Arizona Cardinals

Do 49ers have more offensive weapons than Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams?

Do 49ers have more offensive weapons than Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams?

Built by a mastermind in Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers' offense was much more a sum of parts than full of stars last season. The same can be said for this upcoming season as well.

Outside of George Kittle, the 49ers don't have any true star skill players. And yet, they ranked No. 2 in rushing offense and total points last season, behind only the Baltimore Ravens, which were led by MVP Lamar Jackson. San Francisco also was 13th in passing yards per game and fourth in total yards. 

With the emergence of the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks always being contenders, the NFC West might have become even stronger this offseason. So, how does the 49ers' skill positions on offense compare to the rest of the division? 

Let's break it down, position by position.

Quarterback

The obvious answer here is Seahawks star Russell Wilson is the cream of the crop when it comes to QBs in the NFC West. We know that, there's no arguing that notion. 

Where it gets interesting is, who comes next?

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray took home the Offensive Rookie of the Year in a pass-heavy offense that seems primed for him to put up huge numbers. Jimmy Garoppolo gets knocked all too often, but the reality is he had one of the best seasons for a quarterback in 49ers history, one season after tearing his ACL. And then there's Jared Goff, who took a big step back last season. 

It seems Garoppolo and Murray are vying for who's No. 2 in the NFC West QB race. It will be fascinating to watch, as both offenses got better and both teams have offensive-minded coaches who should set their quarterbacks up for success.

Advantage: Seahawks

Running backs

After the Los Angeles Rams let Todd Gurley go this offseason, there aren't any true big-name running backs in the NFC West. Raheem Mostert looked like a star in the making for the 49ers with his historic performance in the NFC Championship Game, but can they rely on him to be a true No. 1 back? 

Mostert is preparing like he will get 200 carries this season, however, that seems unlikely. Even after trading Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco still has a deep group of backs that will share carries outside of Mostert.

Kenyan Drake could be an emerging star in Arizona and the Rams will rotate a flurry of inexperienced backs, including rookie Cam Akers. The Seahawks have a strong option in 1,000-yard rusher Chris Carson and will use many backs after him. 

Drake and Carson might be the most gifted of the group in the NFC West, but there's a caveat with the 49ers: Jerick McKinnon looks healthy again and receiver Deebo Samuel should be seen as an extra ball-carrier.

Advantage: 49ers

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Receivers

Everything changed once the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans this offseason. Arizona now has one of the best receivers in the league, and a true No. 1 for their young QB. Pairing Hopkins with the ultra-reliable Larry Fitzgerald gives the Cardinals one of the best duos in the NFL. 

D.K. Metcalf is a problem for opposing cornerbacks and the jacked-up receiver should be even better in Year 2 for the Seahawks. He and Tyler Lockett give Seattle a solid duo, and the Rams' one-two punch of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods is nothing to scoff at. 

So, where do the 49ers fit in? Samuel looks like the perfect weapon for Shanahan and should emerge as the No. 1 receiver for San Francisco. Kendrick Bourne continues to be clutch and is a nice secondary option. After that, it's all potential and a lot of question marks.

The 49ers have high hopes for first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk, and the same goes for Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor coming off injuries. General manager John Lynch also hasn't given up on Dante Pettis yet. 

The Cardinals have the star power, but the 49ers could have the depth. We'll give this one to Arizona, though, it's a tight contest.

Advantage: Cardinals

[RELATED: Why 49ers' Aiyuk could struggle finding targets as rookie]

Tight End

George Kittle. 

Need I say more? No, no I don't. Will Dissly (Seattle), Tyler Higbee (Los Angeles) and Maxx Williams (Arizona) all are nice pieces. None are Kittle. Not even close. 

Advantage: 49ers

The 49ers might not have the most star power, but they do have the most offensive weapons when you take into account adding Aiyuk, plus getting several injured players back this season. 

Whenever the NFL season starts, San Francisco's offense should be a scary sight for opposing defenses.

49ers directly impacted by biggest position upgrades of NFL offseason

49ers directly impacted by biggest position upgrades of NFL offseason

With the vast majority of the top NFL free agents having signed with teams by now, we have a better idea of which areas certain teams are likely to improve in, as well as those in which they might decline.

Generally speaking, the 49ers have received very positive reviews for the developments of their offseason. They have addressed some of their biggest needs, and even managed to deal with Joe Staley's retirement on the fly while theoretically improving his spot on the offensive line in trading for Trent Williams. That said, it shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise that none of San Francisco's transactions were included among ESPN's Mike Clay's 25 biggest position upgrades of the NFL offseason. After all, when you have as stacked of a roster as the 49ers had last season, there isn't as much room to go up.

Just because the 49ers weren't included in Clay's rankings, however, doesn't mean they won't be significantly impacted by the top position upgrades in the league. In fact, there's a high likelihood San Francisco will be directly affected by each of what Clay has determined to be the three biggest upgrades in the NFL.

The single biggest position upgrade of the NFL offseason, according to Clay, is the one most certain to impact the 49ers of the top three. Why? Because the player providing the upgrade most recently played for San Francisco: defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

"Colts general manager Chris Ballard said early in the offseason that the Colts' defensive scheme runs through the three-technique tackle," Clay wrote. "He put his money where his mouth is not long after, trading for Buckner. The 26-year-old was arguably the 49ers' best player during a 2019 season that saw the team advance to the Super Bowl. Buckner's 7 1/2 sacks tied for sixth, his 12 tackles for loss fifth and his 61 total tackles ninth among interior defensive linemen."

