The San Francisco 49ers have done extensive work overhauling their roster the past year and a half, and they head into 2018 with high expectations. The biggest reason is Jimmy Garoppolo, and it really isn’t even close. But given how things shook out last season, the team is making some important progress in building the roster.
Last week, NFL media senior analyst and personnel legend Gil Brandt put together his ranking of the ten most talented teams in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars led the way, followed by the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings. I was a little surprised to see the New York Giants show up at No. 10 on his list. His write-up on the Giants focused entirely on the offense. Considering the defense ranked 24th last season, it’s odd he would not address that side of the ball.
My question is when will we see the 49ers move into the top ten? I’d say the two biggest considerations are how Jimmy Garoppolo performs in his first full season as a starter, and how the pass defense performs. If Garoppolo builds on his five game run as the 49ers starter, it will be clear the team has addressed the most important position on the field. That isn’t enough to get a team into the top ten (see: the Patriots and Packers are not included in Brandt’s top ten), but given Garoppolo’s age, it would be a huge step forward.
That’s of course not it for the offensive side of the ball. I’d say the development of the offensive line will be key. Mike McGlinchey and Weston Richburg are two guys the team is committed to for the future. The guard positions are a little less certain. If Joshua Garnett can prove to be a capable option at one of the two positions, that would certainly boost the talent level a significant degree.
On the defensive side of the ball, the pass defense brings with it plenty of questions. The pass rush remains an unknown factor. After DeForest Buckner and Elvis Dumervil, it was mostly questions last year. If Cassius Marsh can build on his time with the 49ers, and Arik Armstead can stay healthy, the pass rush could improve by leaps and bounds. In the secondary, the questions surround the significant turnover across the board. Can Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrian Colbert build on their rookie seasons? What do we see in a full year of Jaquiski Tartt? Jimmie Ward and Richard Sherman remain injury question marks, but it’s hard to tell how much either is involved in the future of the 49ers roster.
Beyond that, the big question is if Reuben Foster can stay on the field. Even without his two arrests this offseason, there was still the concern about health. If he can remain healthy for the entire 2018 season, that would go a long way in boosting the defensive talent level.
The 49ers need plenty to go right this season to take a step forward. Of the questions I mentioned above, I’d say the pass rush is the biggest question. The team did not add a lot in the way of outside talent, and the returning players each have their own issues. But if that group can come together, it would be huge for this roster.