As teams head to training camp and the NFL season approaches, The 33rd Team asks its experts to preview every team’s outlook for the 2023 season. In this installment, Mike Martz takes a deep dive into the San Francisco 49ers.
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49ers Team Preview
What To Know: Offense
The biggest story on offense for the 49ers going into the season is who’s going to play quarterback. San Francisco hopes Brock Purdy is going to be healthy enough and have enough throws under his belt and enough repetitions in practice where he can start the season. But the other side of the equation is that they picked up Sam Darnold this offseason. There are a lot of quarterbacks who have come and gone in the NFL and could have made it if they were in the right situation.
The best situation for any quarterback in the NFL today is to play in San Francisco. Coach Kyle Shanahan knows quarterbacks and develops and teaches and coaches them as well as — if not better than — anybody else in the league.
Maybe this is Darnold’s opportunity. When he came out of USC, he showed incredible potential. With this outfit, the 49ers will bring the best out of him, and that’s a really solid plan. Darnold’s presence doesn't negate Trey Lance. But the reason that Purdy has this opportunity is because Lance didn’t go through that transformation.
What To Know: Defense
They’re the reigning No. 1 defense in the league. The big story here is they lost coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Steve Wilks has replaced him.
The difference between these two guys is Wilks likes to play more man and a lot more press coverage. The 49ers have been able to get a decent pass rush with their four guys over the years. That's not going to change much. Wilks has terrific leadership ability, and good players will respond to him really well.
San Francisco picked up DL Javon Hargrave, and they’ll pair him with DE Nick Bosa. That gives them the inside and outside guy. That’s a nightmare for potential lines because teams can’t single one of those two guys for very long; they’re gonna get free. They’re both outstanding.
Biggest Off-Field Storyline
It’s bringing in Wilks to replace Ryan, who is now the head coach in Houston.
Breakout Players Prediction
Purdy is a special player. He has that “it” factor that just comes along. It has nothing to do with talent. It’s what Peyton Manning had, it’s what Tom Brady had, it’s what Patrick Mahomes has. Purdy is a tenacious competitor. He’s at his best when things are at their worst.
Whether or not Darnold is good enough to win will be the first words by the media if he’s in that position. He wouldn’t be in this position if Shanahan didn’t feel like he was good enough to do that. He will have gone right by Lance. They went out and got him for this reason. Shanahan knew enough of Darnold when he came out of college and in his years in the league so far.
Shanahan didn’t hesitate, he went and got him. Darnold’s progress and ability to fit in and do well has a lot more to do with how he’s looked at by those guys who are coaching him and preparing him.
Shanahan’s really good at dealing with those kinds of emotional things with quarterbacks and getting them at ease and at finding guys who are tough mentally and developing them. This is a match made in heaven. Most of it is just becoming familiar with what the 49ers do. Darnold hasn’t been in a situation like this in his life with this system like this in the talent that he has, so it’s going to be a big uplift for him right away.
2023 Season Expectations
They’ll be dominant again on defense. Once the quarterback situation gets squared away, and it will, Purdy will end up just fine. If this team stays healthy in the preseason, they’ll be a Super Bowl team this year. They’re a champion waiting to happen.
Mike Martz is a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, most notably for the St. Louis Rams. He was the OC for the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense in 1999 when they won Super Bowl XXXIV. As head coach, he led the Rams to two division titles and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI.