfred Morris getting pegged for playing time.

Breida responded this season, showing he can perform as a lead back and showing he’s undoubtedly one of the toughest guys in the league. Seriously, how many times did it look like Breida’s season was done with an in-game injury only to have him either return to the same game or next week. Health concerns will continue as he’s dealt with them his whole career but he played through something just about all year.

Breida drew a 90.1 receiving grade from PFF, which was the highest at the position and did not have a single drop. Only 6 running backs with 30 or more targets had 0 drops. His overall grade on the season was 76.1, which was good for 22nd at the position.

Week 2 vs Detroit

Breida showed explosion and decisiveness. Holes were there definitely but Breida showed great vision and burst in a game that he was leaned on heavily as the team needed a win. Breida was clocked as the fastest ball carrier in the league reaching a top speed of 22.09 miles per hour.

Week 10 vs New York

Matt has shown that he is a vital part of the offense and can be counted on to be featured going forward. There is a lot to like for the 23-year-old going in to 2019.

The 49ers are returning all 5 of these players next year, and should be primed for a comeback season in 2019!

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