NFL training camps are getting underway this week, which means we are getting the last of offseason rankings. The latest comes courtesy of MMQB writer Andy Benoit, who ranked the top 400 players across the league.
Benoit’s criteria was, “Does player A do his job better or worse than player B does his job?” He looked at “raw talent, cultivated skill set, and role within his team’s system,” and it was entirely film-based. If two players were too close to call, the tie was broken by which player had the more significant job.
The San Francisco 49ers actually had a sizable crew of players make the list. They had 11 players, which put them ahead of teams like the Cleveland Browns (nine) and the New York Jets (five). I mention those two teams because they are the two teams viewed by many as the 49ers primary competition for the No. 1 overall pick. I don’t think the 49ers will end up with the pick, but there is a lot of media coverage suggesting they will be in the mix.
The 49ers on the list included the following (with his comments in quotation marks). The rankings are based on 2016 performance, which is why Bucker, Ward, Armstead, and Dial all have different positions than we will see them in this season.
201 - Joe Staley, LT - “His age (33 at the end of August) is starting to show a bit in pass protection, but Staley is still a savvy veteran who occasionally flashes as a run-blocker.”
220 - DeForest Buckner, 3-4 DE - “Buckner played with better leverage as his rookie season went on. He will likely play five-technique in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's 4-3, where he'll have to fight more double-team blocks.”
256 - Jimmie Ward, CB - “He has the makeup to be a really sturdy slot corner, but the Niners are moving him to free safety. As an outside corner, Ward had too many subtle mistakes last seasons.”
265 - Earl Mitchell, 4-3 DT - “Mitchell is a naturally low-to-the-ground player who moves left and right very well in confined areas.”
278 - Pierre Garçon, WR - “He has a great understanding of how to set defenders up at the top of his routes. That's why Garçon just joined the exclusive club of players who've earned a lucrative third contract in their careers.”
319 - Arik Armstead, 3-4 DE - “There's not a coach in football who would turn down a chance to have a body like Armstead's along their defensive line.”
354 - NaVorro Bowman, STACK LB - “Bowman is a sterling talent that you have to really wonder about now that he's coming off his second severe injury in less than four years (an Achilles in 2016, a knee/leg in January 2013).”
378 - Elvis Dumervil, 3-4 OLB - “Dumervil can still be plenty effective in a limited pass-rushing specialist role.”
384 - Jeremy Zuttah, C - “Because of his nimbleness, Zuttah works very well in a zone-blocking scheme.”
389 - Quinton Dial, 3-4 DE - “Dial is a stalwart run defender who can align in many D-line spots on first and second downs. When he anchors, he can't be moved.”
It is not at all surprising that the 49ers defensive line has the largest contingent of players. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Earl Mitchell will all be playing starting snaps in the base 4-3, and Buckner and Armstead will each get significant time in the passing down packages. The line is arguably the deepest position group on the roster.
Dial is an interesting one. He has been a versatile run defender, playing end and nose tackle in the previous 3-4. I’m not entirely sure how his role will shake out with the addition of Mitchell and rookie Solomon Thomas. Will we see some base down rotation? Will the 49ers rotate Dial in for more run likely situations? There are plenty of questions about returning players, and Dial’s role is among them.