Each year ESPN projects how NFL franchises will perform over the next three years. A panel of experts rates each team’s quarterback, remaining roster, draft, front office, and coaching using this scale:
- 100: A+ (Elite)
- 90: A (Great)
- 80: B (Very good)
- 70: C (Average)
- 60: D (Very bad)
- 50 and below: F (Disastrous)
3) San Francisco 49ers: 86.4
Why they’re here: Elevation can happen rapidly in football, as the 49ers showed in 2019. Their sustained success is rooted in a vaunted defensive front laced with young cornerstones and an offense under the guidance of one of the best minds in football, Kyle Shanahan, featuring a standout offensive line and running game. — Yates
Biggest worry: Richard Sherman is in a contract year and is now 32. Slot corner K’Waun Williams is in a contract year. Safety Jaquiski Tartt is in a contract year. This unit could undergo a major overhaul in the next two years, and for a team that was a couple of big plays away from a Super Bowl title, the 49ers need to make sure the secondary doesn’t become a problem. — Riddick
Looking ahead: One of the league’s best rosters has minimal holes, but with Sherman turning 33 after the 2020 season, drafting an additional outside corner with press-man coverage ability will help. The 49ers run a lot of zone but could use the flexibility to mix and match more on the back end. And maybe draft a receiver in the first three rounds every year. But finding an issue with the 49ers is like finding a play on which George Kittle doesn’t want to block. — Fowler
Top stat to know: Defenses stacked eight or more players in the box on 26% of 49ers rushes when the game’s win probability was between 20% and 80% last season, the second-highest rate in the league. That’s because the 49ers run at a heavy rate. But they were much more efficient passing the ball — and in fact, even ranked higher in EPA/pass play than EPA/rush play. That suggests that the 49ers’ offense has room to grow by passing more and taking advantage of those stacked boxes. Which is good, because their defense is very unlikely to sustain its high level of performance in 2019 over the long term. — Walder
The panel believes the 49ers have the best roster in the NFL outside of their quarterback. I agree. Jimmy Garoppolo checks out as “very good” but not great. I agree. I’d give the front office a higher grade and the draft a lower grade. I’d say Paraag and how he constructs contracts deserves more praise, but that’s nitpicking.
Let’s talk about the biggest worry. What if...father time catches up with Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley doesn’t build off last season? Would we see the secondary play musical chairs until they find the right combination? That’s also assuming both starting safeties stay healthy. Sherman doesn’t rely on athleticism as most cornerbacks do, so even has his long speed declines, he’ll be able to make plays due to his mental prowess. Still, if you can’t run, offenses will find you. The secondary and the “what ifs” would be my biggest worry.