No. 5: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers kick off this list of 2018 surprises — Niner Noise is a 49ers site, after all — and there’s a lot to be excited about down in Santa Clara.
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have created a tandem that has actually seemed to work the first few months after the team moved on from former GM Trent Baalke and one-and-done head coach Chip Kelly.
San Francisco 49ers
Lynch didn’t go overly wild in free agency, choosing to upgrade the blue-chip areas of the team by signing players like linebacker Malcolm Smith along with wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin.
But the best haul might have been in the NFL Draft, where the Niners pulled in both defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster in Round 1.
It’s weird to think — especially after a historically bad year in 2016, defensively — the 49ers defense might actually be pretty good this season. A few more tweaks, and this could be a dominant unit in 2018.
San Francisco has an ability to make a number of splashes a year from now as well. No team has more than the 49ers’ $66,872,779 in cap space right now, and all that money will roll over into next season. Perhaps the Niners target Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins or go another route via the 2018 draft.
While San Francisco isn’t expected to turn in a good record in 2017, the team should have another high draft pick and all the tools to make some serious strides in this daunting rebuild.