2014 Depth Chart: San Francisco 49ers

| June 18, 2014

2014 depth update SF

[Chart last updated 7/9/14]

Notes

•  The first player I imagine people will take issue with is Aldon Smith not being elite. I fully understand the logic there, and if all things were equal he probably would be. However, just like we dropped Percy Harvin down a notch for the Seahawks for question marks about him staying on the field, we’re doing the same with Smith and his off-the-field issues. A true talent to watch when he’s on the field, it’s important that he’s available as much as possible in 2014.

•  NaVorro Bowman was our highest-graded inside linebacker in 2014, so how can we possibly not have him as an elite player here? Well, when you break down his overall grade (+20.0), +11.3 of it came from his plays as a pass rusher, which accounted for just 76 of his 1,062 regular season snaps. He ranked seventh and 13th, respectively, in terms of his grade against the run and in coverage and, as good as that is, it’s not quite elite.

• One of the strengths of the 49ers’ offense continues to be their offensive line, with the left side of Joe Staley and Mike Iupati up there with the best in the league. On the right Alex Boone and Anthony Davis might not be at quite that level, but are still capable starters. The only question mark remains at center, where it looks like Daniel Kilgore will be the starter at this stage.

Roster Battles

1.  Running Back

The 49ers addressed the running back position early in the NFL Draft in 2014, leaving them with plenty of players battling for playing time. Frank Gore can’t go on forever, but he was still productive last year, finishing 2013 as our 12th-highest graded running back. They also have Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James who have seen action in the past. They drafted Carlos Hyde in the second round of May’s draft, and don’t forget about Marcus Lattimore, who they took a chance on a year ago.

2.  Nose Tackle

After arriving in San Francisco last year, nose tackle Glenn Dorsey had a productive year against the run, with only eight defensive tackles finishing the year with a higher grade than him in that department. Early in the year he was battling with Ian Williams for snaps in the middle of that defensive line, however, and if Williams is injury-free by the time training camp roles around, that battle will likely return.

 

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  • Matt Hamm

    Dontae Johnson is a CB, not a FS.
    Brandon Thomas can’t possibly be the 2nd stringer at LG since he’s out for the season.
    Having Dobbs ahead of Tank Carradine is just ridiculous.
    No chance LaMichael James ends up ahead of Marcus Lattimore on the depth chart.
    Keith Reiser is going to spend the season on NFIL also & yet you have him ahead of P.Cox at CB.

    Last but not least, the 49ers have arguably the best roster in football, yet you grade one player as elite? Your explanation for Bowman not being elite is just flawed. He’s the best ILB in the game & if your rating system doesn’t support that, then you need a new rating system.

    Rating Anquan Boldin as a “good starter” is also laughable. Phil Dawson was 32-36 last year with 6 FGs of 50 yards or more & you have him as a “average starter”

    PFF you guys just made fools of yourselves with this debacle.

    • Gordon McGuinness

      Thanks for pointing out the oversight on Thomas and Reaser, that will be amended.

      With Johnson, the last I’d seen his position hadn’t been set and he was likely to be a reserve somewhere in the defensive backfield after playing in the slot and at safety in college. Has it been confirmed that he’ll be at cornerback for the 49ers? If you’ve got a link I can update the chart.

      With Lattimore and Carradine, it’s just a case of keeping them lower down as they have yet to play a snap yet. As we move through the summer the chart will be updated and I’m assuming they’ll rise.

      On Bowman we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. As I mentioned above, he was indeed our highest graded ILB last year, but the bulk of his grade came from his work as a pass rusher which made up a small percentage of his snaps. Obviously he’s a very good player, but for me he’s not even the best ILB on the roster (not much of a slight when you consider he’s playing next to Patrick Willis).

      I’m inclined to agree with you on Boldin. He might be getting up there in years but it’s hard to argue against it with his play the past two years so I’ll move him up a level when I send in the amendments.

      That’s a fair point on Dawson too. Looking back I think I’ve went for average based off his total grade. But his FG grade is in the top 10 and it’s mainly his kickoff grade that drags him down. Like the way I weighted the grades for deciding on Bowman, it’s only fair that I bump Dawson up to light green for the same reason.

      • Matt Hamm

        I have to say, I’m impressed with your response. Very few, if any sports writers will admit to anything but being 100% correct and most will almost laugh at a fan for saying anything they wrote as being anything but spot on. I appreciate it and as a former sports writer myself, it’s great to see.

        I did read something a while back that Johnson would be used as an outside CB with the 49ers way back right after the draft. I’ll do some digging later on tonight when I have some free time & if/when I find it, I’ll post the link.

