The 49ers are coming out of the recent NFL draft with some good assessments of their selections. Not all analysts were ecstatic about their picks, but for the most part, the Niners received praise for No. 1 pick DeForest Buckner, defensive lineman Ronald Blair and the depth that comes with 11 selections.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus gave the 49ers a B-plus, with particularly high assessments of Buckner, guard Joshua Garnett and the potential of three young cornerbacks. Fox Sports went even higher, giving the 49ers an A-minus.
But despite a potentially solid influx of draft talent, many NFL observers are skeptical that the 49ers will improve in 2016.
New head coach Chip Kelly is seen as a boom-or-bust type of leader who could either be a genius or a flop after his up-then-down experience in Philadelphia. Plus, the quarterback situation is unsettled and there’s no way to tell if the 49ers will improve or regress from their 5-11 record of 2015.
At this point, the analysts at Football Outsiders are suggesting the Niners will take a step back, not forward. This week, they projected the 49ers will struggle in the tough NFC West that includes two of the league’s top teams in Arizona and Seattle.
David Fucillo of SB Nation notes that Football Outsiders projects the 49ers to win just four games in 2016.
“There is nothing at all surprising about the projections given the many changes under way in Santa Clara,” wrote Fucillo of that projection. “I would think Chip Kelly might be worth a little more in the bigger picture, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Football Outsiders projects the 49ers to finish last in the division behind Arizona (12 wins), Seattle (11) and Los Angeles (7).
“The 49ers are seriously talking about using Blaine Gabbert as their starting quarterback all year,” wrote Football Outsiders. “They are getting used to yet another new offensive system, Anquan Boldin is gone with no clear replacement and the strength of the rest of the NFC West gives San Francisco the toughest projected schedule in the league.”
The 4-12 projection for San Francisco is identical to the projection by ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez made before the draft. Gutierrez, too, pointed to the 49ers’ schedule strength while also noting the team’s reluctance to add much in free agency.
The 49ers leadership, of course, believes Kelly will be the difference-maker. CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke believe Kelly can be the X factor in engineering a turnaround.
“He’s a well-rounded, highly innovative coach with a proven track record of success at every level, at every level of competition including the NFL,” said Baalke of Kelly. “Identified as a strong leader of men and somebody that I really consider a true football guy.”
Will that translate to more wins than in 2015? That’s the question no one can answer in May.