San Francisco 49ers: 5 Preseason Positives Heading into Week 4

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2015

San Francisco 49ers: 5 Preseason Positives Heading into Week 4

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    Most of the top preseason takeaways for the San Francisco 49ers have been negative.

    First, the passing game seems awful. Through three games, starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick has completed just five passes and taken three sacks, including a safety.

    Next, the run defense seems shaky. It gave up 79 rushing yards just in the first half against the Denver Broncos on Saturday.

    Finally, the four-man pass rush seems nonexistent. Aldon Smith is gone, and Ahmad Brooks may spend the beginning of the season on the commissioner’s exempt list after getting charged with misdemeanor sexual battery.

    But this column isn’t about any of that. Here are five preseason positives for the 49ers heading into Week 4 of the preseason.

PR Jarryd Hayne

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    At least the Niners will have good field position.

    Through three preseason games Hayne has earned a plus-3.4 punt-return grade—second-best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Hayne is remarkably consistent. His shortest return has been 11 yards. He also has had returns of 12, 13, 23, 27 and 34 yards, making his average 19.2 yards per punt return.

    Not only is Hayne the best punt returner on the 49ers, but he seems already to be one of the best in the NFL. That is amazing, considering he never played football before this year. He was a Rugby League player.

S L.J. McCray

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    The biggest hitter on the 49ers may be backup safety L.J. McCray.

    Every preseason game McCray seems to knock some player into next week with a legal hit. He hasn’t been flagged once.

    His best hit may have come Week 1, when he demolished Houston Texans running back Kenny Hilliard. The next week HBO featured the hit on Hard Knocks.

    McCray certainly seems to have a future at safety. For now, he will be an important member of the coverage units on special teams.

    “L.J. plays with great passion,” 49ers special teams coach Thomas McGaughey Jr. said on Aug. 20. “He’s very, very, very powerful. He’s explosive. He plays with great leverage and he loves playing on teams. He loves covering kicks and he’s a dang good young football player.”

CB Kenneth Acker

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    The No. 1 cornerback will be Tramaine Brock when he’s healthy. Right now he’s rehabbing a pulled hamstring, but the team considers the injury minor and expects Brock to be ready for the regular season. He’s a question mark.

    But a bigger question mark is the No. 2 cornerback. Whom will it be? The Niners have tried four different players at that spot this offseason.

    It seems San Francisco may have found the guy. Second-year cornerback Kenneth Acker is Pro Football Focus’ 11th-highest rated cornerback in the NFL this preseason with a grade of plus-3.2. He has played 92 snaps, gotten targeted just seven times and allowed only three catches for 27 yards, per Pro Football Focus.

    Including Acker, the Niners will have at least two good cornerbacks if Brock is healthy.

ILB NaVorro Bowman

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    No one knew what to expect from NaVorro Bowman coming off a torn ACL and MCL.

    He played the entire first half Week 3 of the preseason against the Denver Broncos, and he was very good, especially as a blitzer.

    The Niners didn’t have top pass-rusher Ahmad Brooks—they sent him home after news broke that he’d been charged with misdemeanor sexual battery. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini had to blitz to generate pressure against Denver.

    And the Niners’ best blitzer was Bowman. During one drive he blitzed through the A-gap twice and sacked quarterback Peyton Manning both times. Bowman seems like he could finish the season with 10 sacks as an A-gap blitzer.

RB Carlos Hyde

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The only positive about the 49ers' first-team offense through three preseason games has been second-year running back and first-year starter Carlos Hyde.

    Hyde is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 3.8 yards after contact per carry, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been fantastic.

    It’s possible I’m being premature, but I’d rank Hyde fifth among NFC running backs behind Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray and Eddie Lacy.

    Hyde has everything you want from a running back—size (6'0", 235 lbs), strength, power, speed, quickness and vision to find the hole. And he has fresh legs, much fresher than the top four running backs in the NFC.

    Considering how bad the 49ers’ passing game has looked in the preseason, they need a running back who can carry the ball 25 times a game. Frank Gore couldn’t do that, but Hyde can. He’s the perfect running back for San Francisco.

    All quotations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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