By: Jordan Kendall, Senior Staff Writer
The San Francisco 49ers are two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but last season they were one of the unluckiest teams in recent memory because of injuries. The Niners had 16 players miss at least eight games, and in week 17 they had 18 players on injured reserve.
This offseason, they traded up in the draft for North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. This move, along with the return of most of their key players from the 2020 Super Bowl appearance, makes them one of the most intriguing teams heading into the 2021 season. For this week’s column, I’m going to discuss whether I think San Francisco will bounce back.
Let’s start with the good news. On offense, they have the ninth-ranked offensive line heading into 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. The Niners also have George Kittle, arguably the best tight end in football.
Last season Kittle only played eight games, however he had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019. When healthy, I think it’s a coin flip between him and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs for who the top tight end is.
San Francisco also has running back Raheem Mostert, who also missed half the season in 2020. He broke out in the 2019 NFC Championship vs the Green Bay Packers. He rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns, the third player in the NFL with four rushing touchdowns in a playoff game. With the offensive line he has to work with, I think he can easily rush for 1,000 yards this season.
On defense they have two of the top players in the league in defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner. Bosa only played two games last season, however, in 2019 he recorded nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss. When healthy I think he’s capable of 12-15 sacks.
Warner is arguably the top middle linebacker in the league and has surpassed 115 tackles in each of his first three seasons. Last year he was one of 12 players with at least 125 tackles. He does exactly what a linebacker should do, he quickly finds the ball and makes a play.
The 49ers season will come down to the quarterbacks. Jimmy Garoppolo is the starter for now, however Lance was impressive in the preseason. Garoppolo only played six games for San Francisco last season.
In 2019 he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. I don’t think he’s a bad quarterback, but I also think they can do better. I’d put him in the top 15-20 range among other starters. He showed in 2019 he can play well, but I don’t think he’s a quarterback that will lead you to the Super Bowl like Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs can.
I also think there’s a reason San Francisco made the move to trade up and get Lance. It cost them three first-round picks, which are arguably the most valuable assets a team has in the NFL. You don’t make a move like that unless you plan to use Lance sooner rather than later.
As a rookie quarterback it’s hard to predict how he’s going to do in year one. I believe he will be the starter by the end of the season unless Garoppolo plays at a MVP level. Because of the uncertainty at quarterback, I think there’s a big range of how their season could go. I would not be surprised to see them win the NFC West. I also would not be stunned if they miss the playoffs entirely.
Right now, I have San Francisco on the outside looking in and missing the playoffs. I believe there’s too much competition within their own division, I could see three teams from the NFC West in the playoffs.
All four teams in their division are really good on paper, so someone is going to have to miss out. Since the Niners are the only ones with potentially a rookie quarterback, I think they are the most likely to be left behind.