Last Thursday, NFL.com ranked every team’s offensive “triplets” around the league. The San Francisco 49ers were listed as a bottom-five trio. That was so wrong our own Mark Salveit followed up with a piece about it on Friday.
What if we opened it up to the entire skill position group? How much would the 49ers improve? ESPN’s Bill Barnwell did just that. Unfortunately, the Niners still found themselves in the ‘20s. For whatever it’s worth, the team was ranked 31st in 2017, and 26th in 2018. This year they’re up to 24, according to Barnwell. Yay?
Another team whose strength comes in numbers, the 49ers have as many as four viable running backs, a fullback they use in the passing game, three second- and third-round picks at wide receiver, and an Olympic-caliber sprinter. Counting on any of them to stay healthy and/or effective for a full season in 2019 seems dangerous. Marquise Goodwin posted a 613-yard half-season with Jimmy Garoppolo during the second half of 2017 before both Garoppolo, who tore his ACL in September, and Goodwin struggled through lost 2018 campaigns. He’s the guy the 49ers need most out of the bunch.
The biggest difference between the 49ers and the Bills, though, is that the 49ers do have one weapon coming off a star-caliber season in tight end George Kittle. The third-year Iowa product probably won’t have as many big plays in 2019 -- he was the first tight end in league history to rack up two 80-plus-yard touchdowns in a season -- but the 25-year-old should be in line for another 120-plus-target campaign.
The strength in numbers couldn’t have been too strong if the Niners are in the bottom half of the rankings. Barnwell has a fair point on health. Even if that was the first serious injury of Dante Pettis’ career, we have to see him play a full season.
I would say the most significant difference between the 49ers and the Bills is that the Niners have a group of wide receivers that can get open. They might not be household names, my goodness, Bill. Zay Jones is Quinton Patton redux. Kelvin Benjamin would be Jalen Hurd if Hurd were 20 pounds heavier without the athleticism. I could go on and on, but there is no comparison to the teams.
It also feels like Barnwell is selling short the impact of Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon to a lesser degree. As always, though, it comes back to the quarterback. Garoppolo has a chance to make all these rankings look silly by performing to the level we know he’s capable of. He’s shown glimpses; now we need to see it for 16 games.