49ers mailbag: How much longer until we see the rookies?

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson (20) is called for defensive pass interference on San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (6) in the second quarter during an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021 in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham)

The San Francisco 49ers (3-5) are on the verge of the fourth losing season in five years under the leadership of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. What better way to get a feel for the pulse of the fan base than to take some questions?

Here is the first edition of 49ers mailbag. If all goes well this will become a weekly feature.

This highlights one of the issues between the actions of the team and those outside the organization. The 49ers clearly don’t feel like the season is over. They are currently only one game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC and have games against all but one team ahead of them on the schedule.

With regards to seeing more or the rookies playing, this goes back to the playoff positioning. As long as the 49ers feel they have a chance the likelihood rookies like Banks getting in is slim.

There’s not a lot the 49ers can do at this point to improve their secondary, however one move they should make is going back to Deommodore Lenoir opposite Emmanuel Moseley. The rookie played fine when in the starting lineup the first two weeks of the season, however he would be benched in favor of veteran Josh Norman for the Green Bay game and now is seemingly behind Dre Kirkpatrick on the depth chart, another off the street free agent signing.

The only reason I can come up with for Lenoir’s fall from grace is his mistakes in coverage at the end of the Green Bay game when he had to replace Norman. 

I feel that Garoppolo played the better game against Arizona, especially in the first half. He moved the team well throughout the first half, but drops from Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, along with fumbles from Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk hurt the offense.

The turnovers coupled with the defenses inability to stop Arizona turned the game into a blowout by the midpoint of the third quarter.

He should. Since the York family took over the 49ers, Jim Harbaugh was their most successful head coach with a record of 44-19-1 and Jed ran him out of town in favor of Trent Baalke. The two seasons that followed resulted in seven wins.

Following the 2016 season the 49ers were at an all-time low and York needed to make a splash to energize the fan base. The shiny new toy on the market that offseason was Kyle Shanahan. His offense had just lit up the NFL, and his name was the hottest on the market.

What York and most 49ers fans missed was Shanahan’s track record of failure. While often heralded as an offensive genius, Shanahan’s offenses had managed to score in the top half of the league only three times in nine seasons as an offensive coordinator. That trend has continued in San Francisco, where the 49ers offense has reached that level only one time in five seasons.

The biggest overreaction has been to the quarterback situation when they should have been paying attention to the defense and lack of execution from the best players.

While everyone has been arguing about whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance should be starting, the 49ers defense has struggled, allowed 22 points or more in six of the first eight games. They miss the presence of DeForest Buckner in the middle of the line and his leadership in the locker room.

This offseason the 49ers made Fred Warner the highest paid linebacker in football. Through the first eight weeks of the season, he has not looked good. Warner has struggled to step up and stop the run on a consistent basis, and his pass coverage has slipped as well.

On the offensive side of the ball, George Kittle has once again missed games due to injury. Even when he’s played his impact has been minimal. In week one a muffed onside kick allowed Detroit to hang around, and last week against Arizona his fumble began the mistakes in a big game. He did end the first half with a touchdown however, his first in over 365 days.

Deebo Samuel is having a career year with close to 900 receiving yards, but he leads the NFL in drops with 10 on 81 targets. Yes, he makes spectacular plays, but the drops cause hurt the flow of the offense. We saw this early against Arizona when a drop on 2nd and 15 forced a 3rd and 15 instead of 3rd and 5. Samuel also has two fumbles on the season. His first coming late against Detroit ended up not hurting San Francisco, however his second against Indianapolis led to a Colts touchdown that gave them a lead the 49ers would not be able to overcome.

And finally, Brandon Aiyuk. After spending the first six weeks in football Siberia, otherwise known as Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse, the second-year receiver has been given opportunities the last two weeks and has made some spectacular catches. Unfortunately, one of those spectacular catches would result in Aiyuk fumbling the ball away deep in the Arizona redzone and taking points away from the 49ers.

This article has 41 Comments

  1. Really like the mailbag format. All great questions most fans are curious about. So much I want to say. but I’ll keep it to rookies and DBs. Not sure Lenoir will ever be back as a starter. He started out hot but he has the same issue as Hufanga. He just doesnt have the speed to keep up with NFL WRs. He’s a liability now that teams have figured him out. Other than Trey Lance I really don’t think any other rookie has earned playing time. Banks was a bad pick. Ambry Thomas is a ghost. And Sermon has no field vision. Everyone can say it’s too early to tell and their probably right but all evidence we’ve seen so far points to a terrible draft class once you take Trey Lance out of the discussion.

