With the 2018 season winding to a close, it’s worth looking at which San Francisco 49ers players Pro Football Focus ranked the best over the course of the year. Here are the top five.
The San Francisco 49ers find themselves a three-win team after Week 14, which is by no means a cause for celebration or excitement. That said, however, there have been more than a few standouts and positive takeaways from an otherwise disappointing year.
As the season winds to a close, Niner Noise compiled some information from the folks over at Pro Football Focus to determine which players they rank in the top five.
There were a few surprises just outside of their top-five grading system, namely rookie offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (75.8) and cornerback Richard Sherman (66.8). And while the majority of top-five performing players shouldn’t come as a major surprise, there’s one name that might raise some eyebrows.
Here’s PFF’s list of the five best Niners players through Week 14.
No. 5: Defensive Tackle DeForest Buckner (78.8)
Last year, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was regularly around the top five in PFF grading among interior defenders. That number has taken a bit of a hit this season, dropping Buckner down to No. 25 in this same overall category. But what should help Buckner get his first Pro Bowl nod are those nine sacks he’s registered this year after posting a mere three in 2017.
Remember, the majority of voters like the traditional stats.
Buckner remains the 49ers’ best player within the front seven overall despite not being the top-graded player in this crop, per PFF.
No. 4: Running Back Matt Breida (78.9)
Just eclipsing Buckner on PFF’s top five Niners so far this season is running back Matt Breida who, for a while, was leading the league in both rush yards and average yards per carry.
Despite a slew of varying injuries, Breida’s 5.6 yards-per-carry average puts him tied for second in the league in this category. And with 744 total rush yards to his credit, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he reaches the 1,000-yard plateau by the time Week 17 is finished.
He’ll have to stay healthy to make that mark. But Breida’s unexpected performance this year has been one of the bigger bright spots for San Francisco.
No. 3: Defensive Tackle Arik Armstead (79.9)
Remember that name you might be surprised hearing? Yeah, the third best PFF-graded 49ers player is defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who just happens to be the top-graded defender for San Francisco this season.
PFF is ranking Armstead the 16th best edge defender on the season. And while his sack production (three total on the year) isn’t exactly popping off the charts, Armstead is second only to Buckner in quarterback hurries (24) and leads the Niners defense in quarterback hits (eight).
Where Armstead has made his money this year is against the run. His 87.4 run-defense grade is by far the best among all San Francisco defenders and ranks third among all NFL edge defenders through Week 14.
No. 2: Offensive Tackle Joe Staley (82.5)
Age is just a number, right? Well, it is for veteran left tackle Joe Staley who, at 34 years old, is still playing at an exceptionally high level. Outside of one player you should know, Staley is the 49ers’ best graded offensive player, per PFF, which also ranks him the fifth best tackle in the NFL overall.
Pretty impressive for a player some feel could retire in the next couple of years or so.
Staley has been credited with four sacks allowed on the year, which ties the team lead. But considering he’s often going up against opponents’ best pass-rushers from the weak side, that’s still quite an achievement.
Especially when you consider those are on 456 pass-blocking snaps this season.
No. 1: Tight End George Kittle (86.2)
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you.
Tight end George Kittle has been an offensive monster for the 49ers, becoming the first player at his position to record over 1,000 receiving yards for the franchise in a single season. And he reached that mark with three more games left to play.
We could sing his praises all day long. Instead, let’s let PFF’s Mark Chichester sum things up:
"As impressive as he’s been overall, Kittle has been nothing short of devastating with the ball in his hands and his numbers after the catch are not just impressive; they’re historically great. In 13 games, Kittle has racked up a colossal 705 yards after the catch, which has smashed the PFF single-season record that was previously held by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who racked up 656 yards after the catch in 2011. Not only that, but Kittle has also produced 297 yards after contact, which is also the best mark that we’ve seen since PFF started tracking the data point back in 2016."
Granted, PFF’s grading system isn’t entirely perfect. No evaluation criteria is, truly. But when taken into the proper context and by diving a little deeper into what areas in which a player might thrive, it’s easier to understand why the aforementioned five are having good years.
So while you might be upset about how many things have gone wrong for San Francisco this season, consider the fact it hasn’t been all bad.
In many ways, there’s been a lot of good on the table too.
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