        It is amazing that Bowman is so good, yet in some peoples eyes, he’s the 2nd best on his own team. A follow up question, do you believe Willis & Bowman are the 2 best in the NFL at the position? I certainly do with Luke K of Carolina (not attempting to spell that last name lol) as #3 and everyone else far below those three.

        Again, pretty awesome that your humble enough to listen to a fan & make amendments to your work. I’ll be sharing this article to my fellow 49er fans via a couple message boards and twitter.

        • Gordon McGuinness

          Thanks for the kind words, no point pretending to know everything all the time, I’d only make myself look like an idiot at some point :p

          I’d personally have Willis and Bowman as one and two, yes. Thought Bowman has had better years in the past than he had this year but still very good.

          • cody

            So if you have Willis and Bowman 1 and 2, are you saying that Willis is the only elite ILB in football?

          • Gordon McGuinness

            For me personally, based mainly on last year, yes. I’m just one person though, we might have other analysts who feel differently.

          • Robert

            They only put players in the elite category if they are a top 32 player in the league across all positions. For instance there are no elite centers. Its weird I know.

          • Gaek

            Frankly, I am not sure there have been any centers who have clearly stood out as “Elite” since Mangold in his top form half a decade or so ago.

        • Chris

          Bowman is very good at most aspects of being an ILB. However the only thing he’s elite at is rushing the passer, the least important trait of being an ILB. Willis is so much better at the things that matter – I’d just about call him the best ever at his position.

          I’d say Bowmans grade is justified.

          • Matt Hamm

            I just don’t understand how anybody that watches any amount of 49er games doesn’t see Bowman as elite against the run. The guy tackles everything, is all over the field and covers more ground than just about any ILB I’ve ever seen save maybe Willis & Lewis.

        • Gaek

          I, too, am amazed at Mr. McGuinness’ rational, even-tempered, and–above all–respectful response. While you did bring up some valid points, most of your points were highly contestable (.e.g., what’s so blame-worthy about waiting to see players whether players who have had near-catastrophic injuries can return to form before being sure of their place on the team?), and there was certainly no need for the borderline Internet troll-speak (e.g., “laughable,” “fools,” “debacle”). In short you probably owe him an apology, and not just an appreciatory note for being open-minded. Certainly, I would have ignored your post, being far more temperamental than Mr. McGuinness obviously is.

          Having said all that, I do agree with you–and not Mr. McGuinness–in thinking that Bowman ought to be classified as “Elite.” He’s comfortably among the top 2 inside/middle linebackers in the game, and the #3 is really not close.

  • Jordan MacGeever

    Well I would personally have Bowman as elite. I can understand why they don’t since there have been other players who could easily be elite who haven’t.

  • NoFans NoFollowers

    I’m a Niner homie, but I don’t really have any problems with your ratings. Pretty good job. Most national guys always forget about Lattimore, Carradine and Dial. And most will forget about Brandon Thomas next year. Aldon and Navarro missing games, can impact us, but not sure how you factor than in or should with rating players.

    Overall good job. And you listened to another poster.

  • Jordan MacGeever

    I would have Boldin as a good starter. I’m pretty surprised you have him as a high quality starter?

    • Jordan MacGeever

      also Stevie Johnson isn’t an above average starter these days IMO. Think you’re overrating the 49ers WR’s!

      • Matt Hamm

        what are you smoking man? Boldin is fantastic, go look at his stats, you have no basis for saying he’s not a high quality starter, if anything, a case can be made that he’s elite. Stevie Johnson has three 1,000+ yard seasons in the last 4 years, played most of last year injured, that’s above avg my friend.

        • BobRealist

          We get it, everyone on the Niners is blue and super duper elite.

          Congrats on those supe…ooh.

        • Chris from the Cape

          If there’s an overrated WR on this roster, its Crabtree, whose lucky not to be light green.

        • Gaek

          I guess everyone who disagrees with you is on drugs or stupid. “No basis”? And calling Boldin “elite”? Jesus.

    • Gaek

      I agree with you. Mr. McGuinness changed his vote after his dialogue with Mr. Hamm. At this stage, Boldin has trouble separating from any corner he can’t push around.

      • ChickenHunter

        Then with that kind of argument, Sherman and the Legion Of Boom has trouble if they can’t hold or illegally contact a receiver, by THEIR OWN ADMISSION, lol. Go smoke some more.

  • Chris

    This team is more talented than the Seahawks. Their only weakness is the secondary, as well as an aging DL. Maybe the added weapons on offense will help push them over the top.

