Driving To The Red Zone

Eight 49ers voted top 10 at their positions by NFL execs, coaches

NBC Universal, Inc.

The 49ers have an elite roster, and ESPN's latest poll proves it.

The outlet surveyed NFL executives, coaches, scouts and players to rank the top 10 players at 11 different positions, and eight San Francisco stars were recognized among the league's best.

To create their lists, ESPN compiles the poll results and ranks players based on the number of top-10 votes they receive, composite average, in addition to interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. This is the fourth edition of the annual rankings, and this year, over 80 voters participated.

Here's where key 49ers players were ranked alongside others in their position groups:

Edge rushers

No. 1 - Nick Bosa

Bosa was voted to the top spot, with ESPN hailing the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year as the league's best pass-rusher.

"Size, strength, power, speed, quickness, solid length, repertoire of moves and high motor," a "high-ranking" NFL official told ESPN of Bosa. "He's got it all."

Bosa's leverage, "get-off" technique and attention to detail set him apart, evaluators told ESPN, and one NFC executive described him to the outlet as "fast and twitchy."

"He turns the edge so well and has a knack to get the ball back," the NFC exec said. "[He] seems to make a game-changing play every week."

Rounding out the top three after Bosa are Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett and Dallas Cowboys' Micah Parsons.

Off-ball linebackers

No. 1 - Fred Warner

Warner came in at No. 1 on 70 percent of ESPN's off-ball linebacker ballots after finishing the 2022 NFL season with two sacks, one interception and a career-high 10 pass deflections.

"He's the perfect new-age linebacker, great against the pass but can handle himself against the run, a big athlete with plus leadership and communication," an AFC scout told ESPN.

That's no secret for the 49ers Faithful, who watched Warner commanded the top defense in the league in 2022.

No. 10 - Dre Greenlaw

Bad news for opposing offenses -- both of the 49ers' starting linebackers are top 10 in the league.

Greenlaw enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2022 to crack ESPN's rankings for the first time, holding his own alongside Warner while logging 127 tackles on the season.

"[He] made a huge jump. Relentless, extremely physical and took a big jump in coverage," an NFC exec told ESPN. "Obviously benefits from the guys around him, but he made so many big plays this year."

One Pro Bowl defender told ESPN he felt "like people didn't know who [Greenlaw] was for a while, but he's a major player."

Running backs

No. 2 - Christian McCaffrey

In an era where NFL running backs have become increasingly undervalued, McCaffrey remains among the league's most respected. Had he begun the 2022 season with the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, it likely would have been hard to deny him the top spot, which instead was claimed by Browns star Nick Chubb.

After a stellar second half with San Francisco, McCaffrey now has three seasons with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards, trailing only Marshall Faulk (four) in NFL history, per ESPN.

"He's one of the most versatile offensive players in the league," an AFC executive told ESPN of McCaffrey. "He can be used on perimeter runs, interior runs, out of the backfield, split out. He's in tremendous shape and has size, strength and speed. Injuries have taken him off the field, but when he's healthy, he is still a game-changer and a guy that needs to be accounted for at all times."

Tight ends

No. 2 - George Kittle

Kittle was beaten out by Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for the No. 1 rank, but ESPN said Kittle's "combination of pass-catching prowess and elite blocking" kept him near the top of voters' ballots.

When he was on the field in 2022, Kittle thrived in light of the 49ers having to use three different quarterbacks due to injuries. Brock Purdy and Kittle developed an undeniable chemistry, however, and their connection proved pivotal in San Francisco's latter half of the season.

"So much inconsistency with the quarterback and durability issues have held him back a bit, but he's still top-notch," an NFL personnel man told ESPN, noting Kittle has missed 13 games since 2020. "He's the most explosive athlete at the position, probably the best at creating separation and yards after the catch."

Offensive tackles

No. 1 - Trent Williams

No surprises here. Williams consistently has held onto his status as the game's premier left tackle since arriving in Santa Clara, giving him the top spot on 80 percent of ESPN voters' ballots.

"He's an incredibly gifted player," an NFC exec told ESPN. "He has lapses and relies on that talent too much at times. There is some wavering physicality with him. But when he turns it on, nearly impossible to stop."

Per ESPN, Williams is just one of six left tackles since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to earn multiple first-team All-Pros after age 30. And in 2023, the veteran will be looking to add one more.


No. 9 - Talanoa Hufanga

Hufanga made a name for himself in 2022 with a breakout, All-Pro season. He certainly has earned the league's respect, appearing on 70 percent of ESPN's ballots.

The 23-year-old was one of five NFL safeties with at least 95 tackles and four or more interceptions last season, per ESPN, and he'll run it back in 2023 with his good friend and fellow safety Tashaun Gipson Jr.

"Instincts -- he gets the ball, doesn't run fast but is smart, in the right position," an NFC exec told ESPN. "In that defense, that goes a long way."

Defensive tackles

No. 5 - Javon Hargrave

The 49ers knew what they got in Hargrave when they signed him to a four-year, $84 million contract in free agency this offseason. He adds another element up front to their already vaunted defense, which is why general manager John Lynch fought so hard to acquire him.

Now, after knocking San Francisco out of the NFC Championship Game, the former Philadelphia Eagle will look to return to the Super Bowl as a member of the 49ers.

"He has natural leverage, quickness and power," an NFL personnel director told ESPN. "That combo makes it hard for offensive guards and centers to really have a chance because he can vary his rush toward their weaknesses."

(Arik Armstead also received votes but did not make the top 10 or honorable mentions.)

Wide receivers

Honorable mention - Deebo Samuel

Samuel didn't crack ESPN's top 10 but is listed as the first honorable mention, with the outlet noting the "wide back's" status as a weapon rather than a pure receiver makes him a tough evaluation.

"He's the guy you game-plan against when you play San Fran. It's not George Kittle, it's Deebo," an AFC executive told ESPN. "He can take over the game with his big-play ability, his RAC and physicality."

Samuel himself admitted he didn't play as well as he could have in 2022. And with zero distractions for the receiver this offseason, the Faithful certainly are hoping for another All-Pro-caliber season.


Charvarius Ward made neither ESPN's rankings nor their honorable mentions, but he was listed as receiving votes.


No 49ers quarterbacks received votes.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast

Contact Us