49ers news: ESPN ranks Niners offensive weapons 18th entering 2020

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers with George Kittle #85 (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers with George Kittle #85 (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell looks at the 49ers offensive weapons and considers them in the middle of the pack compared to other top contenders in 2020.

The NFL is a star-driven league, and the San Francisco 49ers don’t hurt for star power.

This is true on both sides of the ball, of course, and the Niners offense boasts more than a handful of household names entering 2020.

Yet for ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, whatever star power San Francisco has isn’t quite enough to get the team over the mean average of squads’ offensive weapons heading into the upcoming season.

Barnwell put together an aggregate compilation of each team’s offensive weapons, then ranked them out power-rankings style from Nos. 32 to 1. You’re probably not going to be surprised who comes in at the top spot. And if you needed some help, just go back and painfully watch what happened in Super Bowl LIV, correspond it with that lucrative contract given out to the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and all the subsequent attention Patrick Mahomes has and will continue to get by it.

Quarterbacks are most important on Barnwell’s list, so there’s that to understand. And while the Niners’ own, Jimmy Garoppolo, put together nearly 4,000 yards passing a season ago and ranked high in both completion percentage (69.1) and passer rating (102.0), his fourth-quarter collapse seems to have scarred his reputation heading into 2020 beyond repair.

At least for now.

And as far as Barnwell’s listing for San Francisco, well, he has its offensive weapons coming in at No. 18.

The rationale:

"If these rankings were focused more on depth than top-tier talent, the 49ers would rank close to the top of the charts. San Francisco is deep at running back and wide receiver, even after trading Matt Breida and Marquise Goodwin in April. The Niners have one unquestioned star in tight end George Kittle, who is the best all-around player at the position in the league, although I’d argue that Travis Kelce is more impactful as a pure receiver. At the same time, nobody who ran more than 200 routes in 2019 averaged more than Kittle’s 3.3 yards per route run.Outside of Kittle, though, they are more about threatening you with consistent speed and YAC than any one particular target. Deebo Samuel could be that guy in the long term, but the Jones fracture he suffered in June is likely to limit his effectiveness in 2020. Untested players like first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk and 2019 second-rounder Jalen Hurd hold plenty of promise, but we haven’t seen either of them take an NFL snap. Guys like Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor and Travis Benjamin are better than most teams’ fourth and fifth wideouts, but it’s unclear whether any or all of them will make the roster."

On one hand, Barnwell’s assessment of the Niners’ depth is pretty true, particularly at running back. Head coach Kyle Shanahan simply went with the hot hand over the majority of 2019 and into the playoffs, giving starting time to Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida early in the year, then shifting towards Raheem Mostert in the latter half and through the postseason.

Yes, Kittle was the de facto No. 1 pass-catching threat, which prompted his first-team All-Pro selection. Behind him, however, only Samuel stood out as a solid and regular receiving option.

And even that only came out during the second half of the year following the 49ers’ trade for veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Sanders is gone now, and Samuel is dealing with a Jones fracture in his foot. That could limit his availability early in the season, prompting questions whether or not Shanahan has enough depth at his disposal.

It’s an interesting thought, and it certainly puts more pressure on the rookie, Aiyuk, to contribute much earlier than some may have otherwise anticipated. Yet it’s also important to note San Francisco didn’t exactly boast a top-tier wide receiver room for the first half of 2019 either, and Shanahan’s squad still started off the season a perfect 8-0 before suffering its first defeat in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks.

As far as the rankings go, one can wonder if Barnwell would have changed his mind if Garoppolo’s fourth-quarter efforts in the Super Bowl were more successful, particularly that overthrown would-be touchdown to Sanders late in the game. Those are the kind of plays indicative of a player’s star power, and it looks as if Barnwell thought Garoppolo came up well short there.

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Either way, the ranking is interesting but not definitive. The Niners offense under Shanahan still finished No. 2 in scoring last year without a wide, huge array of top-tier known-name talent.

The same could be again in 2020, and the rankings wouldn’t matter.