Skip to content

PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 1: San Francisco 49ers

AP

The San Francisco 49ers earn the top spot in our preseason power rankings after a trip to the Super Bowl last season.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over the helm midseason and was able to get the 49ers past their NFC Championship game appearance of 2011 and back to the game’s biggest stage. While the 49ers ultimately fell a few plays short of a title, they enter the 2013 season as a championship contender once again.

The 49ers will need to stem the tide of injuries to key players early in the season and find adequate replacements for a few departed veterans. They’ll also have to navigate perhaps the toughest division in the NFL but the outlook for the 49ers is still rosy as training camp gets underway.

Strengths.

The 49ers offensive line has been among the best in the league for several seasons. The starting group of Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis started all 16 games last season. Staley and Iupati both were selected to the Pro Bowl last season with Boone as an alternate. Adam Snyder is a veteran that should be able to fill-in adequately at guard should either Iupati or Boone go down with an injury as well.

San Francisco linebackers are also among the strongest units in the league. As with the offensive line, the linebacking corps for the 49ers was remarkably durable as the four starters each started all 16 games last season. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form a formidable tandem inside and Aldon Smith has quickly become one of the best pass rushers in the league in his first two seasons. Parys Haralson is returning after a torn triceps forced him to miss all of last season and third-round pick Corey Lemonier adds even more depth to an already strong group.

Weaknesses.

With Michael Crabtree out for the foreseeable future with a torn Achilles and Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams on PUP while working back from ACL tears, the 49ers have serious questions at the wide receiver position. Anquan Boldin is a solid veteran option but he’s adjusting to his new team. A.J. Jenkins saw just one target in a wasted rookie season. The 49ers need Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette or fourth-round pick Quinton Patton to become contributors to bridge the gap until Crabtree and Manningham get healthy.

Vernon Davis is one of the best tight ends in the game. However, the loss of Delanie Walker to Tennessee will be a blow – especially if Davis is needed to help at receiver with the mounting injuries outside. Garrett Celek appeared in 13 games last season but isn’t much of a receiving option. Second-round pick Vance McDonald could fill the role of the departed Walker and be the complementary tight end the 49ers need.

Changes.

The trade to acquire Anquan Boldin from the Ravens this offseason has become a pivotal move for the 49ers following the Achilles injury to Crabtree. Manningham and Williams are still working back from knee injuries and Boldin will be the only option with any real experience and proven production until they can return. San Francisco added cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and safety Craig Dahl to add depth on the defensive side of the ball. Kicker Phil Dawson looks to solidify a position that was wildly inconsistent with David Akers last season.

Quarterback Alex Smith left to take over the starting job for the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers signed Colt McCoy from Cleveland to serve as the backup for Kaepernick. Tight end Delanie Walker left in free agency to sign with the Tennessee Titans. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and safety Dashon Goldson signed a lucrative contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Camp battles.

Cornerback should be one of the more intriguing battles of camp for the 49ers. Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers starters all 16 games for the 49ers last year but should see competition from Asomugha for playing time. Chris Culliver also was a decent contributor for San Francisco at times last season and will be in the mix as well.

With the departure of Sopoaga to the Eagles, the 49ers will need to find a replacement along the defensive line. Dorsey is expected to compete with Ian Williams for the starting nose tackle job though Dorsey doesn’t have the traditional size attributed to a 3-4 nose tackle. Lamar Divens may have an outside shot at competing for the job as well if Dorsey or Williams don’t grab hold of the spot.

Prospects.

The San Francisco 49ers have one of the strongest rosters in the league and could be playing their best at the end of the season after players return from injuries. They’ll miss Crabtree early in the year and the receiving corps is very shaky with Manningham and Williams also working back from injuries. All three are likely to be back at some point during the season and the 49ers should be able to bridge the gap with enough victories to be in the playoff picture until they return. The running game will have to take on additional weight in the interim but Frank Gore and company should continue to shoulder the load well with Kaepernick bringing an added dimension as well.

The 49ers have been the benefactors of remarkable durability over the past few seasons, especially defensively and along the offensive line. Is the Crabtree injury a precursor of issues to come?  The 49ers should expect a serious fight for the NFC West from the rival Seattle Seahawks as well and an improved St. Louis Rams team could continue to cause problems for the 49ers this season. At full strength the 49ers are as talented as any team in the league and should be in the hunt to make the Super Bowl once again.

