Over at the Sacramento Bee, Matt Barrows has put together an interesting evaluation of roster talent, comparing the position groups to what they were in 2014. It's an interesting take on the offseason, and an easy way of keeping track of all the changes! It's hard evaluating a roster that seems to drastically change every week!
But, Barrows couches his roster evaluation in a context of trying to figure out what sort of record the 49ers might have this coming season. Like many people, Barrows seems to see talent on this team, but also the potential for a dumpster fire. How to rectify this problem? Predict an 8-8 season.
All else being equal (i.e. no taking into account the current coaching staff, etc.), this is actually a pretty solid prediction, I think. The roster certainly has some serious talent on it, though it's few and far between in comparison to previous, successful years. Certain groups have certainly been upgraded: WRs comes to mind almost immediately.
But, certain groups have also been downgraded. What comes immediately to mind? The O-line certainly, in addition to the D-line and the LB corps. In this regard, Barrows and I are in agreement. These groups have been the hardest hit, certainly. What Barrows doesn't acknowledge, though is that the game is almost always won in the trenches. Sure, it's good to have talented players on the perimeter, but without controlling the trenches, a team is at a serious disadvantage. This is so manifestly true in the NFL that it's basically a truism, but the fact remains that the game is won in the trenches, barring some exceptional circumstances (like having Marshawn Lynch and an elite defense).
Now, with Jim Tomsula as coach, we might be able to be a bit more generous in evaluating the D-line. He's certainly been effective at coaching the unit before. And, a strong D-line helps the LB corps (hopefully, though that isn't a given). But, that does leave the O-line, and I'm not so sure how the team is going to work around that problem. We saw how difficult of a time Colin Kaepernick had last season with a wishy-washy O-line - and if he is going to progress as a passer this offseason, he will need a pocket to get comfortable in.
The point of this exercise isn't to necessarily be all doom and gloom. There are certainly other factors to consider when evaluating the team. But, I think it's good to remind ourselves that certain position groups bring a different degree of value to a team. When we think about the roster, it's worth bearing this in mind.