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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Why ESPN, PFF rank the 49ers roster as the third-best in the NFL

Jun 25, 2020 at 1:01 PM--

Rankings don't typically mean much during the offseason. They are usually just a fun way to pass the time and create some healthy debate among sports fanbases.

ESPN's latest one probably isn't much different. However, it isn't based merely on opinion and projections. It is based on the massive amount of data produced by the analytics giant, Pro Football Focus. The two join forces to rank the NFL's best rosters.

Where did the San Francisco 49ers fall within the ranking? In case you glanced past the title of this article, the Bay Area squad came in at No. 3, with just the Baltimore Ravens (No. 1) and New Orleans Saints (No. 2) head of them.

Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus identifies the 49ers pass rush as the team's biggest strength heading into the 2020 season, despite losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner this offseason. Much of that is due to the potential of getting a healthy Dee Ford back in the lineup.

"Ford's 77 quarterback pressures in 2018 were more than any other edge defender," wrote Linsey.

Pro Football Focus earlier this month ranked the 49ers edge defenders, comprised for Ford, Nick Bosa, and Arik Armstead, as the best in the NFL.

While Richard Sherman earned one of his strongest Pro Football Focus grades last season, and he and K'Waun Williams were named the analytics site's highest-graded cornerback duo, that didn't stop Linsey from identifying the position as the team's biggest weakness. He did note, however, that it's hard to find many holes within the roster.

So why is cornerback a weakness? Sherman turned 32 in March, and Emmanuel Moseley lacks a ton of experience.

"Emmanuel Moseley likely will get the nod at the other outside spot," wrote Linsey, "and while he played reasonably well in his opportunity last season as the starter (68.0 coverage grade), he's also a 2018 undrafted free agent without a ton of starting experience."

Linsey named offensive tackle Trent Williams as the 49ers' X-factor for the upcoming season.

"Williams sat out the entire 2019 season," Linsey wrote, "but he earned eight consecutive grades of 75.0 or higher from 2011 through 2018, finishing six of those seasons above the 80.0 threshold."

Only two 49ers starters, Sherman and tight end George Kittle, are listed as "elite" within Pro Football Focus' grading scale. The team has five starters who fall under the category of "good." They are Bosa, K'waun Williams, running back Raheem Mostert, defensive lineman Arik Armstead, and safety Jimmy Ward. Every other starter was listed as average or worse.

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