We’ve rounded the far turn and are headed down the final stretch of the 2018 season. Let’s get to the first of the last three regular-season editions of our weekly mailbag:
Darius Taylor asks: We draft Bosa. Now what? Where do you see them going with the rest of the draft?
I don’t think it would be a bad idea to take multiple edge defenders early. You can never have too many, and you’re always an injury away from needing one.
At other spots: They could use linebackers at the “Sam” and “Will” positions to flank Fred Warner. They could use a receiver, given the uncertain status of Pierre Garçon, who will enter his 12th season as a 33-year-old coming off knee surgery.
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They’ll need reinforcements at cornerback. The 49ers would be wise to increase the competition there even though Ahkello Witherspoon has improved. And yes, they’re expecting Tarvarius Moore to make a big leap, but there’s little depth behind him, particularly with Jimmie Ward’s pending free agency (Ward might be better at safety, anyway). It won’t be too soon to start thinking about life without Richard Sherman.
The 49ers could also use another free safety since it seems clear D.J. Reed is a far more natural player in the slot, evident by his team-leading 12 tackles against the Broncos. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Reed assume the starting job at nickel over K’Waun Williams next season.
We still don’t know about Adrian Colbert as a sure-fire starter after he showed signs of regression before suffering his season-ending ankle injury. Seahawks star Earl Thomas will certainly be a popular name kicked around in San Francisco’s front office in free agency.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense could use a bruising running back. I know it’s not Shanahan’s style, but a physical runner like a LeGarrette Blount type could help significantly in the red zone and short-yardage situations. The injury concerns with smaller backs such as Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida could make that a priority, and it doesn’t look like Alfred Morris will have any guarantees at a big role.
Finally, perhaps they could use another interior lineman, maybe one who can play center. Right guard Mike Person is slated for free agency and is also the backup to center Weston Richburg. Next season will be Year 4 for Joshua Garnett, and he’s no guarantee to stick around.
Jeremy Seekings asks: Is Tarvarius Moore transitioning well to corner? Seems like he is a better fit at FS.
Moore hasn’t done enough to displace Witherspoon or Sherman, and it seems he’s been a long way from getting meaningful snaps since he was drafted.
After all, he’s moving from safety while making a huge leap from Southern Mississippi to the NFL. Shanahan was asked Dec. 3 if he wanted to increase Moore’s playing time.
“I would like to right now, but there’s only two corners out there so we’d have to sit down one of the other two and we don’t think that’s been right here the last few weeks. We’ve had a couple of packages to get him out there, some dime packages, which he’s done,” Shanahan said. “He’s really stepped it up on special teams this year. He’s got to work through some stuff out there, at corner. I’d like to get him that opportunity to work through it, just like Marcell (Harris) got his opportunity (against Seattle). I think Tarvarius will. I feel pretty strongly that he will.”
Perhaps Moore will get in at some point. Witherspoon is dealing with an ankle injury, and Sherman might be given Week 17 off as a courtesy.
Niner Fann asks: Is DJ Jones the starting NT next year?
I think there’s a strong chance. Jones played very well against the Broncos in his most extended action of the season. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded player on San Francisco’s defense, helping limit Denver to 3.8 yards per carry.
Jones is considered a very athletic nose tackle, but the team has favored Earl Mitchell for his veteran chops. Mitchell, along with Garçon and Malcolm Smith, could be a salary-cap casualty. He has roughly $9 million remaining on the four-year contract he signed in 2017, which isn’t terribly onerous, but it could be too much if Jones overtakes him on the depth chart.
The problem with moving on from Mitchell is the 49ers would need to find another nose tackle. That might be difficult with just six picks in the draft and their slew of needs elsewhere. Mitchell is a respected veteran in the locker room. Keeping him around wouldn’t hurt.
Zack Van Dyck asks: What is your projected starting defensive line next year? Where does Kentavius Street work into things? Do you think the regime feels confident in him and Julian Taylor to let other guys like Armstead, Blair and Day walk?
I’m willing to guess it looks something like this, assuming they draft Nick Bosa (from the defense’s right to left):
Base (running downs): Bosa, Jones, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead.
Sub (throwing downs): Bosa, Buckner/Sheldon Day, Solomon Thomas/Armstead, Cassius Marsh/Ronald Blair.
It looks like Armstead is going to come back, on his fifth-year option or a multi-year contract. Blair will be entering Year 4 and has quietly put together a nice season. His 5.5 sacks trail only Buckner’s 9. Marsh will be entering the last year of his two-year deal, but he might be under fire for his roster spot if the team adds multiple edge defenders.
Ben Yelin asks: How does a team screw up kneeling down three times to ice the game when the other team has no timeouts? Does the coaching staff appreciate how great of a blunder this was?
Second question first: Yes. Shanahan was not happy with the way the game ended Sunday.
The mistake was made by Nick Mullens, who took the final snap with seven seconds left on the play clock, when he should have snapped it at one, and then he kneeled far too early, allowing the Broncos to get the ball back.
“That was good, because he’ll learn it forever and it won’t happen again and it didn’t cost us the game,” Shanahan said.
J. Patel asks: How would you describe the current state of the 49ers as a food dish?
They’re the brisket you put in the smoker overnight which, in this case, is an offseason (don’t forget to trim some of the fat before eating, which is another team-building metaphor).