The 49ers are seemingly not offering much in their last six games. Three of them are at home against 6-3 teams with the Seahawks, Titans and Jags. But the future of this team is in flux. The team is playing seven of their nine draft picks extensively, and the 49ers’ brass has to figure out where their areas of greatest need will be as they cruise into the offseason.
Here’s three things to watch for in the final six games:
THE QUARTERBACK: General manager John Lynch said on KNBR that rookie C.J. Beathard has the hot hand. Indeed he played admirably under duress against Arizona and excelled in the win over the dreadful Giants. But what will he do against Seattle?
Usually, the Seahawks are the gold standard for a quarterback: Play well against them and you can play well against anybody. Currently Seattle’s ranked fifth in points allowed per game at 18.3 and 13th in passing yards allowed with yielding 218 passing yard a game.
If Beathard can exceed those numbers a week from Sunday, and look decent doing it, then the 49ers should continue with him as their quarterback. As I’ve argued before, Jimmy Garoppolo should only play if and when Beathard falters.
THE SECONDARY: Speaking of Seattle, the 49ers have some young defenders who are rapidly developing. Ahkello Witherspoon, the 49ers third round pick from Colorado, is the quintessential Seattle cornerback with his length and coverage skills. He also seems to get better every game.
However, Rashard Robinson was similarly sized and a year ago, looked like Witherspoon does now. For all these 49ers’ young players, they have to prove if their success is sustainable, and even more advantageously, are they getting better?
Free safety Adrian Colbert also falls into this category. He’ll likely miss the Seattle game after undergoing thumb surgery earlier this week. Nevertheless, his game against the Giants was a revelation. In his short playing stint, Colbert’s speed and instincts are greatly evident. He has a winning mentality with his enthusiasm and rock-solid character.
What’s most exciting about Colbert is his ability to range from the middle to the sidelines and break up deep passes. He has done that at least four times in limited minutes. In fact, Colbert broke up a pass against the Giants near the goal line intended for tight end Evan Engram. He probably could have intercepted the pass, but he stumbled while ranging over to help Witherspoon in the coverage.
Witherspoon and Colbert could possibly be the 49ers’ future in the secondary. Couple them with the promising Jaquiski Tarrt at strong safety (Tarrt is on injured reserve after breaking his arm) and the 49ers secondary could possibly be special. Tarrt has proven he’s an emerging player, now the team needs to see if Witherspoon and Colbert can be placed in that category.
THE ROOKIE CLASS: The only members of the 49ers draft class who haven’t contributed are fourth-round running back Joe Williams who’s on injured reserve, and sixth-round pass rusher Pita Taumoepenu, who hasn’t played yet. Taumoepenu could get his chance before the year is over.
Defensive end Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster, Witherspoon, Beathard, tight end George Kittle, wide receiver Trent Taylor and Colbert have all taken turns as starters. Kittle and Taylor hit the rookie wall hard, and injuries played a part. Kittle’s latest injury is an ankle sprain, and Taylor missed time with broken ribs. However both are expected back and coaches are waiting to see if they can get their mojo back in the final six.
Foster is living up to his hype with a pair of exceptional performances before the bye. Thomas missed the last two games with a knee injury and his play was spotty before that. He should return for the Seattle game and coaches will be looking for some consistency from the league’s third overall pick.
Even though the team isn’t winning, this is an intriguing time for the 49ers. They will try to get back to being competitive against good teams, which is what they did earlier before being struck with injuries.
Consequently, there is plenty to watch for, as the team makes their final push in this bizarre 2016 season.