    In terms of the secondary, it’s all about drafting in my opinion. Since Shanahan and Lynch have arrived, they’ve drafted 9 defensive backs. Those players have account for 6 interceptions in 5 years (2 for DJ Reed, 4 for Ahkello W). Those players have been in 0 Pro Bowls. The highest picks among the 9 were all in the 3rd round – Ambry Thomas, Tarvarius Moore, and Ahkello Witherspoon. During the ShanaLynch era the 49ers have had 10 picks in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft. They’ve selected 6 offensive players and 4 defensive players. On the defensive side they’ve selected 3 D-lineman and 1 LBer. In my opinion, the 49ers have not put any value whatsoever into the secondary. That is why we are seeing issues in the secondary that really aren’t going to be fixed in the short term.

  2. Looking forward to fan reaction when Colton McKivitz gets called up from the PS and earns playing time before Aaron Banks.

  3. In 2017, the 49ers traded the 34th pick and the 111th pick in the draft to move up to 31 to select Reuben Foster. If they kept those 2 picks the 49ers could have selected Budda Baker and Eddie Jackson. Those 2 players have 14 interceptions and 4 Pro Bowls. More than double the INTs than every 49er draft pick combined and the exact same number of Pro Bowls of the 40 players selected in the Shanahan era.

    1. Great find Patriot! I feel like this team has invested heavily in offense via the draft. I look for them to bolster this defensive group this off season.

      Heading into 2022 I don’t see any major holes offensively for this team besides RG and maybe WR3 do you?

      1. James,

        I would say RG and Center are the 2 most glaring areas of weakness on offense. I’m sure people will destroy me for this but I think the 49ers also need another RB. If you just go back to that 2017 draft the 49ers could have picked up Dalvin Cook or Joe Mixon in the 2nd round or even Alvin Kamara in the 3rd round. Dynamic RBs like that would be incredible in this offense. Instead of trading for Reuben Foster, the 49ers could have had a Pro Bowl RB. They decided to trade up for Joe Williams in the 4th round–!!– Elijah Mitchell is good but he’s not Kamara, Cook, or Mixon. Other than Elijah Mitchell, the other RBs on the current 49ers roster are just guys. So many backups in the NFL just like them. The other area on offense, and I think this is really important, is the 49ers must find a speed merchant that can take the top off the defense for a 3rd WR. I wouldn’t call him a WR3. I’d call him a WR1C. Someone similar to maybe Tyreek Hill, Will Fuller, or Calvin Ridley. Aiyuk and Deebo are a very solid pair of WRs but it’s obvious defenses are sitting on their routes with no fear of a deep shot. Cardinals don’t go with 6 D-lineman if they are worried the 49ers are going to make them pay by hitting a few home runs over the top against single coverage. #1 goal MUST be fixing the interior O-line and then RB or WR1C. After the pick of Aaron Banks I have zero faith in the 49ers scouting department to draft good offensive lineman.

        1. I agree about the WR1C!!!

          They had Goodwin at the beginning of 2019. Teams put on the footage of 2018 and 2019 and saw how many down field grabs Goodwin made and it changed this offense because teams had to respect us.

          That is a must, there is so many speed guys we could get.

  4. Hey Jack,

    What do you make of the two defensive trends around the NFL? It’s seems like there is the cover 2 shell for the teams that struggle to run the ball and want to throw it deep. Then there is the 6 man defensive line against the teams that want to run and don’t excel at throwing it deep.

      1. Which means you have to have lineman who can “do more than one thing”. The ship has sailed on the belief that KS can trick defenses to not take advantage of our overall poor pass protection IMHO.
        I think the Cardinals proved that last week.

        1. The 49ers have been solid against the pass this year.

          Look at the Rams offensive line! Whitworth turns 40 in a few weeks, that is their starting LT. Everyone else on that line is average at best.

          Jimmy just has to show the ability to move the ball down field and those heavy fronts will go away. He did it last week but the two fumbles messed up the game-plan, especially the first 1.

          1. Kshan handling of the Garoppolo situation is a huge FAIL.

            Who in their right minds will do a good job knowing you will lose your job at the end of the year? –

            especially when the coach keeps talking about how they thought of signing Tom Brady, Rogers, Stafford…..after you took the team to the SB……..wtf – why did anyone think JimmyG was going to play well this season?

