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Football Outsiders projects the 49ers to finish 5th in DVOA for 2022

They believe the offense takes a step back under Lance

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

As the offseason gets underway, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the San Francisco 49ers. The newfound cap space after the inevitable release or trade involving Jimmy Garoppolo should net a marquee player.

And if teams get desperate enough, they may surrender a high Day 2 draft pick for Garoppolo’s services.

A returning core that includes Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Fred Warner, and Trent Williams is good enough to prop up any talent gaps if San Francisco cannot plug holes during free agency.

When you look at how the 49ers are built, where they excel, and the talent coming back, it’s easy to get excited about a potential playoff run next season, even with a quarterback starting for the first time.

We keep that last sentence in mind, no matter how many highlight reels circulate the internet of Trey Lance. Of course, the highs will be higher, but the lows and inconsistencies that come with any first-timer under center cannot be ignored.

Top-5 DVOA in 2022

Football Outsiders projected each team to start the 2022 regular season and had the Niners finishing fifth in DVOA. Here’s the explanation of the author’s intent and how he projected teams with apparent changes:

First, I adjusted 2021 DVOA ratings based on games where teams sat starters or had COVID issues or used backup quarterbacks. In the table below, I listed the quarterback who was considered the starter for each team. For example, the New Orleans offensive DVOA below is based only on games with Taysom Hill at quarterback. Seattle offensive DVOA is based on a rating without Weeks 6-8. The Cincinnati ratings don’t include Week 18. And so on.

Next, I used very simple equations that project next year’s DVOA based solely on last year’s DVOA and the usual regression to the mean. Defense and special teams regress to the mean stronger than offense does.

I gave a small bonus to teams with second-year starting quarterbacks except for New England (already pretty high up in DVOA) and San Francisco (since Lance doesn’t have much experience yet).

I didn’t account for any possible quarterback trades, or where Deshaun Watson or Jimmy Garoppolo might be playing next year.

The goal here is basically just to see who looks best for 2022 based mainly on quarterbacks returning from injury and offense being more predictive than defense. The result looks a lot like the 2021 DVOA ratings with a few changes. That means that differences between DVOA and conventional wisdom will be differences here. Dallas, New England, and Seattle are higher than conventional wisdom. Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Atlanta are lower than conventional wisdom.

Here’s how the 49ers finished in DVOA for 2021:

Total: 6th, 19.5%
Offense: 5th, 14.9%
Defense: 7th, -0.7%
Special teams: 26th, -2.4%

2022 projections:
Total: 5th, 10.3%
Offensve: 6th, 8.2%
Defense 7th, -2.7%
Special teams: 26th, -0.7%

The defense will improve slightly while the offense takes a step back with Lance under center is how to read those numbers. The drop in team DVOA from 19.5% to 10.3% is like going from the 49ers in 2021 in sixth place to the tenth-placed Cardinals at 10.9%.

If the offense’s efficiency takes a hit, then I’d the hope is that Lance brings more chunk plays to the offense and Kyle Shanahan turns more aggressive with his play-calling. I wouldn’t look for this team to be a “boom or bust” type of offense, but there will be more variance with Lance.

San Francisco’s special teams unit will be better throughout the season if they stay healthy. Each unit is already made up of backups but when you have multiple injuries you’re now relying on practice squad players to fill out your coverage units and that has proven costly for the Niners.

Football Outsiders also projected each teams schedule, with the 49ers coming in at 13th — the closer you are to No. 1 the more difficult the schedule. The opponents for next season have been finalized but we won’t know the order for a couple of more months.

What we thought would be a doable final stretch for the 49ers this past season turned into a somewhat challenging second half of the season. The Vikings were fighting for a playoff spot, the Seahawks finished Week’s 14-18 with the No. 1 offense per DVOA in the league, the Bengals made the Super Bowl, the Titans were a playoff team, and the Rams won it all.

It’s more about how the 49ers are playing down the stretch than anything. With Lance, the first half of the season will be used to figure out how they’ll look when it’s time to make a run for the playoffs.