Can the 49ers Still Compete in the NFC West?

With the shocking news of 49ers inside linebacker Chris Borland retiring just a week after fellow ILB Patrick Willis did the same, many are wondering if this team can compete in an ultra-competitive NFC West.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the 49ers after so many changes have been made to the core components of their roster this offseason. Their front-7 on defense and their running game on offense were probably the most significant reasons for the 49ers reaching 3 straight NFC Championships and a Super Bowl from 2011-13. These areas of the team will look different next season.

Frank Gore and Mike Iupati have moved on to Indianapolis and Arizona respectively. On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Justin Smith still might join Willis and Borland in retirement. It also remains to be seen whether linebacker NaVorro Bowman can regain his pre-knee-injury form in 2015.

The 49ers have done a decent job of acquiring some replacement talent. They signed defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, guard Erik Pears, and running back Reggie Bush. They brought in wide receiver Torrey Smith to replace Stevie Johnson and Michael Crabtree.

The 49ers also still have enough talent on their roster to make up for their losses. 2nd-year running back Carlos Hyde looks more than capable of carrying the load. Vernon Davis is still a great physical talent at tight end. You can do a lot worse than combining those two players with Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Reggie Bush.

Regardless of the changes to the 49ers roster, they do still have the talent to compete in the NFC West. However, they won’t do much of anything if they can’t get Colin Kaepernick on track. Kaepernick regressed as a passer and was very erratic in 2014. The 49ers’ offense reflected it, finishing 25th in the NFL with 19.1 points per game.

The Niners do have answers for the talent they’ve lost this offseason. This year’s draft will also provide an important opportunity for them to add more cheap talent to their roster. None of that will matter if they can’t get Kaepernick to regain his 2012-13 form, though.