There isn’t much of an argument if he question is did the San Francisco 49ers lose talent during free agency. We saw departures from DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders, which is going to hurt any team. The question is, where do the 49ers stand relative to the rest of the NFL now that the big signings are over with in free agency. I don’t think fans appreciated how stacked the 2019 Niners roster was. The defense rolled out 11 players that are all high-quality players. You can’t say that about many if any teams in the NFL.
ESPN’s Mike Clay went through each team unit-by-unit to assess the strength of each roster in the NFL. Here is the breakdown of all 32 teams from Clay’s projections:
Clay ranks the 49ers quarterback 15th overall. San Francisco’s running backs are 24th, which feels low. It gets worse for the receivers, as they’re ranked 27th. The offense makes up for it at tight end and offensive line. George Kittle gets the nod over Travis Kelce, while the line comes in at ninth overall.
The 49ers are listed high compared to other teams because of their defense. Losing Buckner hurts the defensive interior. The defensive tackles are ranked 19th by Clay. The 49ers edge rushers are first. Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, and Arik Armstead make that decision pretty easy. The linebacking group doesn’t get much love from Clay. The 49ers do not have the 19th best group of linebackers in the league. Clay favors the Niners’ cornerback position. San Francisco is fourth, and the safeties are above average as well sitting at 11th. As a duo, I’d take Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt as the top-five in the NFL with no hesitation.
Clay’s projections have the 49ers offense ranked 16th and the defense at fourth. We know even with the loss of Sanders, the 49ers offense won’t be “average” in 2020, though Clay having a lower grade on the 49ers receivers isn’t far off considering the question marks and players that are unproven. If the 49ers “step back” on defense this year is finishing fourth, you’d have to think Robert Saleh would be happy with that outcome.