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49ers rank No. 19 in under-25 talent, per ESPN

Only two blue chip players, says ESPN

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

We have football finally. The San Francisco 49ers will face the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night, but before that, there are still some lists circulating. This one from ESPN is ranking the 32 teams based on their talent under the age of 25. These lists have been hit or miss for the Niners. They’re either in the top ten or near the bottom. They come in at No. 19 here:

The 49ers are a difficult team to rank, and the most likely one to either over- or underperform their No. 19 ranking by 10 or more spots. So many of their prospects will succeed or fail in tandem with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who still has just 10 starts to his credit despite entering the season in which he’ll turn 28 years old. Day 2 receiver picks Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, and Jalen Hurd offer all of the size and athleticism you could want from the slot, out wide, and possibly even the backfield. Pettis led the team’s wideouts with 109 DYAR in just 12 games a year ago. Tailback Matt Breida is 24 years old, coming off a breakout season of 163 DYAR, but he may be relegated to the role of overqualified backup with the addition of free agent Tevin Coleman and return of a healthy Jerick McKinnon. If any coach can stitch all of that potential into a successful offense, it’s Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers have expended a lot of early draft capital on defensive linemen in the second half of the past decade -- without much to show for it. No. 2 pick from 2019 Bosa will try to upend that streak, and 2017 No. 3 pick Solomon Thomas teased a chance of a late bloom with 20 hurries in 2018. He just had trouble closing, collecting one lonely sack. Linebacker Warner was an every-week rookie starter who looks capable of handling an every-down role, with a 56% coverage success rate, 20th at the position.

There is no hint of a quarterback controversy, but Nick Mullens was surprisingly effective in his rookie year, completing 64.2% of his passes for 286 DYAR, 24th most at the position. He was undrafted, and therefore doesn’t offer three more years of controlled costs, but he could bolster the 49ers’ youth as a trade candidate in 2019 or 2020 if the team retrains him as an exclusive-rights free agent.

Before we get into thoughts on the Niners ranking, here’s where the rest of the NFC West ranked:

10. Arizona Cardinals

24. Los Angeles Rams

30. Seattle Seahawks

Thoughts on the ranking

The 49ers were ranked No. 12 on this list a season ago. The two blue-chip players are Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. The loss of Mike McGlinchey, DeForest Buckner, George Kittle, and Reuben Foster certainly hurt.

I agree that the variance of the younger prospects on the team is high, but I’m not so sure their success is 100% tied to Jimmy Garoppolo. Deebo Samuel will need someone to throw him the ball, but it’s clear that he is going to be good. He’s already improved on his route running, which I believe kept him out of the first round.

There are younger names on the roster that have an opportunity to make a name for themselves. Ahkhello Witherspoon should benefit from his surroundings. I’m telling you, Dre Greenlaw has a shot to be pretty dang good. Then there is Tarvarius Moore, and the untapped potential seems like it’s growing on Saleh. When asked if Jimmie Ward would return to the starting lineup, Saleh wouldn’t commit.

These are all prospects at this time, though. 2019 will be their time to showcase their abilities. If they all play like they’re capable of, the Niners will be significantly higher on the list next season.