This week might very well be more important for draft position than anything else. With one eye on finishing out the year and the other eye on the offseason and the draft, we sat down with David Fucillo of Niners Nation to discuss the difference between a dumpster fire and a tire fire.
WCG: 1. Let's start with the glass half full - what are the bright spots right now with this team? Any young players or position groups to pin your hopes on? What should Bears fans be looking out for on Sunday?
NN: I keep shaking the glass looking for something! But seriously, there are some positives. Colin Kaepernick is regaining some form. Last year, he was pretty atrocious, and then injuries ended his season. He started slow, but we have seen improvement the last few weeks. He is averaging a career high in yards per carry. He's not a "franchise QB" option, but he's a very capable veteran who could still serve as a bridge to a QB of the future, for the 49ers or somebody else.
The young cornerback corps has been impressive. Former first round pick Jimmie Ward has emerged as the team's best cornerback, while rookie Rashard Robinson has quietly moved into regular snaps, starting when Ward has been injured. The 49ers pass rush is atrocious but the cornerbacks are very solid.
The offensive line has shown some improvement in pass protection. The run blocking has been questionable, but Kaepernick has been able to maneuver around for the most part. Compared to last year, that's a big deal. While the run blocking has not been great, a positive has been Carlos Hyde. He missed some time with a sprained AC joint, but when he's on the field, he's an absolute bulldozer of a runner.
On the other side, rookie defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has looked really solid. He is playing virtually every snap on defense, and while he has a lot to learn, I am impressed with the little things he has improved on each week.
WCG: 2. From an outsider perspective, the 49ers brass seemed to cut off their nose to spite their face by dumping Jim Harbaugh. What happened after that is somehow more interesting. They seemingly botched the Adam Gase hire and then passed up promoting Vic Fangio (thank you) in favor of Jim Tomsula...or Tom Jimsula...or, doesn't matter, he doesn't work there anymore. Now you've got Chip Kelly running his very specific scheme with a threadbare roster. What in the world is going on over there?
NN: It's a mess. The 49ers were doing well under Jim Harbaugh, but his abrasive personality was just something team CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke did not want to deal with. I put more blame on York and Baalke than on Harbaugh, but I am not surprised it did not work out. And honestly, I'd be shocked if he lasted more than four or five years in Michigan.
But part of the problem seems to be that Jed York seems to think he knows what he's doing and has all the answers. The team needs some change, but that raises its own set of issues. If they fire Baalke but not Kelly, they can either promote Tom Gamble from within (he worked with Kelly in Philly). But if they want a new person from outside, why would that person go somewhere where he does not get to pick the coach? So then, if they fire everybody, it's basically starting the rebuild all over again. It's not like they've gotten far in it, but firing a third coach in as many years does not inspire confidence.
The nuclear option for fans is firing nobody, and seeing what Baalke and Kelly can do together in 2017. If that happens, NN will burn to the ground.
WCG: 3. Sticking with coaches. The Bears may look to relieve John Fox of his duties at the end of the year given the disaster of this season. Vic Fangio is the only real internal candidate that makes any level of sense for promotion. Why didn't he get the job in SF last season? Is there a sense that he's not head coaching material?
NN: I don't know if he was ever really a candidate, or if it was more just a courtesy interview. He is a bit of a gruff personality, and he seems fine telling it like it is. That's a good characteristic, but I wonder if his unwillingness to play political games will keep him from ever being a head coach. He is well respected, and an excellent defensive mind, but the NFL is as much about playing the game as it is about being the most qualified. I'm fascinated to see how it plays out for him in Chicago.
WCG: 4. The Bears are almost certainly looking to change up the QB position in the offseason and I would have thought San Francisco would be in the same spot but Kap has put up some big numbers recently. What is the likelihood that Colin Kaepernick is under center in week 1 for the San Francisco 49ers in 2017?
NN: Right now, I honestly don't know. He is playing well, but there are still enough questions about his game that the 49ers would not be crazy to draft a QB fairly high in the 2017 NFL Draft. But he could potentially be a solid veteran to bridge to the future.
However, the contract is where it gets interesting. Kaepernick is signed through 2017, but has a clause that allows him to opt out in late February. The timing of the clause is important because it is after the deadline for applying the franchise tag. That means, if Kaepernick finishes strong and opts out, the 49ers will not be able to franchise him.
Kaepernick and Baalke do not have a good relationship, but it seems like for the time being they can deal with it and make it through the season. If Baalke sticks around, I would be shocked if he does not opt out of his contract. If Baalke is gone and Kelly sticks around, I think odds are decent Kaepernick sticks around. If Baalke and Kelly are both gone, all bets are off.
If I had to make up a completely arbitrary number for the percentage chance Kaepernick is starting Week 1 next season, I'd go with something like 40 percent.
WCG: 5. Okay, enough beating around the bush. This game sets up as an important game for determining draft order. Is there a name or position in the early mock drafts that has 49ers fans salivating to don the red and metallic gold?
NN: Myles Garrett is a guy that 49ers fans would like. The 49ers pass rush is abysmal, and Garrett would offer an instant upgrade. The 49ers have numerous issues on both sides of the ball, so a best player available option would make sense. Garrett and Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen seem to be the top two options right now. Of course, wherever the 49ers are, I would not exactly have a problem with the team dealing down for a huge haul of picks!
WCG: Bonus: Who wins this game and be honest - how much are you really cheering for a loss to help draft order?
NN: I think we see the 49ers win this one. I would prefer the loss to help draft order, but the 49ers are playing better lately, and as you are aware, the Bears are a baaaaaad football team. Kaepernick and Hyde have both put up solid numbers this season, and I could see the 49ers offense having a big performance against the Bears. If the 49ers are going to win any games the final five weeks, it is either this one or next week against the New York Jets. My "concern" is they win both of them.