The San Francisco 49ers finished 2017 on a high, powering to five straight wins with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
The former Patriots signal caller completely transformed a previously docile offense, taking them from the 21st ranked group through 12 weeks of the season to number one over the final five weeks.
Kyle Shanahan's team went 1-10 prior to Garoppolo taking over as the starter, and his impact was monumental as the niners racked up wins against three playoff teams and put up 28.8 points per game.
Naturally, after such a dominant finish to the year, there's a buoyant mood around the organisation and real cause for optimism heading into the 2018 season.
GM John Lynch tied Garoppolo down to a long term deal this offseason, whilst adding an impressive haul of high profile free agents including former Seahawks star Richard Sherman and dynamic running back Jerick McKinnon.
The offensive line has also been significantly bolstered with the signing of former Giants center Weston Richburg and selection of Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The pair will help solidify a line that gave up the fifth most QB hits in 2017 and provide better running lanes for a rushing attack that provided the eighth least yards on the ground.
The chief beneficiary of the added protection will clearly be Garoppolo himself but McKinnon, who is slated to be the lead back after the departure of Carlos Hyde, could well have a breakout year in his first season in the Bay.
The versatile and shifty back had somewhat of a breakout in Minnesota last season, posting 1303 all purpose yards and career highs in all three facets. His big play ability added a lethal dimension to the Vikings offense and the former third round pick looks primed for a bigger role and more career bests with the niners in 2018.
His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will be hugely valuable to Garoppolo, who is slightly short of weapons in the receiving game, and the 26-year-old rusher revealed that his new team are only focused on one thing this season; winning a Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl. That's what the eyes are on." McKinnon said on the 49ers Insider Podcast with NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. "That's the prize. That's the ultimate goal. ... The whole team has talked about it. We had a thing with the Navy SEALS. They were asking us, 'What's the goal?' It was equally collaborated on: 'Win the Super Bowl.'"
As previously discussed, there are plenty of reasons for optimism for the niners, but in the increasingly tough NFC it will be enormously challenging to make such a huge turnaround from last place in the division to conference winners in the space of a year.
Nevertheless, McKinnon says the team's ambitions will remain high throughout the campaign even when things get tough, and they undoubtedly will at times.
"In the season, you're going to have ups and downs," the 2014 third-round pick said. "That's just part of a 17-week NFL season. But at the end of it, you've just got to keep the eye on the prize, and that's the Super Bowl. So whatever it is that happens, we have to stick together as a team to get to that common goal."
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