Why the 49ers Will Make a Leap to the Postseason in 2017

January 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers kicker Phil Dawson (9) is congratulated after kicking the game-winning field goal during overtime against the St. Louis Rams at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Rams 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
January 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers kicker Phil Dawson (9) is congratulated after kicking the game-winning field goal during overtime against the St. Louis Rams at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Rams 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers aren’t projected to be a very good team in 2016, but Niner Noise offers a bold prediction why the red and gold find themselves in the NFL playoffs just over a year from now.

Here’s a bold prediction for you — the San Francisco 49ers are going to the playoffs in 2017.

Sounds like a reach, doesn’t it. After all, the Niners are coming off a 5-11 season a year ago and don’t have a lot of expectations entering 2016 under new head coach Chip Kelly.

This is a complete rebuilding project, regardless whatever one may think, and the current 49ers roster doesn’t exactly boast a wide array of superstar talent. Not yet, at least.

Why worry about 2017 anyway? Isn’t there another season to be played between now and then? And with so much to transpire between now and Week 1 of a season well over a year away, why should we even care?

Good point. There is this season to be played. Then there’s free agency and the NFL Draft. There will be risers, fallers, cuts, firings and a whole big slew of possibilities and factors in the mix between now and then.

But that would be boring to simply state, “well see” and be done with it. If you want an easy prediction, here you go — the 49ers probably won’t be very good this year, but they’ll be better than 2015.

I digress. Back to why San Francisco gets to the postseason in 2017.

Chip Kelly, 49ers
Jun 8, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly during minicamp at the San Francisco 49ers Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

For starters, this year is a transition year. The Niners were supposed to go through this a season ago, but instead suffered a few steps in the wrong direction.

The hiring of head coach Chip Kelly might not have been the most popular decision made by the organization this offseason, but it could wind up being one for which the 49ers are thankful not far down the road.

In fact, ESPN’s John Clayton and Field Yates both cited the Kelly hiring as the best one of the offseason.

Live Feed

UCLA football: Realistic expectations for Bruins in 2023
UCLA football: Realistic expectations for Bruins in 2023 /

Saturday Blitz

  • UCLA football: Way-too-early game-by-game predictions for 2023Saturday Blitz
  • UCLA football: Should Dante Moore be handed the keys in 2023?Saturday Blitz
  • Stanford vs. UCLA Prediction, Odds, Spread and Over/Under for College Football Week 9Betsided
  • Bo Nix leaves college football, Auburn fans stunned with masterful start vs. UCLAFanSided
  • UCLA vs. Oregon Prediction, Odds, Spread and Over/Under for College Football Week 8Betsided
  • “He’s still a gifted offensive coach and should have time working on his side in San Francisco,” Yates stated. “If the organization is willing to be patient — and this roster isn’t ready to win right now — Kelly can help architect a turnaround.”

    And it seems as if Kelly learned some valuable lessons from his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. While the practices are still intense and uptempo, they’re also cut short. Players also seem to appreciate the pace and early exits. There aren’t any grumbles. At least not yet.

    What of those players? They’re the ones who will ultimately decide whether or not San Francisco makes the postseason next year, right?

    Well, 2016 will be about determining which guys are the linchpins of both the offense and defense.

    Contrary to the common belief, the Niners have some nice pieces in place.

    Let’s start with the offense first. Up front, San Francisco will likely wind up having three first-round draft picks on the offensive line — rookie guard Joshua Garnett and tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis.

    And the inside-zone scheme in which this group will operate should benefit No. 1 running back Carlos Hyde in a very big way. Maybe 2016 is the year Hyde finally breaks out, which spells good things for next year:

    But what of the lack of prowess at wide receiver? The Niners don’t have a lot of proven depth here. And yet there are loads of potential.

    It’s a young group. In previous years, younger guys like Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton were held back in large measure to the 49ers previously having elder receivers such as Anquan Boldin, Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson.

    With those guys out of the picture, it’s a younger cast’s time to shine.

    Early results from Patton in training camp have been pretty good. 2016 should give us a pretty good indication where the 49ers are, in terms of this critical question.

    A bigger question is under center. But here’s some food for thought. Kelly turned former Eagles quarterback Nick Foles into a Pro Bowler in 2013. Few knew Foles’ name beforehand and, as Jason McIntyre of Fox Sports pointed out, Kelly could have the same magic with either QBs Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert:

    Kelly’s offense will be a primary focal point. But it’s the defense that should draw some major attention this season.

    Former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh stated players typically make the biggest jumps of their respective pro careers from year one to year two. For a nice example, just consider what second-year defensive end Arik Armstead has been doing in camp so far. A year from now, we may be saying the same thing about 2016 first-round draft pick DeForest Buckner.

    Combine this with a healthy linebacker NaVorro Bowman and, let’s hope, a resurgent pass-rushing linebacker Aaron Lynch, and the 49ers front-seven defense may look a little more like it did in the days of Harbaugh.

    Oh, and a young secondary could also see vast improvement in just over one year’s time. Consider the jump third-year defensive back Jimmie Ward made from 2014 to 2015. Now he’ll be starting on the outside.

    And then there are the other factors we can’t ignore. Let’s speculate the Niners remain competitive, if not victorious, in the NFC West this year. That shows improvement, right?

    Then, let’s tack on what may happen during the 2017 offseason. San Francisco has $47,536,125 in cap space, currently, according to Over the Cap. While this number will change between now and then, the Niners will likely be laden with plenty of spending flexibility less than a year from now.

    The 2017 free-agent class looks to be pretty good as well.

    We have no clue what general manager Trent Baalke’s decision-making process will be next offseason, if he hasn’t been replaced by assistant GM Tom Gamble by then, but the early perspective paints a pretty good picture for San Francisco.

    Now comes the hard part — making it to the postseason.

    More from Niner Noise

    It’s not a lock. If anything, this will probably be a fairly long-term rebuilding project. An 8-8 finish in 2017 will probably be what most experts predict.

    But let’s jump a little further. San Francisco shows some competitive fire this season and starts next year off with some nice free-agent additions and (hopefully) a solid NFL Draft class.

    And, before you know it, the Niners suddenly find themselves in the playoff picture when Week 17 of the 2017 regular season rolls around.

    It’s not well out of the realm of possibility. Heck, it even could be on the horizon.

    Next: The Real Reason Why 2016 Matters to the 49ers

    All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.