San Francisco 49ers
2014 Record: 8-8, missed playoffs, 1-4 in last five
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1st: 16th in DVOA* overall offense (21st pass, 8th rush) | 5th in DVOA* overall defense (4th pass, 10th run)
2nd: 11th or better at stopping all receiver types, but most effective against WR2s (fourth-best, 7.1 pass attempts per game, 49.8 receiving yards per game), according to Football Outsiders’ defense vs. receiver types chart.
3rd: Key loss: LB Patrick Willis/Chris Borland | Key addition: WR Torrey Smith
4th: Key loss was a tough choice for the 49ers this season, but I had to go with the star linebacker and the rising star who replaced him when he got injured last season. Willis, 30, and Borland, 24, both retired after last season. Willis was an All-Pro LB. Borland was certainly on his way, leading the NFL in tackles from Week 7 on as Willis’ injury replacement. Both players cited their concern over concussions and CTE which hangs like a black cloud over the NFL. The loss of Borland and Willis isn’t the only concern for this squad. San Francisco had a dominant defense last season, but only six starters return. Superstar LB NaVorro Bowman, who hasn’t played since 2013, is one of them, so the middle might not be as squishy as it seems. Key loss was tough not just because of the loss of those two monsters, but also because they lost RB Frank Gore, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Despite being “too old” for what seems like a decade, Gore held back every replacement San Francisco drafted. Now he’s in Indianapolis and SF goes into the season with Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush in the backfield. They also lost WR Michael Crabtree, but brought in Torrey Smith, a huge upgrade alongside veteran Anquan Boldin, a top-19 WR in PPR leagues last season. If QB Colin Kaepernick can take the next step, Smith will certainly help them improve their 21st-ranked passing offense.
*Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, a Football Outsiders’ advanced NFL metric, measures a team’s performance on a per-play basis. The metric attempts to limit variance and provides a more realistic measurement of how good a team is regardless of matchup or situation, making it a strong indicator of future success. Read more about DVOA.