The final two weeks of the offseason have a host of media outlets running through preseason NFL power rankings. Pro Football Talk is among them, counting down all 32 teams from the bottom to the top. On Tuesday, they got to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 29. The three teams behind the 49ers are the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, and New York Jets.
PFT is taking a look at five items in their power rankings. They break down the biggest positive change and biggest negative change, the “coaching thermometer,” the player “we’ve like to have a beer with,” and how they can prove PFT wrong. Here’s a look at each for the 49ers.
Biggest positive change: Replacing Trent Baalke
The former 49ers general manager did some good work at times. He hit on free agency in 2011 and 2012, and at first it seemed like the 49ers were in good shape with their draft picks. However, the draft picks proved to be less valuable than expected as the roster saw huge attrition following the 2014 season. The 2012 draft was a complete waste. Guys like Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald, and Bruce Miller couldn’t stay out of trouble. The ACL All Star picks proved to be a waste.
The most important step this offseason was removing Baalke and finding a new GM. IT remains to be seen if John Lynch will be the guy who can do the job, and honestly, it remains to be seen just how much influence Kyle Shanahan has on Lynch. They have talked extensively about their collaborative work. Lynch has control of the 90-man roster, and Shanahan has control of the 53-man roster, but I don’t imagine it’s quite so cut and dry. But either way, Lynch has become the face of the franchise in short order, and appears to be bringing the proverbial “change in the culture” that had developed into an issue under Baalke.
Biggest negative change: No long-term solution at quarterback
I don’t know if I would call this a negative change, but instead more of just a different version of the status quo. Dating back to the middle of the 2015 season, the quarterback position has been a huge question mark. Colin Kaepernick got hurt and struggled, and as whispers from the front office about him began, it became pretty clear that at some point he was going to depart.
With a new coach and GM beginning the rebuilding process, one of the most important decisions they’ll make is who will they will try and groom as the franchise quarterback. In April, they traded up into the third round to draft C.J. Beathard. He’ll get 2017 to development and show if he can be more than just a backup or spot starter. Next offseason we’ll get a real handle on where Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch think they are. They could potentially sign Kirk Cousins to a bazillion dollar deal. They could draft one of the notable names in the 2018 NFL Draft. They could sign another potential free agent like Jimmy Garoppolo. Or, they could let it ride with Hoyer for one more year and look to Beathard beyond that.
Of course, these options are not mutually exclusive. They could sign Cousins and draft another quarterback. They could draft another quarterback and keep Hoyer and Beathard. There are a host of options, but at this early stage in the rebuilding process, I don’t see it as the end of the world that they don’t have a quarterback answer yet.
Coaching hot seat
No surprise, the hot seat is effectively non-existent for the time being. The team is on their fourth coach in four years, but this would seemingly be the one that gets a chance to stick for at least a little bit. How long things remain comfortable if the team struggles beyond 2017 is tough to say. If the 49ers do not return to the playoffs by the 2019 season, that would be enough to get things uncomfortable right?
Beer with: NaVorro Bowman
This category is a look at the player PFT would want to sit down with and hear stories. Given the turnover on the roster, Bowman has seen plenty. I’d say Joe Staley might be a funnier person to drink with, but Bowman would have the stories. He’s got plenty to discuss about his recovery from his knee and Achilles injuries. He was part of those great 49ers defenses from 2011 to 2013, but has also been part of things falling apart in recent years. I imagine he has plenty to offer about everything that has gone down.
How to prove them wrong
PFT says it would take Brian Hoyer building upon his time in Chicago, Carlos Hyde and Reuben Foster staying healthy, and Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner successfully settling in to the new scheme. All of that makes sense. If all those things happen, this team could surprising some people. A playoff appearance is a serious long shot, but if everything falls the right way, this team could quickly find itself quickly back to respectability. And with a ton of cap space and serious draft capital in 2018, decided improvement in 2017 will be huge for next year’s offseason.