Football Outsiders will be releasing their annual Almanac later this week, but in the meantime, over at ESPN Rivers McCown put together a look at potential risers and falls in 2014 (NFC, AFC). In their NFC column, they listed the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals as three teams like to slip, and miss the playoffs. The risers included the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington, and the Atlanta Falcons. They also included the Green Bay Packers as an honorable mention riser.
Here's what they had to say about the 49ers:
Remember our note about young quarterbacks on old teams? Colin Kaepernick turns 27 this year, but the 49ers had the second-oldest roster in the NFL, and the fifth-oldest offense. Starting tight end Vernon Davis and guard Alex Boone have threatened contract holdouts. The starters at corner are Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver. Brock has played well at the nickel, but has never started at corner for an entire season before. Culliver, the team's nickelback in 2012, missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL. The team also has to play half the season without All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 49ers have reached the NFC Championship game in each of the past three seasons, but there is a decent chance that the window for this roster has closed.
The "young quarterbacks on old teams" was referenced in the Panthers discussion. The Panthers were the fifth oldest team in the league, and as he points out,t he 49ers roster was the second oldest, with the fifth oldest offense.
McCown's discussion about the secondary, the holdouts, and NaVorro Bowman's injuries are all perfect valid reasons to think the 49ers will regress in 2014. When Football Outsiders assesses each team and provides their probabilities for the coming season, they are doing it based on a look at what history has taught us.
And yet, the 49ers have a lot of things potentially factoring in their favor that are at least worth noting. The team potentially welcomes Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore, both of whom red-shirted last season. We don't yet know if the red shirt philosophy will prove successful, so we can't say for certain that either will make an impact. However, these are two highly talented football players potentially joining the mix. I don't know that FO's assessment of the team can easily factor that in.
The 49ers offense will be relying on more veteran pass catchers, and I suppose at some point Anquan Boldin will reach the end of his career. However, while the 49ers will have to deal with the absence of NaVorro Bowman due to injury, they also are looking to welcome back Michael Crabtree for a full season. They'll need to get production from Boldin and Stevie Johnson, but having a full season of Crabtree is kind of a big deal.
I realize I am a big, fat homer, so I can see why outsiders might be skeptical. However, with the depth of this team, I don't know that age is necessarily a huge problem. The 49ers window will not stay open forever, and their 2013 and 2014 draft classes are going to need to hit bigger this year, but the depth should help slow the aging process at least a little bit