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Are the pre-draft 49ers currently better than the NFC Championship Game 49ers?

Marc Adams
Apr 4, 2022 at 11:54 AM--

The National Football League is a year-round circus. It never takes a break. That's great for fans, and also for content creators, because we always have something to discuss (or debate).

It's no different for the San Francisco 49ers. The fanbase of this team is passionate and is always hungry for more information and discussion surrounding the five-time Super Bowl Champions.

So I thought I'd take a shot at seeing where the team stands right now, compared to January 30th, when the 49ers lost by a field goal to the division-rival Los Angeles Rams. We are well into free agency, and it doesn't look like the front office is going to make any other big moves. So this is likely the team they will take into the NFL Draft on April 28-30. The 49ers, of course, do not have a first-round pick. They traded this one (and others) away for the chance to draft Trey Lance last year. So unless they trade into the first round, they will only be observers on Thursday, April 28.

Once the 49ers make their draft selections and sign undrafted free agents, the roster will be made of who we will see once training camp begins in late July. Sure there will be some smaller additions or subtractions, but nothing that will move the needle much, unless a certain quarterback is traded.

Before training camp, there will be OTAs (organized team activities) throughout May and June, as well as a Mandatory Minicamp June 13-15.

So where does the team stand currently? Are the 49ers better right now, before the draft, than they were on January 30? Or have they taken a step back? Let's take a look at each position and see.


Quarterback: Too early to say
Lance will likely be the starting quarterback. But Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster. I suspect he'll be traded in June or July, but it's possible the team releases him or decides to keep him for the 2022 season. I have already expressed why I think the 49ers need to move on from Garoppolo, but they may not agree with my concerns.

Is it possible Garoppolo is the starter? Sure, it's possible. But I don't believe it will happen.

I also have no way of knowing if Lance will be an immediate upgrade over Garoppolo. In all likelihood, he'll be worse early in the season, but better than Garoppolo by the season's end. For now, I don't think I can say whether or not the quarterback position is currently better. Lance will be better someday, but he's also really young and will make his share of mistakes early on.

Running back: Better
Some are going to argue that the running back position will be worse because Raheem Mostert is gone. But Mostert didn't play last season, except for the opening drive of week one. Elijah Mitchell will be back, and so will Jeff Wilson, Jr., and JaMycal Hasty. Additionally, Trey Sermon should be better and can be expected to add more to the team's run game.

This is also a deep draft for running backs, and I would expect Kyle Shanahan to find another good runner late in the draft.

But there is one factor that can't be overlooked-- Lance. Not only does the young quarterback have the ability to throw downfield, which (in time) will loosen up opposing defenses so they don't crowd the line of scrimmage as much, but he himself is a threat to run. If they use him properly, and I believe they will, his presence on the field will help the running game.

This group of running backs has a chance to be really good in the passing game, as well. They can all catch the ball. They will need to work hard on pass protecting, though. Lance will need time to throw.

Wide Receiver: Better
The 49ers may draft a playmaker at wide receiver. But we're asking if the 49ers are better right now, not after the draft.

That said, I still think they are better because I believe Brandon Aiyuk will be much better next season. And so will Jauan Jennings. Yes, the team lost Trent Sherfield, but he wasn't much of a factor on offense in 2021. I think they may use Ray-Ray McCloud on offense occasionally to provide something that the other receivers don't necessarily provide.

The 49ers' top three wide receivers are young and should improve.

Tight-end: Same
The 49ers still have George Kittle. I would like to have seen them add another pass-catching threat, but they didn't. They did re-sign Ross Dwelley, but he's mostly a number three.

Offensive line: Worse
This is my biggest concern for the offense and is the reason the offense may not be as good in 2022.

The 49ers still have Trent Williams, the best offensive tackle on the planet. They still (seemingly) have Alex Mack at center. Daniel Brunskill is still there, but he's not the right guard we want. He's a good backup, and he knows how to dominate Aaron Donald, somehow. But he's a backup.

Williams, Mack, and Brunskill could be the only starters who remain from last season. The 49ers let left guard Laken Tomlinson walk in free agency. They hope Aaron Banks, the second-year guard who barely played last season, can step in and replace Tomlinson. I have concerns about that.

Tom Compton left in free agency, and the starter he replaced, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, suffered an injury last season that was bad enough that his chances of returning are only around 50%. And yet we hear nothing about him. Are they counting on Jaylon Moore to step in and start?

There are so many question marks along the offensive line. Too many for me to say they're even as good as they were last season.

Determination: The offense is currently worse, based mostly on the question marks at the offensive line and quarterback.


Defensive line: Worse
Losing D.J. Jones is as big of a loss as losing Tomlinson. This defense may be more susceptible to the run in 2022 because Jones was the one who plugged up the middle. He also could provide a push in the passing game. The 49ers will get Javon Kinlaw back, so that could help, especially if Kinlaw is finally healthy. He hasn't been since he was drafted.

The 49ers also lost some valuable depth along the defensive line, namely Kentavius Street and Arden Key. They did re-sign Jordan Willis and are bringing back 2020 sack leader, Kerry Hyder Jr. They signed defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway as a free agent, but he is only a depth piece. Maybe Kinlaw and Ridgeway can help replace Jones in the run game, and maybe Hyder can add some inside rush on passing downs.

Of course, they still have Nick Bosa. He alone has the ability to make this group better. Dee Ford will be gone, but he barely played for the 49ers as it was.

Linebackers: Same
Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Azzez Al-Shaair. That's all you have to say. This is the best linebacker group in the NFL, and they may be getting better.

Cornerbacks: Better
K'Waun Williams is a big loss, but the 49ers may have internal answers. The team added cornerback Charvarius Ward in free agency. Ward was their biggest free-agent signing, and he should add a lot to the secondary. If the starters are Ward and Emmanuel Moseley, then when the team goes in nickel coverage, they could bring in Ambry Thomas and move Moseley inside. Second-year corner Deommodore Lenoir is also a possibility to replace Williams.

Safeties: Worse
Jimmie Ward is still in San Francisco. But it appears Jaquiski Tartt won't be back. They make a great tandem. The 49ers seem high on Talanoa Hufanga, the second-year safety. Hufanga always seems to be around the ball, but he struggles in coverage, so I'm not sure he's the answer to replace Tartt.

The 49ers signed safety George Odum in free agency. But he appears to be more of a special teams guy.

For now, I think the safety position is worse.

Determination: Currently, the defense seems worse. Although they are better at corner, the questions at safety and defensive line make me hesitant to believe they'll be as good as the 2021 version. But there is still time to add some players who can make an impact.

Special teams

We all know how bad the 49ers' special teams unit was in 2021. With the exception of two plays in the Divisional Playoff Game in Green Bay, this unit underperformed all season.

The coverage units should be much improved after adding Odom and Oren Burks. And the return game should be better. Though McCloud didn't blow anyone away, he still led the NFL in punt returns last season. The one thing that scares me is his propensity to fumble. If he holds on to the ball, the special teams' return game should be better. If he doesn't, then it will be worse.

Determination: For now, special teams look to be better.

The offense currently is worse than they were on January 30, and so is the defense. The special teams unit looks like it will be much improved. But that's only a small part of the game. We'll see what happens in the draft, but for now, I think the 49ers are worse than they were in the NFC Championship Game. But not by much. This team should still be really good.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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