As part of our mid-season analysis, RealSport are looking at reasons why the fans of the cellar-dwellers of each division still have reasons to be optimistic about their futures. We continue the series with a look at the San Francisco 49ers. See the other editions below: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Sitting at the bottom of the NFC West at 3-6 after coming close to winning the Super Bowl two years ago shows just how far the 49ers have fallen. But despite a grave season, there are still some reasons to be optimistic.
Linebacker Navarro Bowman has looked as though he has returned to form at times this season. Bowman missed all of 2014 with an ACL tear as well as MCL damage, but has come back strong this season. He is San Francisco’s leading tackler with 88, and has two sacks and a pass defensed. If Bowman continues to hit his stride, he will form the bedrock of the 49ers defense next season.
Blaine Gabbert wasn’t quite as bad as we expected in relief of Colin Kaepernick. Yes, it has only been for one game so far, but Gabbert looked like a much better quarterback than Kaepernick, completing 60% of his passes last week whereas Kaepernick has completed 59% of his passes all season. Gabbert threw two touchdown passes against the Falcons, a third of the six touchdowns that Kaepernick has thrown all season.
Torrey Smith, signed from Baltimore in the offseason, can be San Francisco’s number one receiver for the next few years. Smith leads the team with 398 yards from 18 catches. Anquan Boldin in second has 372 yards from 31 catches. With Boldin in decline, the 49ers may have found the ideal replacement in Smith for when Boldin decides to hang up his cleats.
At least three of San Francisco’s remaining games are winnable. They will probably be swept by the rest of the NFC West, as well as the Bengals in Week 15, but their games against Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit could go either way. If the 49ers can win at least two of those games, their confidence will recover and they can go into the offseason with some wins under their belt. Colin Kaepernick could still have some trade value if retained, and several teams would probably relish the chance to land a quarterback who almost won a Super Bowl in his second year. If the 49ers retain him after this season, they might be able to get some decent players or picks in a trade with another team. With the 49ers in rebuilding mode, sacrificing their quarterback to stockpile picks and get better players could save the team.