49ers end-of-year grades for Kyle Shanahan, his coordinators

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
2 of 5
Richard Hightower, San Francisco 49ers
Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

Pick Analysis. Special Teams Coordinator. . Richard Hightower. D-. Scouting Report. 42. player

End-of-year grade for 49ers special teams coordinator Richard Hightower

Richard Hightower’s signature moment actually came in the 2022 divisional round of the playoffs when EDGE Jordan Willis deflected a Green Bay Packers punt that resulted in safety Talanoa Hufanga’s special teams touchdown, which played a vital role in San Francisco’s victory and advancement to the conference championship.

Sadly, it was one of only a handful of positives from special teams last season.

Football Outsiders ranked the 49ers’ special teams unit 26th in the league, while Pro Football Focus‘ end-of-year rankings had them 21st.

While there are plenty of factors working into those rankings, including kicker Robbie Gould’s successful extra points and field-goal tries, the overall nature of special teams wasn’t good.

Case in point, the Niners’ starting field position in 2021 was on their own 26.9-yard line, which was fourth worst in the league and suggested an abysmal return game.

Yet the biggest and perhaps most glaring problems were the whiffs on fake punts from opponents, notably against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season and then again versus the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

Exactly why Hightower didn’t prepare his team for those scenarios is unknown, but him joining the Bears during the offseason suggests San Francisco wasn’t exactly upset about him departing.

Grade: D-