By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on July 7, 2014
The commencement of NFL training camps and the unofficial kickoff to the 2014 season is little over two weeks away. That means the San Francisco 49ers can finally put a roller-coaster offseason in the rear-view mirror, returning to the gridiron, where they're one of the league's most formidable teams. Here are five reasons why they'll shock the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks by winning the NFC West title.
There's a reason the 49ers have been so successful over the past three years. Outstanding drafting has equipped San Francisco with championship-caliber talent. During the past two drafts, GM Trent Baalke has acquired incredible value with nearly every pick. With a virtually complete roster, simply stockpiling talent, regardless of position, has been the front office's aim. The rich get richer in 2014.
The 49ers are a run-first team. With a deep backfield, a talented offensive line and a highly athletic quarterback, that won't change in 2014. But an upgraded wide receiver corps should make San Francisco more explosive. Michael Crabtree is healthy after missing 11 games in 2013 while Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington should add a new dynamic to the group. Expect the 49ers to fare much better than 30th, their standing last year, in passing.
In addition to improving their depth at receiver, the 49ers will be getting a boost at running back in 2014. Starter Frank Gore is on the verge of decline, but the addition of Carlos Hyde in the draft and the emergence of Marcus Lattimore, a 2013 draft pick who redshirted his rookie season, will pick up the slack. Throw Kendall Hunter, a productive runner and reliable pass protector, into the mix, and the 49ers have a supremely deep backfield.
It's impossible to predict how the Seattle Seahawks, the reigning NFC West and Super Bowl champions, will respond to capturing the franchise's first title. But the 49ers, after losing two conference championship games and one Super Bowl over the past three seasons, are undoubtedly the hungriest team in the NFL's best division. Falling just short of the league's ultimate prize three consecutive years has had to intensify said desire.
Hunger can only go so far. At the end of the day, winning still comes down to talent. And one could make the case, after yet another offseason of stockpiling ammo, that the 49ers are the NFL's mot talented and deep team from top to bottom. The trench play is there. The playmakers are there. One of the league's most dynamic quarterbacks is there too. It will pay off with a division crown in 2014.
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