The San Francisco 49ers need a ton of talent infusion in coming years, and it’s safe to say the roster is currently about as bad as it gets. But what if we tiered the roster in terms of who to build around, who just holds the line and who simply needs to go?
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Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) looks on from the sidelines before the game against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) warms up prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Tier 1: Cornerstone Players
Sadly, the 49ers only have a handful or so of cornerstone players around which the franchise can build.
Obvious names would include linebacker NaVorro Bowman. He’s the linchpin of the defense, even if he’s out the remainder of the year with an Achilles injury.
We also need to include second-year defensive end Arik Armstead into this mix. Like Bowman, Armstead is out for the rest of the year, but with a shoulder injury. Fellow DE DeForest Buckner also is part of the equation too. One shouldn’t give up on top-10 draft picks after one season.
Staying on defense, we can look to the secondary as one of the few areas of relative strength.
San Francisco has two defensive backs worth building around moving forward — Jimmie Ward and Rashard Robinson. Ward ended up being one of the Niners’ best defenders a year ago, and his 78.4 Pro Football Focus grade this year suggests he is still a viable piece.
Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson (33) prior to the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
PFF also had nice things to say about Robinson (72.6 grade), even though he’s dinged up with a knee injury right now.
Fellow rookie Joshua Garnett is another player worth building around, although the guard didn’t get a start until midway through the season.
The rest? Well, there’s a reason the 49ers are bad. San Francisco doesn’t exactly have anyone else worthy of being considered a cornerstone player.
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) celebrates after running in a touchdown during the second quarter vs Dallas.Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Tier 2: Stopgap Options
A good chunk of the Niners’ talent falls into this category, even if many of the players were once considered to be cornerstone pieces.
Chief among these is running back Carlos Hyde.
Hyde should be a figurehead and bell cow for the offense. But a slew of injuries dating back to last year have caused him to miss 11 games out of 24 dating back to 2015. He’s 25 years old too, and one has to wonder if he’ll stick around much longer.
Oct 16, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (17) during the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Maybe receiving targets like Quinton Patton, Jeremy Kerley, Vance McDonald and Bruce Ellington are OK options until something better comes along. But just maybe.
The same could be said of defensive tackle Quinton Dial. He’s been the best all-around defensive lineman this season, per Pro Football Focus, but he might best be used as a situational player. We could say the same about linebacker Gerald Hodges too.
Based on his age alone, we have to throw left tackle Joe Staley into this mix as well. He’s 32 years old, and the time will be soon for which San Francisco will need to find a long-term replacement.
Fellow tackle Trent Brown might be an OK player. But he’s terrible in run support. At least center Daniel Kilgore looks decent enough to move forward. So does guard Andrew Tiller.
Let’s also consider safeties Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt, and linebacker Aaron Lynch too. Reid hasn’t looked like the Pro Bowl rookie he was back in 2013. And Lynch, despite the hopeful hype in 2015, hasn’t made the next-level jump. Neither has Tartt.
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) warms up with quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Tier 3: Jettison-Worthy Players
No, general manager Trent Baalke isn’t going to get rid of all these guys. But anyone not named yet should at least be viewed as expendable.
This means no to 49ers quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick. They’re not long-term answers. Neither is the remaining crop of running backs, outside of DuJuan Harris… maybe.
Scrap the rest of the offensive line and its depth, which means Baalke’s big free-agent acquisition, Zane Beadles, is gone and replaced with Andrew Tiller.
Safety Antoine Bethea? Gone. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks? Gone. Both of those guys are nearing the end of relatively hefty contracts, and the 49ers would love the extra cap space.
Scroll through the rest of San Francisco’s roster — even some of the guys on injured reserve. Any of the not-mentioned names strike intrigue? Maybe someone like cornerback Dontae Johnson. But the fact he isn’t seeing much of the field has to raise eyebrows.
Oh, and punter Bradley Pinion hasn’t been an asset either. Just think for a second. The guy Pinion replaced, Andy Lee, is averaging 47.0 yards per punt this season. Pinion’s average is 42.5. And it’s not because of better field position.
OK, so you might argue a player should be considered for Tier 2 instead of Tier 3 or vice versa. And maybe you feel stronger about running back Carlos Hyde if he had a better cast around him.
But the gist of this article is simply to point out how devoid of talent the 49ers truly are.