The San Francisco 49ers have high hopes for the upcoming season, but one NFL analyst says it is already time for a tempering of those expectations.
In an article that ran on Bleacher Report Monday, May 10, contributor Maurice Moton listed his five most overrated franchises heading into the 2021 campaign.
Number two on Moton’s list? The 49ers.
49ers Issues Start Under Center, According to Bleacher Report Analyst
Like most analysts familiar with the intricacies of the NFL, Moton acknowledged that if they remain relatively healthy, San Francisco is likely playoff-bound this season. Oddsmakers are projecting the 49ers for double-digit wins, which would all but guarantee a postseason berth.
However, another commonly held sentiment among people who know football is that a team’s quarterback is exponentially more important to its success than almost any other position on the field, and there are two ways to look at the 49ers situation under center.
The optimistic take is that Jimmy Garoppolo is 22-8 as the team’s starter and led San Francisco to a Super Bowl just two years ago. He is now backed up by Trey Lance, a top-three draft pick with a wide array of tangible and intangible skills, not to mention an almost limitless upside.
The pessimistic take is that schemes drawn up by head coach Kyle Shanahan, a solid running game and one of the toughest defenses in the NFL carried Garoppolo to his success, not the other way around. Furthermore, if Garoppolo struggles with injuries again, like he has during much of his time in San Francisco, the 49ers will have to turn to an unproven, inexperienced rookie who most analysts do not believe is ready to lead a contender after only 17 FCS starts during his collegiate career.
“Garoppolo isn’t a reliable starter,” Moton said. “He’s missed 23 games over the last three seasons. We could see rookie quarterback Trey Lance take over for his oft-injured veteran counterpart. If Lance, Josh Rosen, Nate Sudfeld or Josh Johnson start multiple games, the 49ers don’t have much of a shot to reach Super Bowl LVI.”
Coaching Shake-Ups and Questions in the Secondary Could Impact 49ers Defense
It was injury that derailed one of the league’s most formidable defenses in 2020. This time around, the danger could rest with changes to the 49ers coaching staff.
Former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh left the team after last season to take a head coaching position with the New York Jets. DeMeco Ryans will now ascend to play-calling responsibilities and while he boasts several years of experience as a defensive coach with the team, Ryans will be a first-time coordinator.
Even if Ryans turns out to be a brilliant strategist, Moton contended that one of the 49ers key units faces considerably more questions this season than it did during San Francisco’s Super Bowl campaign in 2019.
“Two years ago, when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, (Richard) Sherman had a Pro Bowl campaign,” Moton wrote. “He’s a free agent but had talks with the team about a new deal.”
“Jason Verrett had a solid 2020 showing, but he’s hard to rely on because of his injury history,” Moton continued. “In the third round of this year’s draft, San Francisco selected cornerback Ambry Thomas, who must prove himself. Emmanuel Moseley is a decent starter, but he has just two interceptions in 29 games.”
The convergence of potential problems under center and a possibly shaky secondary are what led the analyst to his characterization of the 49ers as the second-most overrated team heading into the new season.
“Without Saleh, San Francisco may need Garoppolo to shoulder more of an offensive load. If he’s injured or a subpar performer while healthy, which was the case last season, the 49ers will struggle to even reach the playoffs,” Moton wrote. “This squad has too many variables at play to be considered a top-five Super Bowl favorite.”