Peter King released his power rankings heading into training camp this week, and he had some surprising rankings. King’s top-10 included the Steelers, Raiders, and had Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Tennesee ranked five through seven. Each of those teams seems high. As for the San Francisco 49ers, they came in fourth:
San Francisco (15-4, lost Super Bowl to Kansas City 31-20)There isn’t a team that responded to its problems better than the Niners this offseason. San Francisco needed a left tackle after Joe Staley’s April retirement; GM John Lynch went out and got Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, cheap. Knowing that he couldn’t pay all his top defensive frontmen, Lynch dealt DeForest Buckner for the 13th pick in the draft—and used that pick on South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw. And needing a long-term receiver threat, the Niners traded up in the first round for Arizona State wideout Brandon Aiyuk. The one long-term position Lynch needs to attack is the secondary—and not because of the late collapse against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Richard Sherman is 32, and greatness for a corner at 32 cannot be assumed. But a deep defensive front will help any issues defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has in the back end.
The 49ers have an excellent chance to stay atop the tough NFC West, though a Lombardi Trophy will come only with more consistency from Jimmy Garoppolo. His 75.9 rating in the playoffs, while not coming out of nowhere, was more noticeable because of how coach Kyle Shanahan play-called in January after Garoppolo threw an ugly interception against the Vikings. In the Niners’ last six quarters before the Super Bowl, Garoppolo threw 14 passes, and the Niners ran it 72 times. That might have happened in the Bob Griese Miami days, but man, was it noticeable in today’s football. The 49ers belittled the media for making a big deal of it, and every Niner player has pit-bulled questions about Garoppolo since, but come on. His two picks and missed deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders in the fourth quarter only exacerbated the issue. The only one who can do anything about this is cool Jimmy G, and I think all the badgering will push him to be better. But we haven’t seen it yet. That’s why the Saints are 3 and Niners 4 in this totally scientific rating of the teams.
The 49ers are usually either second or third. In this case, the Saints are ahead of them. Both rosters have few flaws, and it’s not worth debating about which team is better in June. The two teams will face off in the regular season and, if New Orleans doesn’t blow it, the teams will meet in the postseason. ]King credits Lynch for plugging the three biggest holes on the roster. If healthy, San Francisco might have upgraded at left tackle. Depending on Aiyuk’s usage, a deep threat that defenses will have to respect every down could open up the offense more than Sanders could during his time last year. Kinlaw isn’t going to be an upgrade from Buckner, but he’s far and away the best option the 49ers had in the draft, and financially their decision paid off.
San Francisco is in a great position to win the division again when you look at who they will bring back, how their rookies will improve, and the quality of players returning from the injured reserve list. Jimmy G is expected to improve. I don’t think it’s fair to pin the success of the season on him. Does he have to play better? Yes. If he doesn’t, it’s not as if the 49ers will be this 8-8 team struggling to make the playoffs. If last year’s roster was good enough to make it to the Super Bowl, so is the 2020 version of the 49ers.