The San Francisco 49ers have had significant roster turnover the last two offseasons, leaving the team with a lot of young players. There are questions about how those young players will develop, but there are at least options. Trent Baalke has received plenty of criticism over his recent drafts. We’ve seen some players emerge, but this year will provide more insight into much of the last three draft classes.
Football Outsiders recently released their annual Almanac, and as part of their co-promotion with ESPN, they ranked each team’s under-25 talent. The Jacksonville Jaguars top the list, and our San Francisco 49ers rank No. 14, a year after ranking No. 25. Among NFC West teams, the 49ers rank third. The Los Angeles Rams are No. 5, the Arizona Cardinals are No. 8, and the Seattle Seahawks are No. 21. Here is the criteria used to come up with these rankings.
- The number of games in 2015 started by players under the age of 25
- The number of snaps played in 2015 by players under the age of 25
- Whether a team's young starters last season were simply injury replacements
- The number of under-25 first-team All-Pros and Pro Bowl players a team has on its roster (All-Pros were given more weight than Pro Bowls)
- Positional value (young quarterbacks and positions impacting the passing game carry more weight; backup running backs and kickers are devalued)
- The amount of value a team added in the 2016 draft, with a focus on the first two rounds (premium picks)
- The expected number of key starters and reserves under the age of 25 in 2016
- A team's recent track record of developing and retaining young talent
- Players with significant injury or suspension issues in 2016 are downgraded
The 49ers currently have 44 players under the age of 25 on their roster. They have seven players 30 years of age or older. Here is what FO/ESPN had to say about the 49ers ranking
This might seem a little high for the 49ers, but a healthy Carlos Hyde is primed for a career year in Chip Kelly's offense, and the team could boast as many as five U25 starters who were first-round picks. San Francisco reloaded its defensive line by spending back-to-back first-rounders on five-technique DEs out of Oregon -- Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. The 49ers also traded up for Stanford guard Joshua Garnett this year to bolster the running game.
Safety Eric Reid has not played as well in the past two seasons, after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2013. Jimmie Ward had better charting stats last year, but he is really a corner/safety hybrid.
Pass-rusher Aaron Lynch is the key player here, but the 49ers get a downgrade for his four-game suspension to start the season. Last year, Lynch had 34 hurries, but only 6.5 sacks. That usually bodes well for a better sack ratio the following season. Until Lynch returns, someone like Eli Harold, who only had four hurries as a rookie in 2015, will be asked to fill in.
The 49ers seemed to be planning a transition of Ward to safety, but that appears to have changed with his move to outside cornerback. Ward is gaining confidence outside and it is possible he could become a full-time cornerback moving forward. We might not know for a year or two how this will all play out. If he becomes a full-time corner, this could bump his value in the eyes of these kind of rankings.
The criteria mentions looking at the first two rounds of draft picks. I imagine drafting DeForest Buckner and trading up to draft Joshua Garnett also gives the 49ers a boost. Garnett is hopefully going to be in the starting lineup soon, and while Buckner might not be a starting defensive end in the 3-4, he will at least get plenty of playing time in the various sub packages. And if Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and/or Ronald Blair can step up this season, that bodes well for further improvement in under-25 rankings.