Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN explains why the 49ers may be overrated in 2022

May 17, 2022 at 9:08 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers came in at No. 9 in ESPN's post-draft power ranking. If you were upset about that underwhelming result, the Bay Area squad's placement in ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) isn't going to make you any happier.

San Francisco came in at No. 24 in the FPI rankings, at 6.1 points worse than the metric of an average NFL team on a neutral field.

Why such a low ranking for a team coming off an NFC title appearance? By comparison, the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers' NFC Championship Game opponent and eventual Super Bowl champions, sit at No. 3. The AFC title game participants, the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals, come in at Nos. 4 and 16, respectively.

Much of the 49ers' FPI ranking has to do with the quarterback situation. The analytics backing it is assuming that last year's No. 3 overall pick, Trey Lance, will be the starter. That is the expectation around the league as San Francisco looks to part ways with Jimmy Garoppolo, its starting quarterback of the past four-and-a-half seasons.

Lance over Garoppolo is a hit to the 49ers' FPI ranking, resulting in the team being given a 39 percent chance of making the playoffs.

"And if it is Lance, the model doesn't see how the 49ers could possibly justify a win total of 10 and be considered one of the better teams in the NFC," wrote Seth Walder.

However, before you boycott ESPN, it is worth noting that the FPI ranking, as a rule, penalizes quarterbacks who do not play. Lance started just two games during his rookie season despite the 49ers mortgaging much of its draft future for the young player. He played just 178 total in-game snaps and made just 71 pass attempts. There isn't a large enough sample size of work to properly analyze his play.

"There's upside there, of course, and perhaps he stars in his first season as a starter," Walder continued. "But the mean expectation for Lance can't yet be great.

"So while receiver Deebo Samuel and edge rusher Nick Bosa are superstars, the run defense is strong and Kyle Shanahan is a good coach, it's hard to overcome a relative liability at quarterback. And that's our best guess for Lance at this point."

Where would the 49ers rank with Garoppolo at the helm in 2022? The veteran helped the team reach the NFC Championship Game twice over the past three seasons and owns a career record of 33-14 as a starter.

"They would move up to 13th in the FPI rankings," Walder revealed. "It's a big jump, fueled by the fact that Garoppolo has posted decent QBRs throughout his career -- which is a lot better than what the model assumes the 49ers will get from Lance in 2022 on average."

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