The 49ers have one of the most talented core groups in the NFL. George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Trent Williams are among the best at their positions and give the Niners a championship-level nucleus.
But some NFL analysts aren’t as bullish on the 49ers. In an interesting collaboration, ESPN and Pro Football Focus came together to rank every NFL roster using PFF’s grades from last year and taking into account historical data from every team's starters.
According to their metrics, ESPN and PFF have the 49ers coming in at No. 11. Writer Ben Linsey mentions Kittle’s presence as the Niners’ biggest strength. The tight end is a game-changer when he is on the field. Kittle is an elite pass-catcher who is also a YAC monster. His impact goes beyond being a receiver. Kittle is one of the best blockers in the league and has been a big reason why the 49ers’ run game has been so effective.
Linsey says the 49ers’ biggest weakness going into is at the quarterback spot.
The biggest question for the 49ers is whether they’ll be able to get enough from the quarterback position to win the competitive NFC West. Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled to stay healthy and earned just a 67.5 PFF grade last season while playing through injury. Trey Lance’s ability as a runner would raise the floor of the offense if he does earn the starting job, but Lance has legitimate experience and accuracy concerns coming out of North Dakota State. Neither is an ideal candidate to lead a team pushing for a Super Bowl in 2021.
Garoppolo suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and never fully recovered. He was limited to just six games last season and has missed 23 starts over the past three seasons. Garoppolo struggled mightily when he returned to the lineup for the Week 5 loss to the Miami Dolphins but looked sharp in the following two games. He completed 43 of 58 passes for 545 yards, three touchdowns and two picks in the wins over the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots. Unfortunately, Garoppolo got hurt again in Week 8 in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks and never got back on the field.
To me, the notion that Garoppolo isn’t an ideal candidate to lead the team in 2021 is short-sighted. When he was healthy for all 16 games in 2019, the 49ers were a juggernaut. He threw for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 picks while leading the Niners to a 13-3 record. Football Outsiders has the 49ers ranked seventh in offensive DVOA in 2019.
If anything, the 49ers are in a good position at QB going into next season. They have a veteran QB who has won 72.7% of his starts for the organization and have their long-term solution learning behind him in Trey Lance. We could see Lance used on situational downs next season where the Niners can benefit from his running ability.
Linsey also said the 49ers’ X factor for next season is a player who barely took the field in 2020.
Dee Ford’s injuries over the past two seasons have made it such that very little is expected of him in 2021. The same could have been said for Jason Verrett last offseason, and he ended up being one of San Francisco’s most impactful defensive players. Ford isn’t going to turn back into the player who led all edge rushers in pressures in 2018 while with Kansas City. But he can still provide some disruption as a pass-rusher if he can get back healthy and onto the field. His 19.6% pass rush win rate in limited action in 2019 led the way on a deep defensive line.
Ford’s arrival coincided with Bosa’s in 2019, and the duo changed the dynamics for the 49ers’ defense. Ford played 11 games in 2019 and finished with 6.5 sacks. The veteran missed virtually all of last season due to nagging neck and back injuries, but head coach Kyle Shanahan is hopeful Ford can have an impact in 2021.
[Ford] he made a lot of progress in the months that he was rehabbing here. We knew we weren’t going to put him through OTAs because we don’t want his back to act up. So I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and I’m hoping he can come ready to go in training camp and hopefully he can help us out this year.
IF Ford is even at 80 percent, he will provide a boost to the 49ers’ pass-rush. The Niners were able to restructure his deal, which saved roughly $11.2 million against the cap.
It was interesting to see some of the teams Linsey has ranked ahead of the 49ers. Here are the top 10 in ESPN/PFF’s roster rankings.
If there are concerns about the 49ers’ QB situation, it’s eye-opening to see Linsey rank a team with a starter who is coming off a devastating ankle injury and squads led by Kirk Cousins and Drew Lock ahead of San Francisco.
Where do you rank the 49ers roster among all NFL teams? How would your top 10 look compared to Linsey’s list?