Niners Live has been there from the start of training camp to give you a breakdown of the 2017 San Francisco 49ers’ roster. Now that the roster has been revealed, we will examine each unit and give you the trends, show you how youth is best served and what this will signal for the future of the franchise.
Football is a young man’s game and it’s the prevailing philosophy of most of the NFL’s 32 teams. General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan have taken the challenge head on to bring the 49ers back to prominence over a period of six seasons. Important to note: Out of 53 players, 37 are 26 or younger (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle). Let’s examine how they intend to do this, using their bold philosophy.
49ers OFFENSIVE LINE, a Need for a Changing of the Guard
I’m going to be blunt here: When your running game has been non-existent, there is a problem. The average age of the starting offensive line is 28, and four of the five starters are 29 years of age or older. Trent Brown, age 22, is by default the baby of the bunch. This unit needs an infusion of young and fresh blood, which means backups like Erik Magnuson, newly acquired guard Laken Tomlinson, backup tackles John Theus and Garry Gilliam, all of whom are 26 years old or younger; could see action this season. Expect a mass overhaul this offseason, which means outside of Brown, no one is safe, not even Joe Staley.
49ers RUNNING BACKS
Hard to imagine that after three seasons, Carlos Hyde is the senior-most member of this unit; but that is, in fact, true. Being multi-faceted at the position is key, as Matt Breida aka “Mr. He-Gone” and Raheem Mostert round out this unit. The average age of this group is 25, which means this unit has a chance to gel over numerous seasons.
How important is that under a Kyle Shanahan coached team guided by Running Backs Coach Bobby Turner? Let’s consider what they did over two seasons with a young but deadly Atlanta Falcons backfield, who currently average 24 years of age. The ability to keep a rotation of fresh backs in play was a strength of the unit, and fans can expect a similar style by the 49ers this season.
Brief side notes: The San Francisco 49ers announced on Monday that they have signed running back Jeremy McNichols to the team’s practice squad (via the team’s website). TE Logan Paulsen has already been re-signed, the 49ers announced. Ronald Blair goes on injured reserve short term (via Matt Maiocco).
Kyle Juszczyk, the Ultimate Weapon
At 6’1” 240 lbs., Kyle “Juice” Juszczyk is bound to be a favorite of the 49er Faithful. Not only can he serve as the lead fullback, but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and downfield gives the 49ers a matchup advantage basically every time they snap the football. At age 26 and entering his fifth season, “Juice” is just beginning to enter his prime.
49ers QUARTERBACKS: A Tale of Youth vs. Experience
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan decided he needed only two signal callers this season. Much has been made about his decision to bring over journeyman Brian Hoyer to run the offense this season. Eyebrows were also raised when Shanahan drafted eventual rookie backup C.J. Beathard (23) in the third round by saying, “He was the only quarterback I considered in the draft.” The similarities to Joe Montana’s situation during the seasons of ‘79 and ‘80 are uncanny. I don’t need to remind you that history was kind to the franchise on that front.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Perhaps no other units signal the youth movement quite like the wide receivers and tight ends as the average age of these units is 26. While the spots for Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson were never in doubt, there is tremendous upside with Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne and Victor Bolden Jr., as neither receiver is over 23 years old. This unit has the potential to really blossom over the next couple of seasons. With regards to tight ends, there is a need for more youth at the position. While rookie George Kittle is the number one tight end; Logan Paulsen (30) is looked to as mostly a blocking tight end and veteran Garrett Celek (29), is not seen as a threat to linebackers or safeties.
49ers Defensive Front Four
With DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell, Tank Carradine and Arik Armstead serving as the starting front four, the average age is 25.5. The youth movement continues with Solomon Thomas (22) and Ronald Blair (24) among others, while Elvis Dumervil is the elder statesmen of the group at 33. Look for contributions from D.J. Jones (22), Aaron Lynch (26), and rookie Pita Taumonepenu (23) among others. Again, the emphasis is to get younger at the starter roles.
49ers Middle/Outside Linebackers
Now, what I’m about to say is going to make a few of the 49er Faithful upset, but the clock is ticking on Navorro Bowman. First, he is 29 years old, which is normally the peak of an athlete’s performance. Second, he is coming back after two straight seasons of injuries and many people see Reuben “Ferrari” Foster (23) as his heir apparent. The average age of this unit is 26, which makes Bowman and Dekoda Watson the oldest members. It’s not a matter of if, but rather, how and when, Mon5t3r will be gone.
Being young at the cornerback position is a must, as well as having a short-term memory and dog mentality. This best describes the starters Rashard Robinson (22) and Dontae Johnson, (25) years old. K’Waun Williams is only 26 years old and just entering the prime of his career. If you combine Akhello Witherspoon (22) and Keith Reaser (26), the average age of the corners is just 24 years of age, which means plenty of growing pains, but the potential to ultimately be a force for years to come. Eric Reid (25), who has begun a new career of sorts in switching to Box Safety, and converted free safety Jimmie Ward (26) lead the safeties. Jaquiski Tartt (25) Adrian Colbert (23) and Lorenzo Jerome (22) round out the unit, which averages 23.6 years of age.
This is probably the only area, where experience may outshine youth as Kicker Robbie Gould (34) is entering his 13th NFL Season. Long Snapper Kyle Nelson (30) will be in his 7th season and Punter Bradley Pinion (23) will begin his 3rd year.
KEEP IN MIND:
The average age of an NFL roster is 26.81 years of age. With a total of 14 rookies, the 49ers are tied for the 10th youngest team at 25.76 years of age with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions (via Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice). The Los Angeles Rams are the youngest team in the NFC West at 25.09 years of age, while the Arizona Cardinals are the NFL’s oldest team at 27.28. The Cleveland Browns have the youngest roster at 24.24 years of age. The Seattle Seahawks are close behind the 49ers, with the 13th youngest roster at 25.83 years of age. In other words, don’t get too attached to your old favorites as this entire season is an audition for next season. Those who perform will be back for the long haul and those who cannot, will be gone. No contract, no past honors makes a player safe; because while experience counts for a lot, today’s trend calls for teams to get younger.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author and new Staff Writer @NinersLive.net, David Edmondson. Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims