Another Sunday closer to football...hopefully. Until then, how about some more rankings? Pro Football Network revealed their version of the 100 best players in the NFL, and four San Francisco 49ers made the list. By now, we know it’s going to be Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Richard Sherman, and either Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, or Trent Williams. The only question is which order they’ll be in. The first player listed will surprise you:
94) Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers
If this list was formed a few years in the past, there’s a strong chance Richard Sherman would find his name somewhere near the top. However, don’t let the age fool you, the five-time Pro Bowler is still producing at a very high level.
Sherman helped captain one of the league’s best defenses on a trip to the Super Bowl for San Francisco. Beyond arguably the NFL’s top defensive front, Sherman picked up a trio of interceptions, a pick-six, and 11 pass deflections. The 32-year-old corner earned second-team All-Pro honors for the first time since 2015. However, Sherman’s numbers in the box score may not do him justice.
The Stanford product is the unquestioned leader of San Francisco’s top defense. The leadership Sherman brings to the young 49ers is worthy of him getting a spot on PFN’s top 100 list.
To me, Sherman is closer to being No. 50 than No. 1. I don’t think he was as dominant as PFF made him out to be, but that’s far from calling him out as Sherman was still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season. Next? Mr. Warner:
56) Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers swung and missed big time when they drafted linebacker Reuben Foster in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Foster flamed out spectacularly after multiple off-field incidents and left a void in the middle of the San Francisco defense. That void was filled with Fred Warner, who was drafted a year later in the third round. Since then, he has vaulted himself into the upper echelon of three-down linebackers in the NFL.
Warner’s experience as a safety in college has served him well at the next level as the game continually moves more and more towards a passing league. His pass coverage skills are unmatched as a linebacker and allowed Warner to stand out on a 49ers defense full of standouts. He led San Francisco in tackles in both years with the team and added a pair of important interceptions, one returned for a touchdown against the Rams and one in the Super Bowl. If his play continues to trend upward, this could be the last time he is featured in the back half of our top 100.
This is the most accurate ranking I’ve seen of Warner on these lists. He’s unquestionably one of the better linebackers in the NFL, and I don’t think he gained enough recognition in 2019. That will change in 2020, but it’s nice to see Warner here.
And now, the rookie:
25) Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers
With a family history of excellence in the NFL and a reputation formed by a dominant college career, there was pressure on Nick Bosa to succeed immediately after being selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Bosa exceeded expectations and then some in 2019. He was twice named NFC Defensive Player of the Week and voted the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year after a season that saw him contribute nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and 25 quarterback hits. Only three 49ers players have had more sacks in their rookie season, and his four postseason sacks rank second all-time in the NFL for a rookie.
After an impressive rookie campaign, expect Bosa to dominate for the 49ers defense again in 2020.
You have to be a special talent to be drafted No. 2 overall and still exceed expectations. If Nick can learn to play a bit more under control, we’re going to run out of superlatives for him. More than anything, I’d love to see him and Dee Ford together for double-digit games.
Oh yeah, that George Kittle guy made it:
10) George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
For many years now, the first tight end that has come to mind when the position was mentioned has been Rob Gronkowski. Kittle is now ready to take that title (if he hasn’t already) as a tight end that can be a threat both as a receiver and a blocker.
In terms of his receiving skills, Kittle has been superb since entering the league. In his three years with the 49ers, Kittle has ranked in the top 10 at the position in Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM). Additionally, he has gone over 1,000 receiving yards in each of the previous two seasons, ranking in the top 20 in the league when it comes to yards per game. His hands are also as safe as they come, with just two drops and a 79.4% catch rate in 2019.
However, if this placement was all about pass-catching, then we might be looking at Travis Kelce in the top 10 rather than Kittle. What Kittle brings to the table on top of his pass-catching is his physicality, be that after the catch or in his blocking assignments. That ability to be dominant in both facets of his game is what makes Kittle a top-10 player when we are discussing the very best players in the NFL
We’ve done the Kelce versus Kittle arguments for two years now, so there’s no need to rehash those. Training camp starts in nine days. Will Kittle report?