Yesterday, here at NN, we highlighted ESPN's Future Power Rankings, in which the 49ers took the third place rank behind the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. When I first started reading the article, I had an instinctual reaction: I just assumed that the folks at ESPN would bash on the 49ers' drafting abilities. If not bash, then at least call into question.
But, I was pleasantly surprised to see that no such thing happened. In fact, the results were quite nice. I highlight Mike Sando's brief comment: "The 49ers' No. 1 ranking in the draft reflects the team's annual ability to stockpile choices for additional flexibility, both on draft day and for acquiring veterans such as Anquan Boldin via trade."
This surprised me, though. It really surprised me. Normally, I am much more used to non-beat writers not giving the 49ers their due credit for their recent drafts. Choosing to focus mainly upon the 2012 draft (which, yeah, was horrible), certain national media types don't recognize the type of depth this team has, how well the drafting has created this depth, and how much potential that depth has to capitalize on once established starters either slow down or leave the team.
Today, I want to point to specifically SI's recent podcast that discusses the offseason in the NFC West. In this podcast, Doug Farrar asserts that it would not surprise him if the 49ers dropped to .500 this season, citing the aging defense, most notably Justin Smith.
First off, the man is doubting Justin Smith, which is silly. But, fine, he's getting old. Second, this ignores the fact that last season the 49ers pretty effectively rotated Smith in and out of the game without the defense losing a step. Third, it does not give due deference to how much depth the 49ers has accumulated along the d-line with the last couple of drafts.
Now, to be fair to Farrar, he does at one point argue that the red-shirt players haven't actually proven themselves yet. Fine. That's by and large correct. But, the reason why they haven't had a chance to prove themselves is because of how good this roster already was. When the starting units on a team are as good as they were on the 49ers, it's really unfair to expect each draft to produce starters. You just really aren't going to draft somebody better than Justin Smith. Moreover, I really doubt that all the older starters on the team are all going to drop off all at once.
Again, to be fair to Farrar, he also points out that Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman will miss time. This is true, though last year we saw absences at both ILB and OLB and the team was able to overcome them fairly well.
But, the notion that the last couple of drafts have gone badly is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worse. Yeah, some red-shirt guys have to step up and prove their place on the team. But, it's entirely unreasonable to think that none of them will pan out in the same season that most of the older vets lose a step or get injured.
Because, frankly, short of a Colin Kaepernick injury, that's what it would take for this team to go .500.