San Francisco 49ers

Why Carlos Hyde is on the hot seat and other predictions for 49ers season

The Bee’s Matt Barrows’ predictions for the 49ers’ season:

Best-case scenario

Kyle Shanahan’s first season has a similar vibe to Jim Harbaugh’s inaugural campaign, which came in 2011. There’s a sense of rebirth and energy as well as a recognition that the 49ers must move quickly if they want to catch up to the rest of the league. Harbaugh’s squad caught opponents off guard early in 2011 and the current squad could do the same, especially given the national perception that the 49ers remain one of the league’s weaklings.

The 2017 49ers aren’t as talented, experienced or deep as their 2011 counterparts, and hosting the NFC championship game like Harbaugh did in Year One seems unrealistic. But there appears to be true momentum with the current bunch and Shanahan and general manager John Lynch seemed to bring in all the right people just as Harbaugh and Trent Baalke did six years ago. There was a bit of magic and a lot of luck that season. If the current squad has even a fraction of that, an 8-8 record isn’t out of the question.

Worst-case scenario

The preseason has revealed two flaws with the 49ers: Their interior blocking is shaky and their cornerbacks are inexperienced. A porous line, of course, could lead to injuries, especially to starting quarterback Brian Hoyer, whose career has been checkered with medical derailments. It also signals the zone-running game – the foundation of Shanahan’s offense – could struggle.

On defense, the 49ers’ top cornerback, Rashard Robinson, has been picked on in the preseason, which may be a harbinger of what happens this year. There’s very little experience behind him and fellow starter Dontae Johnson. If both areas wobble this season, it’s hard to see the 49ers winning any more than four or five games.

Breakout player

Marquise Goodwin has a track background and he nearly made it onto to the U.S. Olympic team in the long jump. Those skills make great offseason stories but they rarely make someone a great NFL receiver. Wideouts who are former track stars tend to be one-note – they’re good at running straight downfield as fast as they can. That seemed to be Goodwin’s story. He had a few nice seasons with the Buffalo Bills but never caught more than 29 passes in one season. He’s proven to be far more dynamic in 49ers practices.

Yes, he catches the deep ball. But he also has been prolific on dig routes, crossing routes, screen passes and anything else Kyle Shanahan has drawn up. It’s clear by his work ethic that Goodwin wants to be great. Couple that with a stronger-than-expected arm from Hoyer, and Goodwin stands the best chance of going from a guy that NFL fans might have heard of to someone they wished they drafted on their fantasy football squad.

Hot seat

Carlos Hyde’s roster spot, even his starting spot, seems assured in 2017. But what about beyond that? Hyde only is signed through this season and to this point he’s never been the franchise workhorse the 49ers expected when they selected him early in the second round in 2014. He has a chance to shine in Shanahan’s run-heavy offense. If he doesn’t or if he ends another season on injured reserve, he’ll likely become a free agent and the 49ers will turn to younger, smaller backs into stars.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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