As Ray Ratto points out in this morning’s paper, with the Giants 12.5 games out and the A’s 11.5 games behind the Angels (curse those SoCal teams!), it’s about time to look forward to some new things, like the NFL’s hottest sleeper pick, your San Francisco 49ers.
We have to say that we’re quite excited about the upcoming season, particularly since the 49ers are on many experts’ short list of young teams that could make some noise. Of course, the majority of the team’s success will hinge on whether Alex Smith can take that storied “next step,” something that won’t be made easier by the front office’s failure to upgrade at wide receiver. Ashley Lelie and Darrell Jackson were apparently the best wideouts that the brass could swing, so tight end Vernon Davis had better live up to his hype this year.
Especially given last year’s encouraging finale, most people are cautiously optimistic about the Niners, but isn’t that just the nature of the hometown fan?
To whet your NFL appetite, here are some snippets from what the experts are saying about the Niners over at the World Wide Leader:
Dan (Reno, NV): Doug, the Seahawks are small on the defensive line, not great in pass coverage, their star runningback may or may not be 100% and their quarteback is good, but not great. Why should the Seahawks be the favorites in the NFC West with all the additions the 49ers and Cardinals have made?
SportsNation Doug Kretz: Dan.. Good question.. The Seahawks are probably still the best of a relatively weak division so that gives them an immediate advantage. The 49rs are still a year or two away (but building momentum) and the Cards have to prove that they can develop a winning attitude (very important)
Brian (CA): The 49ers defense started to come around at the end of the season. They’ve added several key FA’s and rookies. The niners seem to finally have the personnel to run a legit 3-4. Do you think the unit could be a top 10 defense?
SportsNation Doug Kretz: Brian. Thanks for the question. The 49rs defense IS improving, however they were still a bottom ten team on defense, giving up 344 yards per game. Their new defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, is a good coach and will do well but they are still a year or two away..
Kelly: (Missoula, Mt): I know that Frank Gore stayed healthy all year in 06, but are the Niners in big trouble if he goes down in 07?
SportsNation Doug Kretz: Kelly. If Gore goes down the 49rs will be scrambling big time.. But then that is pretty much true for a lot of the teams. Not many have a quality backup..
chris fl: You seem like a niner HATER!! You think they are going to make playoffs? Ball is in court!
SportsNation Doug Kretz: Chris.. No, actually I love the 49rs. I just am trying to be realistic. I think they are on the right track and have good people making the decisions and coaching the team. Nolan is a very good coach and McCloughan knows personnel. They will be fine, but it takes time..
Big Dan (SF): NOT ONE 49ers QUESTION?!?!? It’s all good though, thanks for taking the time to chat. If you happen to get this what is your outlook for Alex Smith this year? I think a lot of people are over estimating Norv’s departure. He knows the system and they are still running a similar style
SportsNation Keith Kidd: I, like a lot of people, have concerns over Turner’s departure. I do think Alex Smith still has a very good upside to be a frontline starter in this league. My biggest concerns, on offense, is that they have no proven number one WR. I think Gore is a dynamic player, however, I see no one that scares me at WR if I am game planning to stop the 49ers.
Scott (Jacksonville, FL): Which NFL team has the most potential to make a New Orleansesque leap from out of nowhere this upcoming season?
SportsNation Bill Simmons: I am just starting to do my research for the season… looks like the 49ers are going to be the bandwagon sleeper team, so it can’t be them. It’s a great question. If anyone has any ideas, post them. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for an NFL season… between the Pats and a long overdue revamping of my West Coast fantasy league, I am beside myself.
Charlie (New York, NY): I know the Niners are picked by everyone to be the sleeper but unless Smith really implodes, this is probably the first time I agree with the consensus, I mean they got a great coach, great draft, much improved defense and Frank Gore, thats gotta be good enough to win the West, right?
SportsNation Bill Simmons: See, they look too logical on paper. I feel like this could be the year where one of Frank Gore’s kneecaps actually comes off his body and lands 10 yards away.
Chat Archives [ESPN]