The San Francisco 49ers 2014 season was a bit of a train wreck (to say the least), but it is not like the 49ers were an untalented team. The defense in particular showed how deep it was, replacing numerous injured players over the course of the season, and still putting up strong work most weeks. The team came up well short of real success, but there was a lot of talent on the field.
The folks at Pro Football Focus, in conjunction with ESPN, decided to try and assess how close (or far) each NFL team was from being a Super Bowl contender. To assess that, PFF took a look at every team that played in conference championship games from 2007 to 2013. They then looked at their proprietary grading of those players. They broke their ratings down into four categories: Elite, Good, Average, and Bad. They estimate that, based on their research, in order to be a Super Bowl contender a team has to have at least 40 percent of their qualifying players (players that played at least 250 snaps) fall into either the "Elite" or "Good" categories.
PFF then ranked the 30 teams that did not make Super Bowl XLIX. They ended up having the 49ers ranked No. 9. It is not surprising that their roster of talent put them ahead of some playoff teams. They ranked ahead of the Carolina Panthers (No. 10), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 11), Cincinnati Bengals (No. 13), Arizona Cardinals (No. 19) and Indianapolis Colts (No. 20).
Here is a rundown of the 49ers players and where they ranked in the four categories. These are based strictly on 2014 grades, and nothing else. As always, I view PFF grades as part of figuring out the context of a player, and not the end-all, be-all of what makes up a given player. They remain subjective, so just take them with the proverbial grain of salt.
|Elite (NFL Avg: 2)||Good (NFL Avg: 4.3)||Average (NFL Avg: 21)||Bad (NFL Avg: 5.8)|
|Chris Borland||Joe Staley||Justin Smith||Michael Crabtree|
|Antoine Bethea||Ray McDonald||Marcus Martin|
|Bruce Miller||Daniel Kilgore||Vernon Davis|
|Chris Culliver||Alex Boone|
|Anquan Boldin||Patrick Willis|
|Mike Iupati||Perrish Cox|
|Stevie Johnson||Aaron Lynch|
For comparison's sake, the No. 1 Cowboys had four elite, eight good, 16 average, and 2 bad players. The Cowboys actually ended up with exactly 40 percent of their players in the elite or good categories.
It is interesting considering the guys that show up in the bad and average columns. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis were guys who have had big years for the 49ers in the past. That list of average players includes a veritable who's who of players who have been key contributors to the 49ers in the past. And many of them did have significant struggles this season. I don't think this tells us a lot more than we already know given how this last season went.