Permalink 125 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Features, San Francisco 49ers, Top Stories
yo

Aqib Talib: “Definitely a relief” to avoid suspension for self-inflicted gunshot

Getty Images

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib’s offseason in 2016 was interrupted when he inadvertently shot himself in the leg in June, but he learned recently that the incident won’t lead to an interruption of his 2017 season.

The league looked into the incident, which didn’t lead to any charges in Dallas, as a possible violation of the league’s personal conduct policy, but opted not to suspend or fine the veteran corner. Talib discussed the league’s decision for the first time on Tuesday.

“Definitely a relief, man,” Talib said, via ESPN.com. “Just glad I could put it behind me and move on to the season and worry about what I really need to be worrying about.”

Talib said that he was worried last year about how he would hold up physically after wounding himself, but he only missed time because of a back injury and didn’t report any trouble with the leg over the course of the season. He returned from that back injury to close out the season on the field and is expected to join Chris Harris as the team’s starting corners again this year.

Permalink 6 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Daryl Washington gets a conditional reinstatement too

AP

As we close in on 50 hours until the start of the 2017 NFL Draft, the league is conducting what could become a new tradition — the Tuesday afternoon reinstatement dump.

Hours after Pittsburgh wide receiver Martavis Bryant was allowed back in, the league went even deeper into the vault.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the league has conditionally reinstated Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington, who hopes to play in 2017.

Washington hasn’t played in over three years, after substance abuse violations and a guilty plea to an aggravated assault charge.

And the Cardinals have never seemed all that interested in allowing him back through the door, with coach Bruce Arians saying it would be a waste of breath to talk about it.

“Considering we have been prohibited from having contact with him over the last three years,” the team said in a statement Tuesday, “It would be premature today to discuss a potential return to the team.”

Washington was a Pro Bowl-level talent when he played, but that was a long time ago, and it could be tougher for him to find another chance.

Permalink 5 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Aaron Hernandez lawyer: Claims of suicide note to prison lover are false

AP

Last week, after the family of Aaron Hernandez began to ask questions about the circumstances surrounding his death in prison, unnamed law enforcement sources began to leak that Hernandez was bisexual. The specific information reported by Newsweek was that one of the three notes Hernandez left in his cell was addressed to his prison lover. (Newsweek also reported that the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd may have been motivated by a desire to conceal that Hernandez was secretly dating a man.)

The family of Aaron Hernandez has received the notes left by Hernandez in his cell. Attorney Jose Baez has issued a statement on the matter.

“Rumors of letters to a gay lover, in or out of prison, are false,” Baez said. “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead. . . . Notwithstanding my unambiguous statement that there were no such letters, representatives, on behalf of an individual named Kyle Kennedy, continues to advise the media such a gay love letter exists. Accordingly, on behalf of the family of Aaron Hernandez, I am reaffirming, unequivocally, no such letter to Mr. Kennedy, or any other individual, in or out of prison, exists. l urge anyone continuing to spread these malicious untruths to cease immediately.”

This isn’t about the Baez or the Hernandez family expressing a judgment that homosexuality or bisexuality is wrong, and this isn’t about sympathy for a convicted murderer. This is about what appears to be an effort to create emotional turmoil for Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, the mother of his child and the person to whom he was engaged to be married.

It may not be a coincidence that the leaks emerged in the wake of pointed questions and concerns being raised about whether Hernandez actually committed suicide and whether the authorities followed proper procedures to protect him from himself. It may be a sign of things to come, if the tough questions continue to be asked. That’s what Baez is trying to put a stop to.

Complicating the situation is the fact that Kyle Kennedy’s lawyer has said that a letter was left for his client. Again, the Hernandez family has received all notes that were left by Hernandez, and Baez insists that it’s false.

Permalink 15 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Scouting Combine incident kept Reuben Foster from being invited to draft

Getty Images

The Ultimate Reality Show’s ultimate reality show relies in large part on players choosing to show up and serve as live props for the boos-and-bear-hugs bonanza. And with plenty of players passing on attending the draft, it makes sense for the league to not make a habit of excluding prospects from the proceedings.

According to Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster won’t be attending the draft not because he declined the invitation but the league declined to invite him. The decision arose from the Scouting Combine incident that resulted in Foster being sent home following an altercation with a hospital worker.

In hindsight, it’s probably good that Foster won’t be there. Given the news that he provided a dilute sample at the Scouting Combine, triggering a positive substance-abuse test, it’s unclear how long he would have been in the green room.

PFT’s 2017 Worst Mock Draft Ever has Foster’s slide ending at No. 9, with the Bengals.

