It’s been a big offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. After an injury-filled 2020 campaign, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan made some big moves to set the team up for short and long-term success.
The Niners re-signed a bunch of their own key free agents and made a huge splash at the 2021 NFL Draft when they sent three first-rounders and a third-round selection to the Miami Dolphins to jump to the No. 3 overall pick.
San Francisco used the selection on North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. The expectation is that Lance will sit behind veteran Jimmy Garoppolo before being handed the keys to the franchise.
Lynch and Shanahan made a move to help the 49ers win now but also set the organization up to be an upper-echelon NFL team for years to come.
ESPN released its annual NFL future power rankings where five NFL insiders grade each team on five different criteria.
After averaging the results from the panelists, each of the five categories was weighted to create the overall score: roster (30%), quarterback (20%), draft (15%), front office (15%) and coaching (20%). The result is a comprehensive ranking based on how well each team is positioned for the future. Our experts each wrote a blurb for all 32 teams, hitting on biggest worries, stats to know and what could change in upcoming years.
The grading system is shown below:
100: A+ (Elite)
90: A (Great)
80: B (Very good)
70: C (Average)
60: D (Very bad)
50 and below: F (Disastrous)
ESPN has the Niners listed at No. 6 in its rankings.
Overall roster (minus QB): 86.5, NFL rank: 4
Quarterback: 76.0, NFL rank: 14
Coaching: 90.5, NFL rank: 4
Draft: 79.3, NFL rank: 9
Front office: 78.0, NFL rank: 14
Why they’re here: The 49ers’ trade up to pick No. 3 was instructive of why the team ranks this high: GM John Lynch & Co. have built a roster ready to win right now, finding supreme talents on both sides of the ball to play under talent-maximizing coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers will always be a handful on offense, but with the healthy return of Nick Bosa this year, they have one of the league’s top defensive difference-makers.
Biggest worry: The handling, development and utilization of QB Trey Lance over the next three seasons will define the legacy of Shanahan and determine the fortunes of the 49ers’ organization more than anything else by a very, very wide margin. It is no longer a secret that Shanahan coveted many of the veteran quarterbacks who either changed teams (Matthew Stafford) or want to change teams (Aaron Rodgers), so there is an intense amount of pressure to make sure that the rookie QB provides the return on investment in line with what they gave up to draft him.
The 49ers have a deep roster that should help the team make the playoffs if they can avoid the plethora of injures that we saw last season. George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Trent Williams and Fred Warner are all legitimate All-Pro talents who make up the nucleus of the team. Lynch and Shanahan also improved the interior of the offensive line by signing the durable Alex Mack to man the center position.
Lance’s development will likely determine Lynch and Shanahan’s long-term future with the club. With Garoppolo on the roster, San Francisco will be patient with Lance. He won’t have to come in and face the pressure of turning the team around, which is Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson's situation with their respective NFL teams.
But if Lance fails to live up to expectations by Year 2 or 3, Lynch and Shanahan could be in trouble, given the amount of draft capital they surrendered to move up to select the North Dakota State product.
The Niners are well-positioned for success. Bosa, Warner, Lance, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are all under 26 going into the 2021 campaign, while Kittle turns 28 in October. They have some young high-end talent that should be on the roster for the foreseeable future.
The five teams ranked ahead of San Francisco in ESPN’s rankings are:
As you can see, the 49ers are the highest-ranked NFC West squad. The Los Angeles Rams are one spot behind the Niners at No. 7, the Seattle Seahawks are No. 10, while the Arizona Cardinals come in at No. 22.
Do you agree with ESPN’s rankings?