    1. I know Kyle said he didn’t call as many run plays as pass plays because the Cards were playing 6 d-lineman but I really hate that Kyle let the Cards defense dictate his game plan. Even with a 6 man front, Elijah Mitchell still averaged 4.5 yards per rush. Hell, if you see 6 d-lineman on the field why not go to a 4 WR set and spread those guys sideline to sideline and then let those D-lineman try to chase down Elijah Mitchell? Cards used 4 WR sets multiple times earlier in the year with amazing success. I understand the turnovers caused a lot of the issues with scoring but to only score 7 points by halftime and only 17 points in the game when the defense is playing a strategically unsound game plan is absurd. Keep running the ball. One small crease against a 6 man line is a big play. Speaking of big plays, where were the 49ers big plays? Kittle had a 29 yard play, Aiyuk had a 22 yard play, and Deebo had a 32 yard play but they didn’t put those plays in the end zone. Conner had a 45 yard touchdown reception. You’ve got to hit big plays when the defense is set up like that. Was there even 1 attempt to hit a deep shot like McCoy hit on with Kirk?

  5. As Shanahan said, they won’t put in rookies who aren’t ready until they are mathematically eliminated. It does sound like Banks is getting closer.

    As for Shanahan’s record of failure, it has more to do with the teams he’s been on. Even with the Niners, in only 1 year did he have a starting quarterback who was healthy and they went to the Super Bowl. Your sounding more and more like Cohen.

    Our top three offensive threats who you mentioned have made mistakes but they are still very good players. Actually I don’t know if there is a player who doesn’t sometimes makes mistakes.

    The obvious problem is the defense. They were darn good last year and sporadic this year. Injuries play a big part but when guys appear to not be giving it there all, you have to look at the DC. Something is wrong there. Yes they miss Buckner but they like having , Armstead, Kinlaw, Ward and Aiyuk.

    1. Drafting Kinlaw has really paid off for them. Probably could have drafted Aiyuk at 31, and if he was gone Tee Higgins would have been just as good.

    2. I agree Jerry. The DC is definitely a problem and the loss of Saleh is huge. Losing Buckner wasn’t ideal but the defense played without him last year along with many other frontline players and still competed at a much higher level than the current defense. The fact they couldn’t adjust to the tricky Cardinal plan of running the ball and throwing check downs/screens is very concerning.

  6. Too soon to rate Kinlaw. The rest is probably and Maybe. In any case this isn’t the reason for the poor defense this year since Buckner wasn’t on the team last year and they were very good.

  7. Looks like the Rams are finalizing the acquisition of Odell B. Niners on the other hand landed WR FA Sanu in the offseason. Is it any wonder we are terrible. Also, is it weird that Kyle has tunnel vision for former Skins and Falcons.

    1. Kyle wanted Odell a couple years ago but they couldn’t get him. They may have tried again early last year. Cleveland was never willing to part with him for anything reasonable.

      On the other hand the Rams owner has an immense amount of pressure on him to win the Big One, or in lieu of, build a team that is right there at the end in the hunt for multiple years. And by being in the hunt I mean NFC Championship game or better. Honestly I’m not sure if anything short of a Lombardi Trophy is going to be viewed as a success.

      Why? Because they spent $5B (privately funded) to build SoFi stadium. That stadium alone costs more by itself than 30 other NFL franchises are worth right now.

      Kroenke built an amazing stadium- it is absolutely beautiful. But along with that comes the pressure of building a winner and momentum early to ensure the stadium itself is marketable for years to come.

      The Rams have a much much much more incentive to win now than anyone else. If they fail, this whole investment could end up sinking that Kroenke family.

      That doesn’t even take into account that Kroenke is in super hot water right now- embroiled in the City of St. Louis lawsuit (they are seeking > $1B in damages and just turned down Kroenke’s first offer of $100M settlement). Furthermore, Kroenke promised to cover the other owners’ legal fees in this lawsuit and in their last meetings he went back on his word and no longer intends to cover these fees. The league (the owners) which previously were very supportive are now mad as hell at what just occurred.

      Given all of the above it makes sense the Rams do everything and anything to win and win now. Sacrifice the future, whatever. If they don’t win it’s a huge net loss for them. And let’s be honest, the losses will manifest in multiple areas for the Kroenkes.