Permalink 5 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Martavis Bryant’s conditional reinstatement is essentially a full reinstatement

Getty Images

The NFL has granted a conditional reinstatement to Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant. Based on the terms of the conditional reinstatement, it’s no different as a practical matter than a full reinstatement.

Unlike Josh Gordon’s conditional reinstatement of a year ago, which featured a return for training camp and the preseason followed by a four-game suspension to start the regular season, Bryant is back with the team. He can participate in “meetings, conditioning work and similar activities.” He’ll receive full permission to engage in “all preseason activities” as soon as he has made arrangements for ongoing treatment in Pittsburgh, a step that has a perfunctory feel to it.

Ultimately, Bryant will be cleared for the start of the regular season “[b]ased on his compliance and engagement with his program and resources.” Even without that limitation, Bryant would have been required to comply with his treatment and with testing following reinstatement after a banishment of at least one year. Calling the reinstatement conditional simply means that it will be easier for the NFL to pull the plug on his return than it would have been to suspend him again under the procedures of the substance-abuse policy if he had violated any of the terms of his treatment plan.

The best news for Bryant and the Steelers is that the NFL has opted not to drag its feet on his application for reinstatement simply because it can. The league has full power and discretion when it comes to reinstatement a year after banishment, and in multiple past situations there has been a sense that the league has moved to slowly to bring a player back. With Bryant, it seems he has gotten a fair shake. Whether that fair shake extends to Week One depends on his activities going forward — just as it would have if he’d been fully reinstated with no restrictions or limitation or conditions.

Permalink 15 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

2017 Ryan Leaf knows 1998 Ryan Leaf wouldn’t have listened to him

Getty Images

Nineteen years ago, Ryan Leaf became one of the all-time biggest draft busts as the second overall pick of the Chargers. On Tuesday, Leaf talked about what why it went wrong and whether anything could have changed the outcome.

Appearing on PFT Live, Leaf explained that the problem ultimately was him, and that a different team or a different coaching staff or different circumstances wouldn’t have mattered. He added that an unexpected slide on draft day would have made things worse, instead of humbling him.

The situation with Leaf was so bad that he realizes young Ryan Leaf wouldn’t have listened even to the Ryan Leaf of today, despite the sage advice 40-year-old Leaf could impart to his 21-year-old self.

Leaf imparted advice to and shared his experiences with the incoming crop of quarterbacks at the Scouting Combine. I didn’t ask him to tell me which of the prospect reminded 40-year-old Leaf the most of 21-year-old Leaf, but I did ask him to identify which of the quarterbacks impressed him the most.

His answer was Deshaun Watson. To hear him explain that and more, check out the video from his appearance on the show.

Permalink 14 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Browns have spoken to teams about moving up from No. 12

Getty Images

In a column for TheMMQB.com on Monday, Peter King reported that seven teams in the top eight of the draft have interest in talking about a trade that would move them down in the draft order.

The only top-eight team not included in that group is the Browns, who have the first overall pick. They also have the No. 12 pick and could be a partner for one of those other teams.

Mike Silver of NFL Media reports that the Browns have had conversations with three teams in the top eight about a trade that would move them further up in the order. Assuming they take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick, they would presumably be moving back up to get their choice of the draft’s top quarterbacks.

Of that group, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky has been mentioned most often as the player the Browns would like to add to their offense.

Silver adds that the completion of any trade is likely to happen once a team is on the clock Thursday night as plans may change based on which players have come off the board.

Permalink 20 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Martavis Bryant conditionally reinstated after drug suspension

Getty Images

Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant has been conditionally reinstated to the NFL after he spent the entire 2016 season suspended for violation’s of the league’s substance abuse policy.

The NFL informed the Steelers today that Bryant may re-join the team, according to General Manager Kevin Colbert.

“We appreciate that he has taken the necessary steps in an effort to get his personal life in order. We also understand this is just the beginning as he works to return to the team and meet all of the conditions of his reinstatement,” Colbert said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Martavis to ensure that he is mentally and physically prepared to contribute to our efforts on the field, while also maintaining the proper balance to keep his life in order off the field.”

Bryant can participate in team meetings and offseason workouts effective immediately. He will be allowed to participate in training camp practices and preseason games provided that he demonstrates before camp that he has made arrangements to continue drug treatment in Pittsburgh.

Before the regular season the NFL will review his progress, and if he has complied with drug treatment he will be fully reinstated for Week One.

Bryant is a big-play wide receiver who showed great promise before failed drug tests cost him the 2016 season. If he’s fully committed to football, he could be a big part of the Steelers’ offense in 2017.

