49ers

Schrock's NFL power rankings: Where 49ers sit as preseason begins

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Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo

We made it.

It's been six months since Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs en route to a Super Bowl championship. Free agency passed, and the draft came and went. The game of quarterback musical chairs has finally stopped for now.

The preseason is upon us. Hope reigns supreme. Every fanbase believes they found the steal of the draft or acquired the missing piece. Well, maybe not the Lions. (Don't come for my kneecaps, Dan Campbell.)

You know it's August when we're recording 7-on-7 stats and talk of the Raiders' fixed defense fills the Twittersphere. Take a big whiff, America, the NFL is back and so are my power rankings.

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32. Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson's presence at Texans camp has been odd as the investigation surrounding the 22 sexual assault lawsuits against him continues. It feels unlikely Watson will be traded and even more unlikely that he'll see the field any point in the near future.

31. Detroit Lions: Dan Campbell's football guy persona can only push a middling roster so far.

30. New York Jets: Robert Saleh was an ace hire, but he and Mike LaFleur face an uphill battle in Year 1. No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson has struggled early in camp. Do the Jets already have drafter's remorse?

29. Cincinnati Bengals: Reports out of training camp paint a rather ugly picture of Joe Burrow's march back from reconstructive knee surgery. If the 2020 No. 1 overall pick isn't 100 percent physically or mentally ready, then the Bengals have to sit him down until he is ready to play free and easy. The future of the franchise hangs on his right shoulder.

 

28. Jacksonville Jaguars: Urban Meyer still thinks he's in college, playing games by not announcing Trevor Lawrence as his starter. Get real, Urban.

27. Philadelphia Eagles: Not much is expected of the Eagles, but the NFC East is nothing if not unpredictable. Jalen Hurts has something you can't teach, but the accuracy has to come along for Philly to be anything more than a cellar dweller in 2021.

26. Carolina Panthers: Sam Darnold is looking to rehabilitate his NFL image with the help of Joe Brady and Christian McCaffrey. If that doesn't work, there's always the CFL.

25. New York Giants: Joe Judge's no-nonsense, Bill Belichick clone schtick is going to get old real fast if the Giants aren't racking up wins to start the season.

24. Atlanta Falcons: How will Arthur Smith's offense work without Derrick Henry sucking up every defense's full attention? The Falcons' decision to try and reboot with Matt Ryan and not rebuild with Justin Fields remains one of the draft's biggest gaffes. And that's no disrespect to Kyle Pitts, who is a star in the making.

23. Denver Broncos: Vic Fangio is looking for a signal-caller who can limit turnovers without making the Broncos run a putt-putt offense. Neither Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater are appealing options, though.

22. Chicago Bears: If Justin Fields starts, the Bears will shoot up the preseason rankings. But as long as Andy Dalton has the keys, I don't expect much out of Chicago's offense.

21. Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins is willing to do whatever it takes to protect himself from COVID-19. Except, you know, the easy thing.

20. Dallas Cowboys: So, we're not worrying about Dak Prescott's shoulder? Or we are? Either way, the Cowboys need Prescott healthy and playing his best football to make up for a defense that is still being overhauled. If Prescott's injury is more serious than believed, it's going to be a long year in Big D.

19. Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr wants to play until he's 45. Not sure that's what Jon Gruden wants.

18. Washington Football Team: Chase Young might lead the best defense in the NFL. But how many games of magic can Ryan Fitzpatrick deliver until he turns back into a pumpkin?

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: All good things come to an end, and unfortunately, it feels like that time has come for Big Ben.

16. Indianapolis Colts: I wasn't sold on the Colts before Carson Wentz's injury. I'm less sold if they have to turn to Jacob Eason or Sam Ehlinger for any stretch of time.

15. New Orleans Saints: There's no way of knowing what this Saints team is going to be. Drew Brees is gone, Michael Thomas is pissed at Sean Payton, David Onyemata is suspended and Marshon Lattimore is dealing with off-the-field issues. Nothing is easy in The Big Easy right now.

 

14. Miami Dolphins: After a rocky rookie season, it's time for Tua Tagovailoa to prove he can be a franchise quarterback or the Dolphins might have to move on quickly. At least they averted disaster by re-working Xavien Howard's contract.

13. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals finished last year 3-6, including losses to C.J. Beathard and John Wolford in win-and-in games. Kliff Kingsbury has to take a big leap as a play-caller in Year 3. Arizona's offense has been too conservative and predictable during the first two seasons of his tenure.

12. New England Patriots: Mac Jones is coming on strong in training camp, and I expect he'll grab the starting spot by the end of September. If you don't think Bill Belichick is motivated after Tom Brady left and led the Bucs to the Super Bowl, you don't know Bill.

11. Tennessee Titans: How long can the Titans ride Derrick Henry before he breaks down? Henry has carried the ball 782 times since 2019, including the playoffs. He's an athletic marvel, but eventually, the load is going to be too much.

10. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are playing nice now. But Jamal Adams and Duane Brown both are holding out. Winning cures all, but Wilson's good attitude might turn sour if two of the Seahawks' most important players aren't taken care of.

9. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert and Derwin James won't play in the preseason. The Chargers are doing the right thing and attempting to finally get to Week 1 with a full boat.

8. Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore's biggest weakness appeared to be fixed. Then, rookie receiver Rashod Bateman went down with a groin injury and could miss the season-opener. Couple that with Lamar Jackson refusing to get a COVID vaccine despite already being infected twice, and things aren't as rosy as they should be in Baltimore.

7. Cleveland Browns: This is the Browns' time. I'm once again (probably foolishly) buying all the Browns' stock available. Kevin Stefansky has engineered an offense tailored to Baker Mayfield's strengths, Odell Beckham Jr. will return and Myles Garrett is my pick for DPOY. All aboard.

6. 49ers: The Trey Lance hype reached a fever pitch four practices into training camp. The rookie is developing quickly and Kyle Shanahan mentioned he would be open to using some sort of QB rotation. But he couldn't have been serious, right? Right?

5. Los Angeles Rams: Cam Akers going down was a blow, but that just means Sean McVay gets to air it out even more with Matthew Stafford. The NFC West is going to be an absolute bloodbath this season.

4. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen went from having zero scholarship offers to having a lot more zeroes in his bank account. Now, he has to prove his massive Year 3 leap was no fluke. GIve the Mafia what they want, Josh.

 

3. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers caused quite the drama this summer, but as long as No. 12 is under center, the Packers have as good a shot as anyone.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: A revamped offensive line should mean big things for everyone on the Chiefs' offense. Motivated by a Super Bowl beat down at the hands of the Bucs, I expect Patrick Mahomes to be on a mission this season. Bad news for everyone else.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: You heard The GOAT. The next ring is the best one. Would you put it past Brady to win No. 8? I stopped doubting him a loooooooooong time ago.

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