The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: NFC West – San Francisco 49ers


San Francisco 49ers

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

At times, we see NFL teams get stuck on certain players. This often happens to Super Bowl winners, but there are other examples of Super Bowl runner-ups doing the same. The San Francisco 49ers are not one of those teams.

Rather than trying to keep a team that had notable success together, the 49ers work with their eye on what the next version of the team that wins will look like, and nothing better epitomized that than their move to trade up and draft quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick.

Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster and will likely end up starting the season, though that was also the narrative when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted a different North Dakota State quarterback, Carson Wentz, and had Sam Bradford in place. Life changed quickly once a trade destination for Bradford opened up, and the same could happen with Garoppolo. Once they add Lance’s talents as a runner to a run game that was already a nightmare to prepare for, the sky will be the limit.

The 49ers’ offensive line is set to be excellent with Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey on the edges, center Alex Mack joining the team after a long stretch in Atlanta, and Aaron Banks, a second-round pick, added to push the presumed starting guard tandem of Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill. San Francisco has a long list of backs who could be productive behind the line, and with the trio of tight end George Kittle, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk slated to be healthy to start the season, this offense could be as talented as any in the league.

They did lose Kendrick Bourne, who has been a consistent route-runner for them over the past few seasons, but Mohamed Sanu, who had a brief stretch in San Francisco last year, could be a fit in that role after a strong finish to his 2020 season as a Lion. Kyle Juszczyk also returns, so the 49ers have everything they need to make the run game a nightmare to defend once Lance takes over.

The defense once again boasts significant talent, but as we’ve seen in recent seasons, their success depends heavily on health. Defensive end Nick Bosa is coming back from a torn ACL, and Jason Verrett, who is the top corner now that Richard Sherman has moved on, was healthy last season, but has a rough injury history. That pair’s ability to stay on the field will heavily impact this unit’s performance in their first year with DeMeco Ryans as the defensive coordinator.

It’s a surer bet that the defense will be stout up the middle. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw have as much range as any linebacker tandem in the league, and Javon Kinlaw could take a step forward to become a more impactful pass rusher in his second season. The safety tandem of Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward returns, and Arik Armstead is a notable presence as an oversized base end/sub-package interior rusher.

The highest-drafted rookie on the defensive side of the ball was corner Ambry Thomas, a third-round pick, which means that all of the expected contributors have NFL experience. The 49ers also added a number of veteran defensive linemen looking to improve, including Maurice Hurst, Samson Ebukam, and Arden Key. They’re far from sure things, but the 49ers have done a good job getting defensive linemen further down their depth chart to contribute in the past few years, and it wouldn’t surprise to see them do it again.

To some degree, this team is in a holding pattern until Lance takes over. They can win with Garoppolo, but film junkies around the country can’t wait to see how Shannahan builds around Lance, and every game with Garoppolo will be accompanied by the question of how things would be different with Lance. When it happens, it should bring big time results.

QB Passing Projections

Trey Lance2611237.8351.20.688.382941.221.09.623.21
Jimmy Garoppolo366139.1194.80.718.681690.811.75.617.91

QB Rushing Projections

Trey Lance261182.64.64382.85.825.944.123.21
Jimmy Garoppolo36615.41.8929.

Skill Projections, Rushing

Deebo SamuelWR61179.97.0069.
Raheem MostertRB6517164.25.00820.
Jeff Wilson Jr.RB6917169.64.71799.05.934.329.29.87
Tre SermonRB2251752.14.28222.

Skill Projections, Receiving

George KittleTE291771.289.014.031248.98.222.925.012.85
Deebo SamuelWR611770.575.614.071063.73.619.611.110.32
Raheem MostertRB651774.731.78.45267.
Jeff Wilson Jr.RB691760.420.18.62173.
Brandon AiyukWR881761.358.413.07763.37.217.421.98.74
Kyle JuszczykRB1921772.431.610.57334.
Mohamed Sanu Sr.WR2031770.226.511.11294.
Tre SermonRB2251765.811.45.8967.
MyCole PruittTE2571777.619.610.40204.
Richie JamesWR2701769.412.916.73215.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.