The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
I had the opportunity to ask David Fucillo of Niners Nation some questions about his favorite team, and the upcoming game between the San Fransisco team and our Washington Redskins at FedEx Field this Sunday. His answers are detailed and enlightening.
You’ll notice that he spends a lot of time talking about
his our quarterback, Kirk Cousins. One fan base or the other (or maybe both!) will be in for a let down next year.
1. Okay, let’s get this one on the table. Who will be the San Fransisco quarterback in 2018?
Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen?
C.J. Beathard or Brian Hoyer?
I can say with confidence that I really don't know.
If Kirk Cousins hits unrestricted free agency next spring, I would say the odds are high John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan back up the Brink's truck with all the cap space. It seems almost too obvious at this point, but with the cap space and draft picks they'll have, it would give the 49ers a chance to sign their franchise QB and then spend their likely top-five pick on another impact player.
But what if Cousins is franchised again, re-signs with Washington, or just lands anywhere else?
In that case, it seems like we would see the 49ers invest in the 2018 QB draft class, but that's certainly no sure thing at this point. If the 49ers do draft one of the QB prospects, then it becomes a question of whether or not that QB starts right away. My guess is that guy would start, given the additional investment that would likely happen on offense. The 49ers offense is bad right now, but they have some useful pieces to build around, including an offensive line that has not been all that awful. In many ways, it would make sense to start the rookie right away.
The other option comes along if they think C.J. Beathard deserves a chance. They traded up into the back of the third round to snag Beathard, with Shanahan saying Beathard was the only quarterback that really truly intrigued him. I think this is the least likely option, but it's certainly possible.
2. While most NFL fans think of Kyle Shanahan as the ex-Falcons OC, Redskins fans, of course, know him from his four years running the Washington offense, and we still take interest in his career. After the 0-5 start, how are SF fans feeling about the new coach and GM?
The 49ers are winless, but they have lost their last four games by a combined 11 points. They're only the second team in the Super Bowl era to lose four straight games by three points or less.
Most fans came into this season recognizing it was the early stages of a rebuilding process. With that in mind, losing competitive games the past month has offered a certain amount of optimism. When you lose games by a field goal or less, you can point to small things that, had they gone the other way, would have the team winning. The 49ers are not good enough to overcome these mistakes, but that comes with the rebuilding process.
The 49ers brought in an offensive-minded head coach, but have a GM who spent his career on defense. The draft saw a focus on the defensive side of the ball, and that has borne fruit out on the field. The defense switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3, implementing some of the philosophies the Seattle Seahawks have used. Defensively, the 49ers are doing particularly well against the run, but struggling with consistency against the pass. They don't have that clear young No. 1 pass rusher, and their cornerbacks are very inconsistent. It shows up in a defense that makes big plays, but also gives up its share of big plays.
On offense, it really comes down to the quarterback position. The team clearly was looking to next year when they decided to sign Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, so the real judgment of ShanaLynch will happen next year.
I don't know what their plans are at the QB position, but next year will give us a lot more insight. Whether they think CJ Beathard is the answer, Kirk Cousins is available, or next year's draft class is where it's at, we'll have a better handle on where the offense is going. I think most people are withholding more significant judgment until then.
3. In the Week 5 game, it seemed like the SF running backs were used differently. Can you explain what’s going on there?
Kyle Shanahan has described it as going with the "hot hand."
The 49ers signed Matt Breida as an undrafted free agent this past spring, and he has impressed. His running skills are solid, having averaged 4.9 yards per carry on Sunday, and exactly four for the season on 30 carries. However, just as important (if not more so), he has been a very effective blocker in the passing game. Rookie running backs can lose playing time because of that, but Breida has stepped up.
What this means moving forward for him and Carlos Hyde is tough to tell. Hyde is a free agent after this season, so a transition away from him would not be entirely shocking. Hyde is a very good running back who has struggled to stay healthy. He is generally productive when healthy, but when you can't stay on the field for health reasons, it's hard to justify a long-term contract extension. Hyde suffered a hip injury two weeks ago, but both Shanahan and Hyde denied the decrease in playing time was due to that injury.
All of this is to say, I don't really know what to expect moving forward. My guess is Hyde gets more carries this week, but at this point, that's just a guess. It's a tough situation to figure out.
4. Can you give us two under-the-radar players to watch for that we probably don't know about (one offense, one defense)?
Since we discussed Matt Breida already, look out for rookie tight end George Kittle. He has solid blocking skills, but is a guy who can work as a move tight end. He is coming off his biggest game of the season, catching seven passes on nine targets for 83 yards and his first career touchdown. The 49ers have struggled to get their offense going with any consistency, but Kittle could be a guy who builds that underneath game. He's not going to stretch the field, but has done great work getting yards after the catch.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has quietly turned into a very solid veteran addition. The focus is on second year DT DeForest Buckner, third year DL Arik Armstead, and rookie DL Solomon Thomas, but Mitchell is quietly making plays. He is primarily a run stuffer, but he has shown an ability to get into the backfield. The 49ers will use extensive rotation on their defensive line, but I wouldn't be surprised if Washington saw a solid amount of Mitchell.
5. If things don’t change significantly in the coming weeks, San Fran may well have a strong draft position. Being as specific as you can in mid-October, what player or position do you expect John Lynch to target in the first round or two of the ’18 draft?
Quarterback is the obvious choice for the 49ers. They have Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard on the roster. Hoyer has shown some glimpses of solid play, but he's never going to be a guy who can consistently make plays for you. He is simply not the long-term answer, and if Kirk Cousins is not available, investing that first round pick on a QB makes a lot of sense.
Where it gets interesting is the fact that the 49ers have two second round picks and two third round picks. The 49ers have plenty of holes to fill, and if they do want a quarterback, a potentially deep class offers them other options. For example, maybe the 49ers draft another position with their top pick, and then package some of their second and third round picks to move into the back end of the first round? Or even wait for a QB to slip into the second round since the 49ers will likely have one of the top few picks of that round?
Aside from quarterback, the 49ers have several notable needs. They need a top tier pass rusher and cornerback, both of which could be had early in the first round. I think we see them investing early in the pass defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, left tackle Joe Staley is getting up there in age, but I don't think they will move away from him quite yet. I could see them instead investing in a guard to shore up the offensive line.
Carlos Hyde is hitting free agency, so Penn State running back Saquon Barkley high in the first round is certainly intriguing. Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner generally seem to find gems in the later rounds, but I suppose it depends on how much they might like Barkley.
And while Pierre Garçon is a standout option, the 49ers need some depth at wide receiver.
If we want to go with predictions, I'll offer these two options
1. Sign Kirk Cousins: Draft a pass rusher, wide receiver, and CB in the first two rounds
2. Don't sign Kirk Cousins: Draft a QB, pass rusher, and wide receiver in the first two rounds
Thanks to David for the detailed and insightful answers. As always, we’re hoping for an injury-free and entertaining game.
Question 1: Who was the better offensive coordinator in Washington?
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Question 2: Who will have the more successful head coaching career?
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