      Now back to Shanny- he’s a lousy head coach. Until he proves he can consistently win, his record speaks for himself. But I have a hard time comparing him unfavorably to what the Rams are doing. Two completely different scenarios right now. Plus, why bring in a malcontent when you’re having a hard time getting the guys that are here to buy in and put forth their best effort and concentration?

      1. It was also said the rams were mortgaging their future in the Jalen Ramsey deal, but their future looks pretty bright. Shanahan is a better coach than McVay- see head to head record. McVay has a significantly more talented roster. The talent abyss has caught up to the Niners.

      2. bring him in because he is the speed receiver we dont have. he cant be any worse in the locker room than idiot cornerback that got the taunting penalty while losing the game

  8. OBJ to Rams – hmmm – it’s all quiet in ninerland

    One card Kshan has in his pocket is always beating the rams – from my fan-side that alone keeps him off the hot seat.

    on MNF we will find out if Kshan has really regressed and the process of building through draft picks is a waste of time if you want to win now.

  9. Shanahan has always said that they want to make moves that improve the team but not at the expense of the future. I certainly agree with that strategy. It appears that the Rams are all or nothing this year. I wonder what the deal was for him as they claimed not to have any cap space. With so many aging stars they will be rebuilding soon IMO.

    1. I’m not so sure. Isn’t giving up a “net” future two first round picks and a third for an unproven, raw college QB mortgaging the future. Don’t get me wrong, I wish Trey all the best and a successful career, but it’s a big gamble.

        1. That’s an indictment of the drafting process because 1st round prospects should absolutely pan out at a fairly high rate. Further, even if we accept that the 49ers have a much lower success rate at successfully drafting first round picks, first round picks hold a large amount of trade value that cannot be ignored.

          1. That’s true. Look at the Rams for example. Their last first round pick was Jared Goff in 2016. Since then, they’ve traded away their first rounders for proven veterans.

  10. Niners release 3rd round pick Hurd. Rams get high quality talent. Niners acquire mediocre injury prone FA : Ford, Kwon, Ekuban, Sanu, Mack (Alex not Khalil)

    Matt Barrows
    Rams sign WR Odell Beckham Jr.
    49ers cut WR Jalen Hurd.

    That sorta sums up where these organizations are right now.

    1. absolutely both von miller and obj would have helped this team. i know we dont have the cap space we dont want to give up draft picks blah blah blah. meanwhile the Rams are hunting the super bowl and we are trying, no hoping to get to .500 something must change

  11. Rams definitely going all in but I still don’t think they will make it to the Superbowl even with Von Miller and OBJ. Nothing to back up my opinion. I just don’t even think the Rams will make it to the NFCCG. The biggest thing the signing did today was help me in fantasy football. I’m tied for the best record in the league and my biggest competition has Cooper Kupp.

    In related news, 49ers cut Jalen Hurd. Feel really terrible for that young man. He had so much promise but his body just couldn’t hold up.

    1. My question is how good is OBJ at this point? He had a great start to his career with 3 good seasons in New York but since then hasn’t been anything overly special. He’s got the big name without the big production. He’s also not a guy who sits in the background while others get the catches so this could be interesting moving forward.

      1. Agree 100%. I’m not a Baker Mayfield fan. I actually think he’s a terrible QB. If you listen to OBJ’s Dad, he’s open on every single play but Baker refuses to throw him the ball. Very curious to see how he fits in with the Rams.

  12. Sorry to hear that the Niners released Jalen Hurd. So much promise all gone to waste. I had hoped they would keep him for the rest of the season and see what he looked like in OTAs but maybe they need the cap space with all the shuffling they are having to do because of injuries.

  13. There are two major problems with the 49ers: (1) offensive philosophy; and (2) upper management decisions.

    The 49ers are currently a run first offense rather than a pass first offense. In the 2019 regular season, the 49ers had a very balanced offense with close to fifty/fifty passes and runs. In the 2019 playoffs, the 49ers became a power football team by running the ball down the throats of Vikings and Packers in the divisional and conference playoff games. It seemed like a heavy dose of run plays to a small number of pass plays in those two games.

    Ever since Bill Walsh created the west coast offense with Joe Montana as the QB, the 49ers dominated the 80s and 90s with a pass first offense and were expected to go to the Superbowl every year. Because of the 49ers dominance, many teams attempted to copy the success of the 49ers passing game. Teams began looking for a QB to start their franchise. Once a run first offense falls behind by eight points or more, it becomes difficult to come from behind to win, especially with an inaccurate QB. Only a QB can erase huge deficits, for example, Montana, Young, Elway, Brady, Manning, Brees, Mahomes. When the 49ers chose Kyle Shanahan as head coach, it seemed like an excellent choice because of his success as an Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator and also because his dad, Mike Shanahan, was a successful 49ers offensive coordinator in the 90s.

