The 2016 season is less than 24 hours complete, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a ridiculously early look ahead to the 2017 season. We looked at Super Bowl 52 odds, and now we’re back with ESPN’s first NFL power rankings of the offseason.
To the surprise of nobody, the San Francisco 49ers are near the bottom of the power rankings. They were ranked No. 30 a year ago in these rankings, and this year they open at No. 31. Here is what they had to say about why the 49ers are ranked where they are, and what could potentially change.
Why they're here: If it weren't for the Browns, the 49ers would have absorbed a national focus as perhaps the NFL's weakest franchise. They've lost 19 of their past 23 games and will undergo their third coaching transition in as many years, the first team to do that in 40 years. The 49ers don't have a single quarterback under contract for 2017, and years of disjointed drafts have left them with one of the NFL's most barren rosters. The 49ers were one of two teams without a single Pro Bowl player in 2016, and in ESPN Insider's most recent roster rankings, they ranked No. 32. General manager John Lynch is an interesting but entirely unpredictable hire.
What could change: Presumptive coach Kyle Shanahan has proved that he can adapt his offense to different styles of players, having utilized a read-option with Robert Griffin III in Washington and a version of the West Coast scheme with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. That bodes well for the 2017 49ers' offense, regardless of who is on the field. The defense has some building blocks, including linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, and could establish some footing with a few draft hits or free-agent signings. The 49ers are projected to have more than $70 million in salary-cap space.
The 49ers find themselves in the early stages of a rebuilding process. They should have started this process a year ago, but hey, what are you gonna do? A strong draft will put them in a position to be a spoiler, but it is going to take some time for this team to return to legitimate respectability. We’ll see power rankings again sometime in April or May, and then again over the summer before we get into the season. Between now and Super Bowl 52, I would be surprised if the 49ers climbed into the top 20 in any power rankings.