Last season, the San Francisco 49ers were superb. On their run to the NFC Championship game, they flattened the stingy Dallas Cowboys 19-12 and obliterated the Seattle Seahawks 41-23.
This was all on the back of a regular season that ended with them going undefeated in divisional play for the first time in 26 years, winning ten consecutive games from Week 2 to Week 13.
Unfortunately, with the Cinderella Story of quarterback Brock Purdy taking center stage, disaster struck just one hurdle before the Super Bowl.
In the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, on their very first drive, he sustained an elbow injury, reportedly tearing his UCL. In came who would be the 49ers’ fourth-string QB, Josh Johnson, but he couldn’t emulate Purdy’s shock success as a starter in the high-pressure game.
Looking to the 2023 NFL season, it seems odd that the San Francisco 49ers are being rated rather lowly among the Super Bowl contenders. There is, however, one key area that needs resolving, which may be holding them back in predictions and rankings.
A Mighty Roster Coming Back For More
Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Javon Hargrave, Tashaun Gipson, Nick Bosa, and Dre Greenlaw will all return for the 49ers in 2023. That’s an incredibly daunting prospect for any team on their schedule.
Following the NFL Draft, it was noted by the PFF rankings that the team lost backup corners and linebackers during the offseason. In the Draft, they filled those needs, potentially adding an even higher ceiling piece with Darrell Luter Jr. Yet, in those rankings, the 49ers sit in third overall, while the experts behind the odds are placing San Francisco even further down the pecking order.
Right off the bat – even knowing that the Los Angeles Rams will likely put up a fight next season, as they’re not expected to be so injury-ridden – the 49ers seem underrated to win the NFC West at +158. From there, in the race for the Super Bowl, they rank joint-fourth with the Cincinnati Bengals at +1000.
Of course, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles were the finalists last year and did well to hold much of their teams together over the offseason. This will always give them a nod in all of the rankings and the NFL odds, but then the Buffalo Bills clock in higher at +900. They’re certainly a top-class side, but by comparison, the Bills lack the strength in depth across the field that the 49ers boast. So, what’s holding San Francisco back?
Question Marks Around The Quarterback
Technically, the 49ers have three top-class QBs on the roster right now. Trey Lance has been seen as the future of the franchise for the last couple of years, but has been maligned by unfortunate injuries. This season, he says he’s raring to go, per this ESPN article, and is past the arm fatigue, finger injury, and ankle fracture that have, thus far, held him back from his potential as a dynamic playmaker under center.
If fully fit, Lance could be an incredibly impactful QB in the NFL. If not, there’s the former second-overall selection, Sam Darnold. He’s been dealt two absurdly tough hands so far in his career, being on the rosters of the going-nowhere teams at the New York Jets and then the Carolina Panthers. He’s very talented, a skilled slinger, and now Darnold has one of the best coaches and coordinators in the league behind him.
Then, there’s Mr. Irrelevant himself, Brock Purdy. His run to the NFC Conference Final last season was inspired, and while he wasn’t tasked with making big-time plays or epic scampers, Purdy was consistent, cool-headed, and worked well in the schemes given. Expected back for the season opener in September, it looks like the 49ers will boast three potential starters at QB, which will hopefully light a fire under whoever gets the initial starting job.
With Kyle Shanahan in charge, it seems unlikely that at least one of these QBs won’t find success at some point. They got unlucky last year, and while there isn’t a proven superstar, flashing quarterback on the roster, the 49ers are, on paper, top Super Bowl contenders and should be in the conversation as favorites.