NFL.com had a roundtable with a few columnists discussing which team will be most prepared to come out of this bizarre offseason that has seen all OTA’s postponed to date. The conversation starts by discussing Jim Harbaugh and how he had to overcome the 2011 offseason that was wiped away thanks to a lockout. Despite not having an offseason, Harbaugh led the Niners to a 13-3 season that saw the team reach the NFC Championship. The roundtable of columnists called that 49ers team an outlier considering the teams that thrived in 2011 were all predictable. They cited the Giants, Patriots, Ravens, Saints, Packers, and Steelers. All teams with an established head coach, quarterback, and continuity they could carry over into the season.
Nine years later, we’re not in a lockout. In the real world, it’s far, far worse than what a lockout presents. The challenge will be athletes staying in shape and getting the physical and mental reps somehow that the players would usually get during OTAs. Instead, position groups are subject to Zoom meetings. The roundtable looked to find which team is best-suited to come out of the global pandemic, assuming the season starts on time.
A few of the writers mentioned the Niners, but only Mike Silver selected them. Here was Silver’s blurb:
Unlike Harbaugh’s team facing those challenging circumstances nine years ago, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers are perfectly positioned to emerge from this unusual offseason and make a championship run. I’m aware that it’s hard to get back to the Ultimate Game — and the collective fate of Super Bowl losers in the past quarter-century has been worse than that of those that hoisted the Lombardi. Yet, the Niners looked like an ascending team throughout the 2019 regular season and playoffs.
The Niners, theoretically, could get an infusion of juice from several players who’ve been in the building (and gained familiarity with Shanahan’s system) and are fighting their way back from injuries: running back Jerick McKinnon, a versatile 2018 free-agent signee who missed the previous two years with knee injuries; multi-threat receiver Jalen Hurd, a third-round pick in 2019 who sat out his entire rookie season with a back injury; and slot receiver Trent Taylor, whose 2019 campaign was derailed by a series of foot surgeries.
Taylor, in particular, could give the 49ers a different dimension: Several S.F. coaches believed he was headed for a Pro Bowl campaign at this time a year ago, and having former Patriots and Broncos star Wes Welker as his position coach and role model doesn’t hurt. On paper, I believe the 49ers could be even more potent in 2020 than they were a year ago
The last thing you want to be known for is “paper champions” or “offseason darlings.” Luckily, that’s not the case for the 49ers. Silver makes a good case, as it’s not far-fetched to imagine the 49ers being even better in 2020. Jimmy Garoppolo, a year removed from injury figures to improve and be more comfortable after another offseason with Kyle Shanahan. If the offense can get any kind of consistent production from the trio of McKinnon, Hurd, or Taylor, they’ll be in good shape.
By now, you’ve seen anyone that attended Niners training camp in 2019 praise Taylor. Silver is the latest to talk up San Francisco’s slot receiver. More than anything, Taylor knows where to be and how to get open in Kyle’s offense. That level of trust is why Jimmy would look for Trent all summer on third down last summer. Hopefully, we get to see that connection during the regular season.