First of all, let's be clear: the projections are bad. A perusal of the power rankings of most major publications makes it clear that pundits are predicting that the 49ers will be a really bad team. ESPN has the 49ers ranked dead last at #32 in their power rankings. Sports Illustrated has the 49ers ranked #30, and USA Today has the 49ers ranked #31. So, saying that the 49ers will outperform those projections is not exactly a bold prediction. However, considering the recent talent upgrade on both the offensive and defensive lines, it is not out of the question to conclude that the 49ers might just blow those expectations out of the water.
According to Pro Football Focus, in the 2015-2016 season, the Oakland Raiders were the only team that had both a Top 10-ranked offensive and defensive line. That statistic illustrates how rare it is to have great line play on both sides of the ball at the same time.
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Due to the draft acquisition of guard Joshua Garnett of Stanford and defensive end Deforest Buckner of Oregon, coupled with the return of 2010 first round pick Anthony Davis, the Niners suddenly find themselves with an intriguing influx of talent in the trenches.
The offensive line was, by all accounts, the most glaring weakness for the Niners in 2015. Jordan Devey, who started at guard for most of the season, is gone. Erik Pears, who took the majority of starting snaps at right tackle has fallen down the depth chart, and is battling just to secure a roster spot. Their replacements from last year, Andrew Tiller and Trent Brown respectively, have looked very good in camp by most accounts, so much so, that Davis, who has played the tackle position since joining the Niners, volunteered to move to guard and has been receiving first team snaps: at the expense of Tiller. Throw in Zane Beadles, the former Pro Bowl guard acquired in free agency from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and quick math suggests that the 49ers will have two starter-quality guards coming off the bench. Some would argue that last year there were not two starter-quality guards on the entire roster.
On the defensive line, Arik Armstead, last year's first round pick from Oregon has been earning rave reviews for his progress from year one to year two. 2016 first round pick Deforest Buckner was considered to be the best player in the entire draft by some, and the best defensive lineman by most. That defensive end combination has opened eyes and drawn lofty praise from the coaching staff, teammates and opposing players. With Glenn Dorsey returning to compete with the improving Mike Purcell at nose tackle, the defensive line has the potential to be very formidable as well.
The issue with potential is that it still has to be realized. There's always the chance that some of these players may not live up to it. However, anyone who has watched these developments closely must admit that given this combination of talent, and what they've done in the recent past, it is not out of the question that either or both of these units might gel and become among the best in the league.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but what I do know is that I can never remember seeing a bad football team that had both a good offensive and defensive line. Coaches preach to players that everything starts up front, and that sentiment has been proven time and time again. If you're looking for a reason to expect better things from the 2016 49ers than the majority of experts are predicting, then look no further than the offensive and defensive lines.