Permalink 37 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Beyond 2017, status of Bradford and Bridgewater is up in the air

AP

For the 2017 season, Sam Bradford is poised to start at quarterback for the Vikings, while Teddy Bridgewater will be on the roster but may not be medically cleared to play. Beyond 2017, it’s unclear whether either of them is in the Vikings’ plans.

That came out today when both Bradford and Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman talked to the local media as the team conducted offseason workouts.

Bradford said he doesn’t think his agent has had any discussions with the team about a contract. Bradford’s current deal, the two-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Eagles last year before they traded him to Minnesota, expires after the season, so he’s set to be a free agent in 2018.

And Spielman said the team has no timeline on the return of Bridgewater from the devastating knee injury he suffered last year in training camp. Bridgewater’s rookie contract is up after this year as well, if the Vikings don’t pick up his fifth-year option.

So it’s possible that both Bradford and Bridgewater will be free agents in 2018, and the Vikings will be looking for a new quarterback. Perhaps they’ll draft a quarterback this week with the idea that he’ll spend a season sitting and be ready to start next year.

Permalink 40 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Gareon Conley won’t attend draft

Getty Images

Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley was among the players the NFL announced as draft attendees this year, but a report that he’s named in a police report regarding an allegation of sexual assault appears to have changed his plans.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Conley will not be in Philadelphia for this week’s event.

Conley has been widely projected to be a first-round pick over the last couple of months, but the allegation reported by TMZ is likely to have an impact on where he winds up going. Conley’s lawyer has called the allegations “ludicrous and ridiculous” and Conley has not been charged with any crime, but there’s a recent example that doesn’t bode well for Conley.

Offensive lineman La’El Collins was expected to be a high pick a couple of years ago, but went undrafted after he was not cleared of involvement in the murder of an ex-girlfriend. Collins signed with the Cowboys after eventually being cleared.

Conley could be cleared of any wrongdoing between now and Thursday, but anything short of that could lead to a drop that Conley apparently wants to avoid reacting to in front of cameras.

Permalink 38 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Titans pick up Taylor Lewan’s 2018 option

Getty Images

The list of teams picking up their options for a fifth-year on the contract of their 2014 first-round picks continues to grow.

Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan is the latest addition. Field Yates of ESPN.com reported the move was made on Tuesday afternoon.

Lewan was the 11th overall pick in 2014 and started six games as a rookie before moving into a full-time role on the first team the next year. He’s started 31-of-32 games over the last two seasons and joins 2016 first-round pick Jack Conklin as anchors on either side of an offensive line that helped the team vault from 25th to 3rd in rushing yards last year.

A long-term extension for Lewan would set the Titans up for more of the same for several years to come and would also clear the way for the team to focus on a new deal for quarterback Marcus Mariota after he completes his third NFL season.

UPDATE 2:36 p.m. ET: Titans General Manager Jon Robinson made the option decision official at a Tuesday press conference.

Permalink 3 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Saints declare Adrian Peterson “an excellent fit” on field, locker room

Getty Images

The Saints made it official Tuesday, announcing their two-year contract with running back Adrian Peterson.

And while he’s coming in as the backup to Mark Ingram and on a reasonably modest contract, the Saints set the bar pretty high for him on his way in the door.

“We are excited to welcome Adrian to the New Orleans Saints,” coach Sean Payton said in a release. “It’s rare and unique to have the opportunity to add a Hall of Fame player to your roster. His career has been top-notch and speaks for itself. We think he will be an excellent fit in our locker room and in our offense. We look forward to the opportunity later this spring to work with him on the field along with the rest of our team.”

Payton has always been able to make use of multiple backs, and it will be fascinating to see how they’re able to use Ingram and Peterson together.

When Peterson has been well, he’s been one of the best backs in the history of the game. But he’s been healthy one season in the last three, and wasn’t terribly productive last year (averaging 1.9 yards per carry). And he’s never exactly been in a job-sharing role, so it will be interesting to see how Peterson and Ingram handle it.

Permalink 18 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Gareon Conley accused of sexual assault in Cleveland

Getty Images

The unnamed player facing an accusation of sexual assault in Cleveland has been named. According to TMZ, the first-round prospect is Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley.

Conley strongly denies the accusations.

Per TMZ, a police report explains that a 23-year-old woman said Conley raped her in the bathroom of a suite at the Westin Hotel in Cleveland. The police report reportedly explains that the alleged victim claims she met Conley in an elevator, and that he asked her to have a “foursome.” The alleged victim claims she declined to participate but agreed to watch as others had group sex.

