Starting the season winless through their first nine games, the San Francisco 49ers are having one of their worst seasons in franchise history. After securing their first win of 2017 against the New York Giants, the team and staff celebrated as if they had just won the Super Bowl. This appears to be the only celebration the 49ers will have this year. Despite this, at the bye week, there are several players worthy of praise for their individual performances. Recognizing two players from different sides of the ball, here are the mid-season award winners.
San Francisco 49ers Mid-Season Awards
Rookies of the Year
The 49ers were lauded on draft night, specifically for selecting two of the top three players on their board. While a majority of their rookie class have contributed in some way, there have not been any rookies making a significant impact. The two rookies with the biggest impact have been Reuben Foster and Trent Taylor.
The selection of Foster with the 31st overall pick was viewed as the steal of the draft. Foster impressed in camp, and appeared as though he would be a star from the jump. However, an injury early in a week one loss to the Carolina Panthers set him back, and he missed several weeks. Since he has been back, he has played well at the Will linebacker position, and was the 49ers highest graded player in their sole win.
The 49ers overhaul at wide receiver allowed for the emergence of Taylor. Despite putting up huge numbers at Louisiana Tech, Taylor fell to the fifth round due to physical limitations. Before he was injured, he was the starting slot receiver for the 49ers. He has done admirably in this role, though not spectacular. Where Taylor has shown the most promise is as a punt returner. The 49ers have not had a punt return for a touchdown since Ted Ginn Jr. brought one to the house in the first game of the Jim Harbaugh Era in 2011. Taylor currently ranks tenth in the NFL in average return yards, and it appears as though it is only a matter of time before he finds the end zone.
This award will be given to the players who seem to have bought fully into the coach’s system. They are willing to learn, adaptable, and trust the process. There was no shortage of candidates for this award, but the two that earn this honor are C.J. Beathard and Eric Reid.
Beathard has struggled in his short time in the NFL. Not only has he enjoyed little success, but he has taken an absolute beating. The addition of Jimmy Garoppolo definitely was not a vote of confidence in Beathard. Despite this, he has done exactly what Kyle Shanahan has asked of him. He has shown up, competed, and never complained.
Much as Laertes was the foil to Hamlet, Reid is he foil to NaVorro Bowman. Bowman was upset about a role change, and asked to be traded. When confronted with a move from his regular safety position to linebacker, Reid accepted the change with grace. It would have been easy for the veteran to make a stink, but he did what was best for the team.
On the defensive side of the ball, the most improved player has been rookie Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon was selected in the third round out of the University of Colorado. He started the year as an inactive, but gradually earned more playing time. When the 49ers traded away the top cornerback on their depth chart in Rashard Robinson, it spoke to the amount of confidence Robert Saleh has in Witherspoon.
Trent Brown has been the most improved offensive player. Brown was already a very capable tackle when the year began, but has elevated his game. He is currently the 13th highest graded tackle in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.. Brown was the only offensive linemen to be invited to Von Miller’s summer Pass Rush Summit, where he garnered high praised from Miller. Brown’s emergence as an excellent tackle has helped fix a poor offensive line.
With inconsistent quarterback play, one player has taken on an expanded role, and that is Carlos Hyde. Rumors swirled this offseason that the 49ers might move on from Hyde, and it’s a good thing they did not come true. Hyde has consistently run with urgency and toughness. In the 49ers only win, Hyde rushed for 4.94 yards after contact, which bested all Week 10 eligible rushers.
Another outstanding player has been punter Bradley Pinion. Pinion has been one of the best punters in the entire NFL. He is currently tied for second in the NFL for most punts pinned within the 20-yard line. This goes along with only one touchback. He is also the sixth best punter in the league in terms of net yards per punt. Pinion has had a breakout year, and should give the 49ers a dangerous weapon in the field position game for many years to come.
Most Valuable Players
The Most Valuable Player is different than the Most Outstanding. While Hyde and Pinion have been amazing, the state of the current NFL does not value their positions as highly as others. The MVP, therefore, should be players that their absence would most hurt the team. The two MVPs are Joe Staley and DeForest Buckner.
Staley has been a stalwart for the 49ers, and is the one starting player left from their Super Bowl run. He has consistently been one of the best left tackles in all of football. With the state of the current NFL offensive line play, a team cannot afford to lose a starting tackle. In the two games that Staley sat out due to injury, the 49ers offensive line forgot how to play football, and nearly got Beathard killed. Once Staley retuned, the line solidified, and gave up zero sacks. They provided solid protection which allowed the 49ers to beat the Giants.
Enough cannot be said of Buckner. Besides Rookie of the Year, Buckner probably deserves all the awards on this list. He has consistently been one of the highest graded defensive linemen in the league, and has been a force all year. He has not put up great sack numbers, but has pressured opposing quarterbacks all year. Buckner may be taking home more hardware than this mid-season MVP, as All-Pro honors may be in his future.