Will 49ers Grow Into a Playoff Team in 2018?

There are reasons for optimism, including Shanahan's mind, Garoppolo's emergence at quarterback and the overall strength of a much deeper roster

A year ago at this time, nobody was predicting big things for the 49ers.

They had a rookie general manager in John Lynch, a rookie head coach in Kyle Shanahan, a starting quarterback named Brian Hoyer and questionable talent across the roster.

As The Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer wrote in July of 2017: “Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are smart enough to know their rebuilding effort won’t have overnight success. The stockpile of young talent for later is more important than forcing the issue now, when it would take a miracle to fly close to the Seahawks and Cardinals’ airspace in the short term (in the NFC West).

“The big changes include a stopgap QB (Hoyer) and newly schemed D, meaning patience and clean-up are the watchwords in San Francisco.”

Almost 12 months later, however, and many have thrown the word “patience” out the window when it comes to the 49ers’ future. Some see their future as now.

With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, another seemingly solid draft class and some key free-agent signings, the 6-10 49ers of 2017 have become media dark horses for 2018.

In fact, analyst Marc Sessler of NFL.com Tuesday wrote there are five reasons to believe the Niners can be a playoff team this season.

No. 1 is Garoppolo, who led the team to five straight victories once he took over the starting job late last season. No. 2 is “the mind of Kyle Shanahan.” No. 3 is the rapid regeneration of the roster with young talent. Reason No. 4 is the relative weakness of the NFC West, in which the Seahawks are in decline and the Cardinals and Rams (can they do it again or were they just a fluke?) have major questions. The fifth reason is a mix of young and veteran talent on the roster, from vets such as Richard Sherman and Pierre Garcon to rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey, Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster.

Last season, Shanahan showed he could revitalize an offense that had been dull and dormant for years. With more talent to play with, Shanahan’s 49ers could make noise in 2018.

Wrote Sessler: “The story of professional football is laced with teams that rose to power off the time-tested combination of a star quarterback paired with a beyond-his-years head coach. Bill Walsh and Joe Montana loom as the obvious example. It happened again when John Elway worked under Mike Shanahan in Denver. …

“Wherever he’s gone, Kyle has made the most of the pieces around him.”

Sessler says Shanahan is a “creative force.”

Niners fans will start to see if Shanahan and Co. can indeed make a huge turnaround and become a playoff team when they gather for training camp, which is scheduled to open July 25.

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