While Buckner will be a tremendous upgrade for the Colts over the incumbent Margus Hunt, he simultaneously leaves a giant void in the middle of the 49ers' dominant defensive line. San Francisco is counting on first-round draft pick Javon Kinlaw, as well as veteran D.J. Jones, to ensure that the 49ers don't suffer a corresponding downgrade.

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Coming in at No. 2 on Clay's list is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers replacing quarterback Jameis Winston with Tom Brady. Out of the top three, this one is the least likely to directly affect San Francisco.

While Brady actually produced an identically-poor quarterback rating (53.7) to Winston last season, the upgrade primarily is based on Brady's winning track record and his comparatively superior ability to limit turnovers. The Buccaneers made as much noise as any team during free agency, and Brady is a big reason why they have the third-best odds (+625) to come out of the NFC according to FOX Bet.

The 49ers (+460) currently are the favorites in the NFC, and while they won't face Tampa Bay during the regular season, there's certainly a decent chance the two teams could encounter each other in the playoffs. Not to mention, the Buccaneers appear likely to be one of the few teams capable of contending with San Francisco for the lone first-round bye in the conference. The 49ers had no trouble with Winston last season, but Brady potentially could be a different story.

And, finally, coming in as the third-biggest position upgrade on Clay's list is the Arizona Cardinals replacing Damiere Byrd with All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins. San Francisco seems likely to feel the brunt of that development more than most.

"Cardinals GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury were not shy about their interest in adding an impact wide receiver during the offseason," Clay wrote. "It's fair to say their mission was accomplished when they fleeced Houston by landing one of the league's best pass-catchers in Hopkins in exchange for a package that included David Johnson. An absolute workhorse, Hopkins has averaged a target share of at least 30 percent while ranking no lower than 10th in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end zone targets each of the past three seasons."

Hopkins is on the shortlist of the very best receivers in the NFL, and now the 49ers must face him at least twice a season. The Texans received a laughable return in the trade as Arizona secured a true No. 1 target for reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray. It's quite possible that the Cardinals now are San Francisco's main competition in the NFC West, and Hopkins is a big part of that. Arizona pushed the 49ers to the brink in both of their matchups last year, and Hopkins should make them considerably scarier on offense.

[RELATED: 49ers stand to benefit from Seahawks' questionable moves]

So, yeah, the 49ers have had a good offseason, but clearly, they're not the only ones. 

Why 49ers' toughest NFC West foe might be Cardinals in 2020 NFL season

Why 49ers' toughest NFC West foe might be Cardinals in 2020 NFL season

The Seattle Seahawks far and away have been the 49ers’ toughest divisional rival over the past decade. Over the past decade, the Seahawks or 49ers won seven of the 10 NFC West titles.

But after a surprising 2019 season and some eye-popping offseason moves, the Arizona Cardinals could be prepared to push for the divisional crown.

"This is probably the best football team I've been a part of on paper," Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson told the Hyperice Lab Podcast last week (h/t azcardinals.com).

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Peterson even has visions of reaching the same heights San Francisco climbed to in 2020.

"It's going to come down to us to manage the locker room, manage the egos and make sure everybody is on the same page and understand that we have to commit to one another, believe in one another and trust one another," Peterson said. "If we do those three things, we can be in Tampa (for the Super Bowl) ready to face whoever, and ready to hopefully bring that Lombardi trophy, the first Lombardi trophy, home to Arizona."

The Niners came up short of the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy in February at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Could Arizona catch up to the 49ers this season?

The Cardinals completed the NFL’s most notorious offseason trade in March, sending former All-Pro running back David Johnson for elite wideout DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. Hopkins is universally regarded as one of the league’s best wide receivers, if not the best.

Johnson has labored through injuries in recent seasons and lost his starting spot to Chase Edmonds in the back half of 2019.

Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray showed flashes of the talent that made him a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in Arizona last season and now has had a full year to digest and understand coach Kliff Kingsbury’s playbook. Murray brought home the Offensive Rookie of the Year award after throwing for over 3,700 yards and 22 touchdowns while also rushing for 544 yards.

To top it off, general manager Steve Keim got high marks from across the league for the Cardinals’ 2020 draft, bringing in a six-player haul including Clemson’s versatile defender Isaiah Simmons in the first round.

Arizona had the worst pass defense in the NFL last season, but Peterson was suspended for the first six games and rookie second-round pick Byron Murphy started all 16 games at cornerback. There was an abundance of youth at the position last year, and there's only room to improve for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Simmons likely will be a key part of improving that group.

Coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers had some problems with Arizona in the duo’s first matchup a season ago, sneaking out of Glendale with a 28-25 win in a sloppy Thursday night game. Playing on a short week tends to lessen the margin between the two Thursday Night Football combatants on a regular basis, but the Cardinals made an impression nevertheless. 

San Francisco won both matchups with Arizona in 2019, but they were far from a cakewalk.

[RELATED: 49ers' NFC Championship Game dominance still fresh on Packers' minds]

Now that Murray’s arsenal of weapons has expanded and the defense has improved significantly, those two dates could be a concern for the 49ers in 2020. In fact, the Niners will open the regular season by hosting the Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium in Week 1. San Francisco also is scheduled to play at Arizona in Week 16.

To be fair, the Niners also loaded up this offseason, adding multi-time Pro Bowl selection Trent Williams in a trade with Washington and drafting two promising prospects in defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw and Arizona State speedster Brandon Aiyuk.

Another note in the 49ers' favor: quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has owned Arizona in three career starts against the Cardinals.

The Seahawks still have Russell Wilson and a strong defense, so they shouldn’t be counted out by any stretch of the imagination.

But if Murray and Hopkins develop a quick rapport and the young signal-caller continues his rapid development, Arizona could be the team at the heels of the 49ers in the NFC West race.