The 49ers lost another game, but who freaking cares, right? We all knew they would lose again, even though the Seahawks gave up in the fourth quarter and put in their backup quarterback with nine minutes left. The Niners still couldn’t beat them. So, forget this game. Let’s take a step back and grade the entire 2016 season.
QUARTERBACK: D-plus. Colin Kaepernick transformed himself from a one-read, inaccurate, aggressive downfield passer who really would rather run the ball into a one-read, inaccurate, conservative check-down Charlie who really would rather run the ball. What an amazing transformation. Kaepernick is the most interesting bad quarterback of all time. I salute him for that.
RUNNING BACK: B-plus. Carlos Hyde carried the ball a career-high 217 times and averaged 4.6 yards per rush – 11th best in the league. But, he also missed a game during the middle of the season with a shoulder injury and missed the final two games with a torn MCL. He’s too injury-prone to depend on. The 49ers need another talented running back.
WIDE RECEIVER: C. Torrey Smith, Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater all are decent wide receivers the coaching staff either misused or underutilized. They should have had better seasons. Quinton Patton, who started all 14 games he appeared in, never should have played at all. He’s terrible.
TIGHT END: B. Vance McDonald is a promising young tight end who led the team in touchdown catches with four and averaged 16.3 yards per reception – 10th best among NFL tight ends. He also missed five games with injuries.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+. Gave up 42 sacks, which is a lot, but many of those sacks were the result of Kaepernick holding the ball too long or running into pressure or sliding to the ground in the pocket and sacking himself. In the run game, this group was effective, especially right tackle Trent Brown who may be a Pro Bowler down the line.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C. These guys were flat-out awful the first-eight games of the season. That’s when the coaches made them play a two-gap defense, meaning they had to passively hold their ground while trying to catch the offensive linemen directly in front of them. But during the second half of the season, they improved after the coaches finally let them play a one-gap defense and aggressively penetrate the opponent’s backfield. Rookie DeForest Buckner will be effective for a long time as long as he plays in a one-gap defense.
LINEBACKERS: F. Four inside linebackers ended the season on the Injured Reserve List, and the team’s top pass-rusher – Aaron Lynch – was fat and slow when he wasn’t missing games due to suspension or injury. Can’t depend on him.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D. Strong safety Antoine Bethea should retire, and so should free safety Eric Reid, who seemed timid before tearing his bicep and missing the final six games. Young cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Jimmie Ward played well at times, although both suffered multiple injuries and, like the other young promising players on the roster, don’t seem durable enough to count on for the future.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C. Inconsistent in every way. The team must find a new kicker, plus a new kick-returner and punt-returner for next season.
COACH: F. Chip Kelly took over a five-win team and underachieved. He also created a culture that accepts losing, led practices that were half-hearted and silent, allowed raucous singing and laughter in the locker room during a 14-loss season, groomed players who improved more at ping pong and corn hole than football, assembled a coaching staff that doesn’t know what gap integrity is, implemented an offensive scheme that tires out his own players on both offense and defense, made excuses instead of halftime adjustments, specialized in blowing early leads, never learned the value of huddling and showed he’s just not fit to coach in the NFL. He deserved to get fired.
GENERAL MANAGER: F. Only one year after hiring Jim Tomsula – one of the worst head coaches in league history – Trent Baalke hired Chip Kelly, who was even worse that Tomsula. That’s Baalke’s legacy – the man who hired two of the worst head coaches ever. He’s also the man who alienated Jim Harbaugh, the best head coach the 49ers have had since George Seifert. And he’s the man who could have replaced Harbaugh with Adam Gase, but reportedly decided against it presumably because he wanted to be the star of the franchise and didn’t want to compete with another high-profile head coach. And he’s the man who couldn’t draft to save his life or sign big-name free agents. He deserved to get fired.
CEO: F. Jed York fired Trent Baalke at least three years too late, which cost the franchise Jim Harbaugh and at least $30 million on replacement coaches who each lasted just one season before getting the ax. York deserves to get the ax as well, although he probably never will. What a shame.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.