San Francisco

Niners Need Some Playmakers on Defense

San Francisco's lack of takeaways on defense must be addressed with pass rushers and talented linebackers, secondary players in free agency and the draft

By losing their season finale Sunday, the 49ers at least earned the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft. So, San Francisco should be able to get an impact player, possibly on defense, to help Kyle Shanahan’s team rebound from a 4-12 season.

Certainly, the 49ers defense needs a huge upgrade. The team needs a dynamic edge pass rusher, help at linebacker and in the secondary. And, it needs players who can take the ball away from opponents.

In 2018, the lack of defensive playmakers was a season-killer. Though defensive tackle DeForest Buckner continues to grow into an elite player, the rest of the cast is suspect. The 49ers defense broke the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season, with just seven, and the team as a whole finished with a minus-25 turnover differential, tied for the 10th-worst mark in league history, noted Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee.

On Sunday, that weakness again proved costly in a 48-32 loss to the Rams, with quarterback Nick Mullens throwing three interceptions and the team losing a fumble.

“You turn the ball over like that and games get out of hand quick,” Mullens told reporters. “I mean, we experienced that today. It’s frustrating. We know that we can compete with any team on the field if we protect the football, but we didn’t do that today.”

Or, for the entire season.

Fortunately, the 49ers have some reason for optimism with the scheduled return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and No. 1 running back Jerick McKinnon. With those two back and some additions in the draft and free agency, the 49ers have the potential to take a big step forward in 2019. But, said cornerback Richard Sherman, the 49ers will go into next season as an unknown, unproven team.

“I think it’ll be tough to know how good we’ll be till we have a consistent unit out there and show some continuity,” he told Biderman.

As Nick Wagoner of noted, the 49ers were touted as a possible NFC West contender before this past season, but quickly fizzled.

“The Niners were hit with major injuries early, essentially rendering the season over before the first month had passed,” wrote Wagoner. “Credit to coach Kyle Shanahan for leading his team to some wins late with a youthful roster. But the record is the record and it’s (the team) clearly below average.”

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