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NFC West Outlook: The top player at every offensive position

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How many 49ers claim the top spot?

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

We are a few months away from the 2019 NFL season kicking off. There have been plenty of top 50 player lists, but I thought it’d be interesting if we narrowed it down to the division. How many San Francisco 49ers are the best player at their position in the NFC West? It’s a fun discussion to have. For today, we’ll go over the offenses. We’ll do the defenses tomorrow. Let’s start with the quarterback position.

Quarterback

Russell Wilson-Seattle Seahawks

Kyle Murray hasn’t played a snap for the Arizona Cardinals.

Jared Goff isn’t the answer here, and he might not be for the Los Angeles Rams.

Jimmy Garoppolo is good. Nobody knows just how good he is.

We know how good Wilson is.

Running back

Todd Gurley-Rams

Only Gurley knows how healthy he is. The whole knee injury saga has been quite the story for the Rams this year. He will wear the hypothetical crown because when he did play in 2018, Gurley was special.

Chris Carson of the Seahawks is solid. David Johnson needs to bounce back from injury. His talent is undeniable, and his 2016 speaks for itself.

The 49ers suffer in this category by having a “running back by committee.” I’m fascinated to see how the stat sheet turns out this year between Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Jerick McKinnon.

X Receiver

Dante Pettis-49ers

The split end or “X” receiver is the guy that you will go to 1-on-1 in the most critical situations, and be able to rely on him. In the division, that’s Pettis. For a rookie, he was quite impressive. Speed, nuance in his routes, and separation stood out when watching Pettis. He has a chance to be one of those #1 targets that can carry a team on his back.

Robert Woods quietly had 1,219 yards for the Rams last year. He’s more of a high-end number #2, though.

The Seahawks hope they drafted their split end in D.K. Metcalf, and the Cardinals don’t have one!

Z Receiver

Tyler Lockett-Seahawks

Brandin Cooks had 240 more yards than Tyler Lockett last year. He also had 47 more targets than Lockett. This one isn’t close, for me. Lockett wins comfortably.

It’s not fair to expect Deebo Samuel to come in as a rookie and put up big-time numbers. The Cardinals used Christian Kirk as their “flanker” last year, and he finished with 590 yards on 68 targets. Kirk also scored three times. That would be a quality season for Samuel. If he can get over 700 yards, the 49ers will know they have something special. Most receivers don’t take that next jump in play until Year 2.

Slot Receiver

Cooper Kupp-Rams

The real MVP of the Rams offense. Kupp one of the tougher covers in the league. Woods and Cooks don’t have the 2018 seasons they do if Kupp goes down. That offense took a definite step back with him off the field. From their yards per play to Goff’s completion percentage to the other Rams slot receivers. It wasn’t comparable.

Larry Fitzgerald is still competent but is a shell of his former self. That’s to be expected at 35-years old.

Seattle losing Doug Baldwin is a game-changer. Look at their roster. Who will play inside?

For the 49ers, there will be a few different options inside. Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, but Pettis is their most dangerous option. Give him a two-way go, knowing he can beat you short, intermediate, and deep, and he becomes a nightmare to cover.

Tight End

George Kittle-Good guys

1,377 yards receiving. 873 of that came after the catch. This is the most straightforward category on both sides of the ball.

Tackle

Joe Staley-Good guys

This one is tough, and I’d write the same thing on Turf Show Times, or FIeld Gulls. Staley, Andrew Whitworth of the Rams, and Duane Brown of Seattle are all superb. The trio has played at an All-Pro level frequently throughout their career. Sorry Arizona, you’re not getting mentioned here.

Since this is about 2018, let’s compare some pressure numbers:

Staley-609 passing snaps: Four sacks allowed, 25 total pressures.

Whitworth-638 passing snaps: Four sacks allowed, 33 total pressures

Brown-546 snaps: Four sacks allowed, 21 total pressures.

Winner, Joe.

Guard

TBD

The highest graded guard that returned to the division is Austin Blythe, who graded a 71.8. It was Rodger Saffold, but he’s with the Tennessee Titans now. The next graded guard? Mike Person, at 67.2. With Saffold out of the picture, there isn’t a clear answer.

If I were placing a bet, I’d say Laken Tomlinson will outperform Person.

The Cardinals and the Seahawks have consistently struggled on the interior line. Neither team gets the benefit of the doubt here.

Center

Weston Richburg

Look at the centers in the division. Every center that was the full-time starter graded in the 50’s, according to PFF. One of these players was battling injuries. One of these players has played at a high level before 2018. That’s Richburg. Of all the players that had a down year in 2018 in the division, I’d say Richburg is the safest bet to return to form.