In the initial report regarding the incident, which didn’t name Conley, lawyer Kevin Spellacy called the accusation “ludicrous and ridiculous,” and argued that “this young lady is an opportunist and it’s actually despicable.”

According to TMZ, two of Conley’s friends told police nothing happened between him and the woman.

Conley supposedly is willing to be interviewed after the draft. If, however, he’s not cleared by police before the draft, his stock could plummet. At least one team that was considering taking Conley in the first round has told PFT that, if this cloud remains as of Thursday night, the team won’t be able to select him.

Permalink 93 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Agent: Former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s not retiring

Getty Images

When the draft dominoes begin to fall Thursday night, the quarterbacks still looking for work can begin looking for jobs.

And Jay Cutler will apparently be among them.

Cutler’s agent Bus Cook told Adam Schefter of ESPN that his client had no intention to retire.

Jay wants to play football,” Cook said. “He never has mentioned retirement to me. Jay Cutler, as far as I know, is ready to play and wants to play, and his skill set is as good as any quarterback in the league.”

Of course, the sound of Cook’s phone not ringing has been heard loud and clear since the Bears let Cutler walk out the door.

There’s no question he’s more talented than many of the guys who have jobs playing quarterback. But talent is no longer the question about the 33-year-old Cutler.

Permalink 28 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

PFT’s one and only money-back-guaranteed mock draft

I’m not a big fan of mock drafts, for a variety of reasons. First, everyone has one — and most have enough versions that, statistically, one of them is destined to seem prescient. Second, it makes no sense to project the picks before free agency, when some needs are addressed and other needs may arise. Third, every mock draft is immediately dubbed the “worst mock draft ever” regardless of how it’s configured.

With all that said, we now do one per year. I get the bulk of the input directly from folks who make their living evaluating players, and I only make a handful of revisions.

We’ve projected only one trade, but for the most part that’s even more of a crapshoot than picking players. (I’ll be watching to see whether the Bengals trade down and still get their projected pick, whether the Titans trade the No. 18 pick to the Seahawks for Richard Sherman, whether any of the teams with aging franchise quarterbacks move up to get a rookie at the position, and whether the Saints eventually send the No. 32 pick back to the Patriots for cornerback Malcolm Butler.)

So here it is. Dismiss it, demean it, disregarded it. It doesn’t matter to me; I can now check the box and move back to real news instead of fake draft boards.

1. Browns: Myles Garrett, defensive end, Texas A&M.

2. 49ers: Solomon Thomas, defensive end, Stanford.

3. Bears: Jamal Adams, safety, LSU.

4. Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, running back, LSU.

5. Titans (from Rams): Jonathan Allen, defensive lineman, Alabama.

6. Browns (projected trade from Jets): Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, North Carolina.

7. Chargers: O.J. Howard, tight end, Alabama.

8. Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, running back, Stanford.

9. Bengals: Reuben Foster, linebacker, Alabama.

10. Bills: Marshon Lattimore, cornerback, Ohio State.

11. Saints: Haason Reddick, linebacker, Temple.

12. Jets (projected trade with Browns via Eagles): Marlon Humphrey, cornerback, Alabama.

13. Cardinals: Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Clemson.

14. Eagles (from Vikings): Derek Barnett, defensive end, Tennessee.

15. Colts: Charles Harris, linebacker/defensive end, Missouri.

16. Ravens: Malik Hooker, safety, Ohio State.

17. Washington: Jarrad Davis, linebacker, Florida.

18. Titans: Mike Williams, receiver, Clemson.

19. Buccaneers: Dalvin Cook, running back, Florida State.

20. Broncos: Ryan Ramczyk, tackle, Wisconsin.

21. Lions: Corey Davis, receiver, Western Michigan.

22. Dolphins: Cam Robinson, tackle, Alabama.

23. Giants: David Njoku, tight end, Miami.

24. Raiders: John Ross, receiver, Washington.

25. Texans: Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech.

26. Seahawks: Garrett Bolles, tackle, Utah

27. Chiefs: Davis Webb, quarterback, Cal.

28. Cowboys: Takkarist McKinley, linebacker, UCLA.

29. Packers: Tim Williams, linebacker, Alabama.

30. Steelers: Jabrill Peppers, safety, Michigan.

31. Falcons: Taco Charlton, defensive end, Michigan.

32. Saints: Adoree Jackson, cornerback, USC.

Permalink 68 Comments Feed for comments Back to top