SF 49ers sit at No. 2 in NFL.com’s Week 1 power rankings
By Peter Panacy
With the 2020 regular season about to kick off, the SF 49ers find themselves in a familiar position in NFL.com’s power rankings ahead of Week 1.
Perhaps the only argument surrounding the SF 49ers and their placement in NFL power rankings is precisely where they should be ranked within the top five teams.
If you’re asking NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus, who just released his NFL power rankings heading into Week 1 of the regular season, the Niners are worthy of the No. 2 spot behind the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Hanzus’ rationale was as follows:
"We’re all about giving Kyle Shanahan the benefit of the doubt, but the defending NFC champs will begin the season with serious issues at wide receiver. Let’s recap where they’re at: Deebo Samuel is working his way back from a broken foot. Richie James Jr. missed camp with a broken wrist. First-round pick Brandon Aiyuk is week-to-week with a hamstring injury. Jalen Hurd tore his ACL. Tavon Austin hit IR with his own knee issue. Emmanuel Sanders exited via free agency, and Travis Benjamin was a COVID-19 opt-out. Right about now, George Kittle is probably wondering what kind of damage he can do on Sundays while being quintuple-teamed."
It’s not too bad to critique a team’s perceived biggest weakness, even though San Francisco is sitting pretty at No. 2 entering the regular season.
After all, it’s the one area many pundits across the league are wondering about as the SF 49ers look to bounce back after their crushing Super Bowl loss last February.
True, getting Deebo Samuel and Richie James back from offseason injuries raises a question mark. Both players missed the Niners’ training camp workouts entirely, while the rookie, Brandon Aiyuk, has his efforts abbreviated both by the COVID-19 pandemic and his hamstring injury suffered halfway through camp.
San Francisco’s other wideouts listed were going to be marginal contributors, at best, so it’s probably not much of an issue. But realizing fellow wideouts Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis may end up being the defacto WR1 and WR2 tandem to start the year is a bit concerning.
At least until Samuel and Aiyuk are back up to full strength.
Sure, this might cause some proverbial “doom and gloom” for pundits regarding the 49ers’ chances. But let’s take into account what was going on a year ago at this time. Pettis was just beginning his yearlong regression after a promising 2018 campaign, and Samuel hadn’t quite acclimated to life at the NFL level after being the Niners’ Round 2 selection. Sanders wasn’t acquired prior to the 2019 trade deadline. And even after he was brought aboard, it took a bit of time to get him up to par, too.
Yet San Francisco still started the season 8-0.
There were many factors in the hot start for Kyle Shanahan and Co. last season: a stout running game and an upstart defense, and those elements are still largely in place heading into 2020. There’s little reason to expect the SF 49ers defense to suffer some sort of massive regression after ranking No. 2 overall in fewest yards allowed last season.
And despite the wonder surrounding the wide receiver corps, Shanahan’s offense is still predicated on the run. He’s already proven a knack for beating teams on the ground (see the NFC divisional round versus the Minnesota Vikings and NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers).
Regardless, it’s not a bad critique and will remain an area of question for the Niners until it’s not, probably once Samuel returns to form and Aiyuk winds up living up to the same kind of hype he was showing over the first couple of weeks in training camp.
Despite the concern, San Francisco is still sitting in prime Super Bowl-contending position as it kicks off the year as the No. 2 team overall and the best squad in the NFC.