2023 San Francisco 49ers Offseason Preview
After sitting Trey Lance for a season and seeing Jimmy Garoppolo once again reach his ceiling, the 49ers were ready to break through that barrier with their uber-athletic quarterback as the new starter. Lance's reign only lasted two games before he suffered a fractured ankle. Garoppolo then took over and did the thing where he impresses no one but has one of the best statistical profiles of any quarterback. He also got hurt, paving the way for Mr. Irrelevant of the 2022 NFL Draft to take over. Brock Purdy rattled off five straight wins as a starter in the regular season and another two in the playoffs. Seemingly cursed, both Purdy and Josh Johnson were then injured in the NFC Championship. Purdy played through a UCL injury but could hardly throw the football. The Eagles made quick work of their quarterback-less opponents.
Key Offensive Stats
Points per game: 26.5 (6th)
EPA per play: 0.08 (4th)
Dropback EPA per play: 0.17 (4th)
Passing yards per game: 226.8 (13th)
Rush EPA per play: -0.02 (11th)
Rush yards per game: 138.8 (8th)
Injuries and one major trade chopped up the 49ers' season into a bunch of small segments. In his two games, Lance struggled with accuracy issues again. He ranked 61st in completion percent over expected and 50th in EPA per play among quarterbacks with at least 50 dropbacks. Garoppolo and Purdy were far better, ranking third and fourth in EPA per play. A testament to Kyle Shanahan's ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks, the duo ranked 21st and 13th in Pro Football Focus's passing grade. George Kittle's role in the passing game declined in 2022 and Deebo Samuel missed four games, allowing Brandon Aiyuk to pace the team with 1,015 receiving yards. Christian McCaffrey, acquired midway through the season, racked up 1,210 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns in just 11 games as a 49er.
Key Defensive Stats
Points per game: 16.3 (1st)
EPA per play: -0.11 (1st)
Dropback EPA per play: -0.08 (2nd)
Passing yards per game: 222.9 (20th)
Rush EPA per play: -0.17 (2nd)
Rush yards per game: 77.7 (2nd)
San Francisco's offense was great, but the defense was otherworldly. They were one of just three teams in the past decade to rank top-two in rush and pass EPA. Nick Bosa was the start of the show once again, racking up 18.5 sacks and 19 TFLs en route to his first Defensive Player of the Year award. Safeties Tashaun Gipson and Talanoa Hufanga combined for nine interceptions. Hufanga added two sacks and five TFLs before being names First-Team All-Pro. Jimmie Ward, now playing slot corner, and Charvarius Ward tied for sixth in PFF's cornerback rankings. Top to bottom, this was the best defense in the league in 2022.
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Draft Picks (Top-150)
99th, 101st, and 102nd
Notable Free Agents
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, DB Jimmie Ward, EDGE Samson Ebukam, RT Mike McGlinchey, S Tashaun Gipson, K Robbie Gould, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, and C Jake Brendel
McCaffrey is the only player on the roster who, if cut, saves the 49ers more than $2.1 million dollars. They are obviously not releasing him, meaning anyone axed in the offseason won't materially change their cap situation. Instead, expect the team to restructure a number of contracts, including those of McCaffrey, Kittle, and Fred Warner.
Second-year corner Deommodore Lenoir was thrust into a starting role last year and survived but was a weak link in the lineup. General manager John Lynch has indicated Jimmie Ward wants to play safety again, likely leaving a hole at slot corner as well.
Jake Brendel played nearly every offensive snap for the 49ers at center and is a free agent. The 49ers' interior linemen were unsurprisingly outclassed by the tackles last year, but both guards are young and on rookie contracts. Letting them develop while spending the savings elsewhere should be the plan.
This need will likely be addressed in free agency. Gipson can be re-signed and remain in his role or Ward can be brought back with a return to safety in mind.
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Kyle Shanahan has been exporting his coaches to better positions throughout the league for years, so losing some major names from his staff will be survivable. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans left to be the next head coach of the Houston Texans. Ryans took pass game coordinator Bobby Slowik with him to be the Texans' next offensive coordinator. Former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was hired to replace Ryans while former Broncos passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak will take over for Slowik. Wilks excelled in Carolina and is a logical replacement for Ryans. Kubiak's hiring is far stranger as the quarterback play and passing game were laughable in Denver last year. Given Shanahan's track record on offense, Kubiak joining the roster isn't a concern.
The 49ers are in the unfortunate position of needing to look for a quarterback despite having a first-round pick and a promising late-round selection on the roster. The timeline on Purdy's return to action is murky, but the best guess has him back around the start of the season. That wouldn't see him throw a football until June and he would likely get few or no reps with the starters ahead of Week 1. Lance, on the other hand, should be back from his injury for the team's offseason program. He hasn't played well in his very limited opportunities in the NFL, putting the 49ers in the market for a veteran quarterback to back him up during the summer and possibly into the season. If the 49ers can skate by on Lance and a cheap veteran for a few weeks, they will have an obvious ripcord to pull if their first-rounder continues to underperform.