    • RA

      lol..do you base your opinions on madden stats? Because real stats say that seattle has the edge just about everywhere other than the offensive line and linebacking core (and the lb’s are getting closer to even by the yr)

      • Matt Hamm

        49ers have the advantage in more areas than that man. OL, LB’s as you mentioned are obvious. So is TE, FB & P, QB at this point is even, over the long haul of a career, you want Kaep, bigger & better arm strength=much higher upside & less injury potential. I agree Lynch is better at this point than Gore but RB depth is clearly a SF advantage. WR is better in SF now also. DL is very very close, especially after the changes this off season, Niners are adding Tank Carradine, Q.Dial and Ian Williams who missed all but one game last year to an already outstanding line where the Hawks went backwards on that unit. The only clear advantages I see for Seattle are DB (both CB & S), starting RB. Both teams have great kickers, if you want to split hairs, give Seattle the advantage since their guy is much better at KO’s. If you want to assume Harvin will be healthy which is a stretch, I guess you can say they have the better return guy. Depth is in SF’s favor my friend at almost every position.

        • SeahawkSteve

          Seahawks didn’t squander their window…

        • Kopalec

          TE and FB I’ll give you, though I wouldn’t sell Coleman short. As for P, the teams simply utilize their players differently. Seattle asks a very specific method that doesn’t “grade” well on this site, but is effective none the less for their purposes.
          Your RB argument is ridiculous, if for no other reason we have actually seen Michael play well in the NFL with limited snaps. Gore’s back ups are nothing if’s and but’s. Your OL should give them a softer landing than in Seattle, but they need to prove it on the field, not just in your fantasies of life after Gore.

        • DrAWNiloc

          “QB at this point is even”

          Good one, Matt.

          TD/INT Ratios (2.89 verus 2.33), yardage (3,357 versus 3,197) and QB Rating (101.2 versus 91.6) all favor Wilson by solid margins, as does his team’s PFF passing rating (5th for Seattle, 18th for San Francisco), this despite Kaepernick’s advantage in pass blocking (10th versus 20th), WR and TE. They’ve played 32 games each so experience is hardly a factor. As for the future, with a supporting cast that everyone not named Peyton Manning would envy, where is the upside in Kaepernick’s circumstances?

        • Chris from the Cape

          The Niners got a good chance in the division with the advantages on offense as you described, but the QB positions are not equal, and Kaepernick is certainly not going to be a better player than Wilson in the long haul. Kaep got too much flack over the Cam Newton mocking last year, but regardless, he’s not the natural leader Wilson is, even if he’s the Niner’s best option under center and deserving of a hefty contract.

          • sc42

            Anytime your argument is “he’s not the natural leader” someone else is. You lose the argument. How can any of us know what the players in the locker room actually think about either of them.

          • Chris from the Cape

            We certainly don’t know everything about the personality and interaction of every player, but also don’t know all that much about each and every pass play without the benefit of seeing the all 22.
            What we do see are players who elevate the team around them, which in Kaepernick’s case shouldn’t take much, with such a great collection of talent to make him look better than he would in many another uniform. His 17 yards passing in the first half of the biggest game of the year doesn’t define him as a player, as he’s talented regardless, but him responding in the 2nd half with three turnovers when all the chips are on the line say something about the intangibles located inside the helmet.
            Tom Brady being such a leader as I refer to is someone who would take far greater accountability in games where he commits even one turnover, even when year in + out since 04′ he’s had far far less talent helping him on the other side of the ball.

      • Chris

        Just based on PFF, it’s 27 (SF) vs. 28 (SEA) in average or better players and the 49ers certainly have more upside on the roster with guys like Carradine, Lattimore, Hyde, Patton, Culliver, etc. Also, say what you want about Kaepernick, but he has more upside than just about every QB in the NFL.

    • Chris from the Cape

      I think there offense will step up (with an O-Line few teams outside of Philly can match to go along with a very impressive WR corps), but the secondary seems like the 2nd most important position in the NFL these days and I’m not sure the 49ers is decidedly better than even the Chargers.

  • Carl

    hunter is below average?

    • Matt Hamm

      he barley played last year, probably a player who’s very hard to rank.

  • PetEng

    Why was Reggie Nelson on the Bengals considered a good starter whereas Eric Reid was considered an average starter?

    • Matt Hamm

      I agree, thought Bowman should have been DPOY last year

  • Dane Carr

    I see the author has already sounded off on his feelings about Bowman but C’MON MAN! Numbers don’t lie. Willis clearly peaked 2 years go and this is coming from an avid Niners fan. Look at last years all-pro selections…no Willis. We aren’t counting the Pro-Bowl homer vote here. Bowman has been voted 1st team all-pro 2 years straight. That’s not easy. Secondly where the heck are you getting your play selections stats? Who cares what his assignment was? Regardless he bested Willis in total tackles and sacks by a long shot. Now tell me who is best out of the two, given REAL information?

