[EDITOR'S UPDATE] - 10:50am - ESPN just posted the tight end rankings, which I'll add below the wide receiver rankings.
As training camp approaches, Scouts Inc has begun putting together rankings of every team at various positions. Up to this point, they've ranked teams at quarterback, running back and wide recThe top 10 is listed as part of a free Insider preview, but the rest are not. Since some of you don't have Insider, I'll post the 49ers rankings for the various positions. I'll also include a link to the various articles since I'm guessing some of you do have access to Insider.
Although he is playing with his third offensive coordinator in three years, Alex Smith seems to have a good grasp on the 49ers' offense and has shown marked improvement in his short NFL career. He is a student of the game with terrific physical skills. He is really starting to manage the game better and can make every throw necessary. His backup is veteran Trent Dilfer, who is like another coach, and Smith could not have a better mentor. Dilfer still has a strong arm and is such a leader that he could carry this offense for a while if Smith was injured. The No. 3 QB is Shaun Hill, a guy with a strong arm, but not a lot of consistency or developmental skills. This is Alex Smith's team and he should have a breakout year in 2007.
It is hard to place the 49ers when you talk about the running back unit as a whole. This is a team that doesn't have great running back depth. But it has one of the best young runners in the game in Frank Gore. Behind Gore's 1,695 yards, the 49ers featured the NFL's No. 6 rushing offense in 2006. Gore, who has had a history of knee issues prior to coming to the NFL, should continue to get stronger. The depth is not very good here, and if Gore gets hurt, the 49ers would have serious issues. Former college quarterback and backup RB Michael Robinson has been used primarily in short-yardage situations, and Maurice Hicks averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. Gore is a stud in this offense, but the depth is marginal at best.
The 49ers' wide receiving corps will have a much different look this year, but it might not be much of an improvement. Ashley Lelie can't be counted on, but his talent-- especially his ability to threaten a defense deep -- is apparent. San Francisco also traded for Darrell Jackson from the Seahawks. Seattle apparently was not too worried about dealing Jackson to a divisional rival and got only a fourth-round pick in return. This is because Jackson lacks toughness and is not the most reliable guy around. He does have big-play ability, though. Arnaz Battle will play a big role this season and San Francisco also drafted Jason Hill, who could be a surprise rookie producer. Overall, this group isn't special and Alex Smith will surely be looking to TE Vernon Davis more than last year in the passing game.
While the quarterback position is ranked especially low, I think it's one with plenty of upside depending on Alex Smith (obviously). He still has a lot to prove, so clearly that leaves questions as to how good the position is for the 49ers.
As far as wide receiver, while I can see how there are a lot of question marks, I disagree with the statement that the wide receiver corp might not be much of an improvement from last year. While there are plenty of question marks, I think the talent level is significantly better than last year's group. Jackson and Lelie come with both a lot of questions and a lot of talent. Battle is proving himself as a tough, solid receiver and Jason Hill is definitely a sleeper at receiver.
As for tight end, considering Davis missed a lot of time due to injury, middle of the pack seems like a good position. They mention Billy Bajema, but I must say I'm a little disappointed that there is no mention of Delanie Walker. He's young and lacks a proven track record, but he's clearly a talented tight end. Not sure if we'd need another one, as Scout's Inc. suggests. Thoughts? I think we can all agree that this is a team with tremendous upside. However, we all know there are plenty of question marks keeping people from fully jumping on the bandwagon.