I doubt many 49ers fans follow Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) — he’s all about basketball and gambling. But Ethan Sherwood Strauss mentioned that The Greek had the Spurs’ odds of winning the Western Conference at +150, and Voulgaris commended him for using a legit sports book. He later mentioned how Bovada is a joke, and that’s a site I’ve used — not to gamble, since I’m a horrible gambler and way too risk-averse to even try — in the past for stories on futures odds on this site.
So I got curious, and checked out The Greek’s over/under figure for 49ers regular season wins. Brace yourselves …
Only the Titans (5.5), Raiders (5.5), Bucs (6) and Jaguars (5.5) are currently set lower. Perhaps even more embarrassing: the Browns and that team in D.C. are right there with the 49ers at 6.5.
Voulgaris noted that Pinnacle is the most reputable book out there, so I looked at their numbers. They were a little more optimistic about the 49ers’ chances (O/U: 7.5 wins). But that was still behind the Seahawks (11), Cardinals (8.5) and Rams (8).
The Seahawks are obviously heavy favorites to win the NFC West, as Pinnacle has them at 1.256-to-one. The Cardinals are at 7.29-to-1. The Rams are 10.61-to-1. The San Francisco 49ers’ odds of winning the division?
I went through the 49ers’ schedule on the day it came out and predicted wins and losses, and the final result was a 6-10 season. That was after free agency and the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, and before the NFL Draft and the retirements of Justin Smith and Anthony Davis. If I’m right, and the sports books are right, there’s good news! The 49ers are going to get a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But I don’t even need to “admit” that the 49ers can beat expectations this year. It’s sports. Crazy stuff happens all the time. Jim Tomsula and Eric Mangini could put together a defense that will make everyone forget about Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell, Jim Leavitt and all of those departed players. I’m running a 10-part series on players who’ll need to play better than ever for the 49ers to defy expectations, and today I’m going to cheat and throw in two players in the same post.
The starting corners.
The concern over this position is overblown, in my opinion. I like several of the young, unproven players in this group.
— Dontae Johnson was up and down, but the early highs were pretty good.
— Jimmie Ward got a bad rap last year because — shocker — he’s too short to cover Brandon Marshall. But he was starting to figure things out before he suffered a season-ending injury, and unless there’s an injury to either starting safety, he’ll probably be back in the slot.
— Regular readers of this site know how much I LOVED Kenneth Acker during training camp, and he’s back and ready to compete for a job. A lot of people are excited about Keith Reaser (another ACL guy), and we’ll soon see what he can do.
— Even Chris Cook showed signs when he was healthy that he’s a serviceable corner who wouldn’t kill a team as a part-time starter.
But none of these guys go into training camp as the No. 1 or No. 2 corner. That could change, but if things stay true to form, the next two guys on my list will have an opportunity to change their respective career trajectories.
3. Shareece Wright
Will he come in as the next version of Carlos Rogers and prove Trent Baalke’s cornerback-choosing prowess? He wasn’t all that highly thought of in San Diego, but as of right now he’s the No. 2 cornerback on this team.
Wright wasn’t very good last season. We all saw that in the second-to-last game of the season, when he gave up a touchdown to Bruce Ellington and Anquan Boldin torched him for a (negated) touchdown.
The Rogers comparison probably isn’t fair to Rogers, since he was a top-10 pick for Washington and picked off eight passes over six seasons on the East Coast before joining the 49ers with a bad hands reputation and registering six interceptions. Wright hasn’t played as long (four years with the Chargers, who chose him late in the third round), but he only has one interception in his career. ONE! Pro Football Focus wasn’t a fan last year, ranking Wright 105th out of 108 cornerbacks overall and 106th in pass coverage.
“Four years ago when we signed Carlos Rogers, a lot of the same stuff was said about Carlos Rogers,” Baalke said. “And that ended up playing out pretty well for us. (I) feel very good about Shareece as a player. There’s things, like all players and everybody in this business, you have to work on. But (I) feel very good about what he brings to the team.”
Baalke signed Wright to a one-year deal with $1.5 million guaranteed, a base salary of $850,000, and another $1.6 million in bonuses and incentives. It’s a calculated gamble that shows how much Baalke thinks of Wright’s potential. If his play matches his GM’s expectations, the 49ers’ secondary could be as good or better than last year’s if Ward comes back healthy and wiser after a tough rookie year.
That last statement gets a boost if, for the first time, the prospective No. 1 corner plays like one for an entire season.
Brock signed a fairly big extension in 2013, especially considering he’d only played well for a period of weeks, not years. 2014 was a lost season, as he played in only three games due to multiple injuries. He flashed some ball-hawking ability in 2013, but he was also surrounded by vets on a team with an established front seven. Can he play like a No. 1 corner on this team?
I’m not very confident in Baalke’s abilities as a talent evaluator on the offensive side, but I agreed with the team’s decisions on Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox (uh, buh-bye). Baalke has proven over the years that he can repeatedly locate relatively cheap guys who can cover.
But with a defensive line that’s without Justin Smith and Ray McDonald for the first time in several years, and a volatile group of outside linebackers who all have question marks due to different reasons, will the corners and safeties get the benefit of a consistent pass rush in 2015? We’ll cover that in future installments of this series.
More keys to the 2015 season (10-part series)