    • Perception

      An argument could be made for Bowman over Willis, but using All-Pro selections, total tackles, and sacks as your backing isn’t going to help your case.
      And how aren’t assignments important?

    • Matt Hamm

      Willis moved over to the “jack” position 3 years ago when Bowman broke out from the “mike”. The mike position is the one that is in position to make more tackles based on where they line that player up vs. the ILB playing the jack. The move wasn’t a slight on Willis, he’s simply a little better at pass coverage and as the veteran of the 2 when the move was made, it made more sense to put Willis there. Bowman was and is a bit faster and it was a little better for the team. Naturally, Willis’ tackle numbers went down, the all-pro thing you mention, last season for the 1st in a long, long time Willis didn’t make it and a lot of that had 2 do with the media’s love affair with Luke K of Carolina, not Willis as a player. Plus, remember Pat missed a couple games due to injury and really wasn’t at full strength until after the bye week. I fully believe Bowman will get back to being the same player at some point. But he’s going to miss at least 6 games on the PUP list, likely up to around 8, then he won’t automatically be his old self immediately. We may have to wait until late in the year to see the normal N.Bowman. So don’t expect to see him on this year’s all-pro team either, his replacement will be Willis, not just by default, but because he’s one of the best 2 ILBs in football & he’s going to be playing the mike position this year.

  • Jordan MacGeever

    Going forward Boldin as a high quality starter is silly. He’s a good starter no way is he any better.

    • Matt Hamm

      did you forget that you posted this below not long ago? Go look at Boldin’s stats, he’s def a high quality starter/fringe elite WR. Suggesting otherwise to use your own words is “silly”.

      • Chris from the Cape

        I think people assume he’s not a great receiver because he’s been in the league for so long and doesn’t have blazing speed. Regardless of the Ravens dumping him for a bag of rocks (probably to keep him out of NE + to help the atmosphere at Harbaugh family gatherings), he’s usually been good, and often been dominant, and in my opinion has made Crabtree look better than he actually is.

  • Jimmy

    If Andy Lee aint elite, I dont know who is.

  • Chris

    Just a small quip- I think Hunter is at least an average RB. He hasn’t played a ton but over his 262 career carries he’s accumulated 1,200 yards for a 4.6 average. He’s also good out of the backfield when they use him in that role. Nothing special, but I think he’d be a starter on a few teams.

  • joe

    I for the life of me dont understand how you dont have Vance McDonald as Elite

  • Scott@Seattle

    Pretty tough rankings across the board. Most of these guys could easily be higher. And i’m a ‘Hawks fan.

  • NFL PODCAST

    Idk if Patrick Willis is better than Bowman as of right now to be completely honest.

  • PFF

    Heads up: rookie Dontae Johnson is CB, not FS. Also, who is David Reed? You have him listed as a SWR – I’ve never heard of him, and he’s not on the roster.

    Thanks for the great work and reading material!

  • AL

    How is Bowman not elite?

  • pATRICK

    Kassim Osgood and CJ Spillers maybe so so started but they might be the 2 best Special Teamers in the League

    • patrick

      *CJ Spillman

    • Perception

      Grades would strongly suggest otherwise. They were two of the three lowest graded players on ST for SF, and only 7 players in the league posted worse ST grades than Spillman’s -10.0.

  • Greg

    I’m a little late to the party, but what’s the cut-off for snaps? Skuta had enough to be rated with 294, but Lemonier didn’t with 276? Seems odd.

  • ChickenHunter

    Percy (I’m never healthy) Harvin as a high quality starter on the same level as Navorro Bowman or Vernon Davis?? Are you serious? Vernon Davis is ELITE, top 1-3 TE. Navorro had better numbers then Kuechly, more game turning plays (solo tackles, sacks, pressures, passes defended, forced fumbles, fumbles recovered); with or without Willis or Aldon Smith in the game. He proved it in the regular season and the playoffs when the games mattered.

    Joe Staley, easily a top 3 LT and is only “high quality”? Mike Iupatti, whom in your ‘Progression’ list is graded as the highest graded in his first 4 years. He’s just ‘High Quality’ on the par as Seattle’s Brandon (who?) Membane, Cliff (I was mediocre in Detroit) Avril, and K.J. (I’m undersized and always hurt) Wright? Not saying those players aren’t very good, but Vernon, Bowman, Staley and Iupatti are head and shoulders better compared to other players at their positions.

  • ChickenHunter

    Glen Dorsey only had 8 DTs with better numbers last year and he’s an ‘average starter’? Interesting what your definition of average is. Most teams have at least 2 DTs playing at a time so 9th our of 64 possible starting players sounds a lot better then average. Again, no consistency.