    When Mike Shanahan moved on to Denver years later, he led them to two Superbowls with a run first offense led by Terrell Davis’ runs (2000 yards in a season) and Elway’s pass plays. I believe that Kyle Shanahan modeled the current 49ers offense after his dad’s Broncos. Since the 49ers 2019 playoffs, their offensive philosophy changed from a balanced attack to a run first offense. Since the 2020 season, it seemed that many teams began playing eight defenders in the box to stop their running game, and pretty much dared them to pass the ball down field. A run first offense is effective if the game is within one score and you have a great defense. However, a pass first offense can overcome huge leads. Tom Brady overcame the largest deficit in Superbowl history – Just ask Kyle. I would like to see the 49ers change their offensive philosophy to a pass first offense (Pass to set up the Run).

    Both GM JohnLynch and HC Kyle Shanahan are to blame for their decision making. Lynch mortgaged their future by giving up three first round draft choices and a third round pick for Trey Lance. This reminds me of Mike Ditka HC of the New Orleans Saints in 1999 who traded eight picks including two first round draft picks for running back Ricky Williams. Williams was a Heisman Trophy winner, who broke college rushing records, and played for a big time program at the University of Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 conference. He became a huge disappointment for the Saints run first offense. The Saints did not become a perennial playoff team until they traded for Drew Brees in 2006 and became a pass first offense. QB Brees can overcome huge leads and RB Williams cannot.

    As the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, Shanahan blew a 25 point lead to Tom Brady and the Patriots in Superbowl LI. Shanahan didn’t want to take the blame again for the 2019 Superbowl loss to the Chiefs. I felt that when Jimmy G hurt his ankle in the 2020 season, the upper management of the 49ers began leaking to the press that Jimmy G was the reason for the 49ers woes (2019 Superbowl loss and the poor 2020 season). This reminds me of the current situation with the 76ers. The Sixers lost in the 2020 playoffs to the Hawks, and Joel Embid blamed Ben Simmons for not taking the crucial shots in the post game press conferences. Sixers coach Doc Rivers also publicly said he didn’t think he could win a championship with their current point guard (Simmons). In both cases, management didn’t have the back of their star player. Can you imagine Bill Walsh ever blaming Joe Montana in public for a loss? Pointing fingers publicly destroys relationships.

    Blame it on upper management because they created a QB controversy by mortgaging their future on a running QB who played one season at the college level in a lower D1 conference. Like Montana said recently, I would have picked Mac Jones because he played in the SEC which have bonafide five star athletes on both sides of the ball and in the most competitive conference. The only way to erase a lead is to have a QB that can pass, not run. I’m not saying Trey Lance is bad player, but they already have a lot of good players on the 49ers. I also blame the selection of the current defensive coordinator on upper management. They should have convinced George Saleh to stay and paid him more to continue as the defensive coordinator.

    To Shanahan’s credit, he has developed a very good and sometimes great rushing attack. He has to know that not everyone will have a great QB like John Elway or Matt Ryan to bail out the running game when an opposing defense stops them. Sometimes a coach has to develop and build the confidence of the QB. In the final five or six games of the 2017 season, Jimmy G beat a number of playoff bound teams after the 49ers acquired him. In the 2019 season, Jimmy G had great chemistry with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, and Kendrick Bourne. They were a balanced offense and also had a great defense. The 49ers still have a core of Superbowl talent. On offense, the 49ers have Brandon Aiyuk and Mohamed Sanu instead of Sanders and Bourne. On defense, the 49ers are missing a handful of players – Richard Sherman, Deforest Buckner, Keon Alexander, and Greenlaw. Upper management needs to make smarter decisions, change their offensive identity, and build up their players instead of pointing fingers.

    Shanahan is an excellent coach, but needs to be willing to change his offensive identity, learn to build up the confidence of key players, avoid calling out players, and keep key players and coaches. In addition, Lynch needs to do his homework in finding game changers in the draft instead of gambling four future (high draft picks) players for an unproven player with one year of college experience. As a starter for the 49ers, Jimmy G is 27-11 when he starts.

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