There are some, like bookies in Las Vegas and the NFL’s schedule makers, who think the 49ers will be one of the better teams in 2021. Bleacher Report apparently is not among those believers. According to their defensive power rankings, the 49ers will have a slightly above-average defense in 2021.
15. The San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers suffered the dreaded “Super Bowl hangover” after falling short in the big game two years ago. The club was decimated by injuries last year and getting healthy will improve the defense more than anything else in 2021.
Returning superstar pass-rusher Nick Bosa to the lineup will elevate this defense, as San Francisco struggled to get after opposing signal-callers following his ACL tear in Week 2. The free-agency addition of Samson Ebukam, who showed plenty of promise with the Rams, will also help in this department.
The organization added some rookie firepower in the form of third-round corner Ambry Thomas, who could wind up starting across from Jason Verrett this season. The secondary is still rather thin even after that pick, an issue that could be alleviated by re-signing Richard Sherman this offseason.
Even with a fully healthy roster, the 49ers will still have to overcome the loss of one of the game’s top defensive coordinators in Robert Saleh, who accepted the Jets head-coaching job following four seasons in the Bay Area.
The loss of Robert Saleh is big, without question. On the flip side, if the quarterback play improves to average, the 49ers should also turn the ball over far less than they did in 2020. How often did we see Nick Mullens or CJ Beathard throw a stupid interception to set up the other team with a short field? How much better does last year’s defense look if they didn’t have to play with one hand tied behind their back essentially?
Levin Black and I responded to this article in today’s Niners Nation Gold Standard Podcast. Here was Levin’s take on what we could see from the defense in 2021:
“You can’t expect [a return to 2019 form] but it’s certainly possible. It’s also possible that they’re better than 2019, because the offense could be better than 2019. If the offense is led by Trey Lance, we have seen time and time again a young QB who can run can extend drives that otherwise would not have been extended. That gives the defense more rest, makes the game shorter because the clock is continually running...The defense gets a big boost from that statistically. So if you combine that with hopefully a healthy Nick Bosa season, you could get a defense that is right there with 2019.”
Far be it from me to crush anyone’s hopes in May, but that seems a little optimistic to me. I don’t think people understood how great that defense from 2019 really was. Getting back to anywhere close to that this year would be a massive, massive success.
What do you think we should expect from the defense this season? Hear our full analysis in today’s episode and drop us a comment below.
Other topics in the episode:
- Odds for 49ers players/coaches to win individual awards this year
- Reaction to John Lynch declaring an open QB competition on The Herd
- Why you shouldn’t worry about the Fred Warner extension