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Why King ranks 49ers as fifth-best team ahead of 2021 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 49ers’ 2020 season never really got out of the starting blocks as a massive wave of injuries derailed their quest to return to the Super Bowl and they finished at 6-10.

However, most expect the 49ers to return to contention in 2021 as long as they can stay healthy and NBC Sports’ Peter King ranked San Francisco as the fifth-best team in the NFL.

“The Niners made the huge tradeup and Trey Lance draft pick because they couldn’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo (last three years: 23 missed starts) to stay healthy,” King writes in his “Football Morning In America” column. “But there’s something else, another reason for the urgency. The Lynch/Shanahan regime, highly respected around the league and by owner Jed York, has to be feeling some heat because of three losing seasons out of their first four on the job. I think they’re fortunate no one offered a first-round pick to take Garoppolo off their hands, because that would have left them reliant on a top prospect albeit from an FCS school without much experience—and with no insurance policy worthy of a playoff run behind Lance. The 49ers will be good enough on offense. Will they miss departed defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, replaced by DeMeco Ryans? At first glance, the Ryans defense should look very much like Saleh’s, with maybe more physicality in the five-yard bump zone by the corners, and the same playmaking greatness from emerging star Fred Warner at middle linebacker. The Niners need a healthy season from Nick Bosa to be a great defense. And a great defense would allow them to threaten the Bucs for NFL supremacy.”

While Lance is the future face of the franchise, all signs point to Garoppolo being the starter in 2021 before turning the reins over to Lance in 2022. Lance, 21, only started 17 games at North Dakota State and played just one game in 2020.

Shanahan has said that Lance absolutely could win the job from Garoppolo in camp, but he believes that will be unlikely.

RELATED: Brooks thinks Lance will lead 49ers to playoffs

The 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL but have been held back due to Garoppolo’s injury history and sometimes inconsistent play.

Garoppolo missed 10 games last season due to two separate high ankle sprains, but the 29-year-old signal-caller is healthy and excited for the opportunity to battle Lance for the starting job this fall.

“But at the end of the day, like my dad was just saying, all you can ask for is the opportunity,” Garoppolo told CBS Sports Radio’s Damon Amendolara. “So, once they said you’ll have the opportunity to start this year and fight it out, I was all for it. I’m ready for the competition and that’s what we’re here for.”

The NFC West has four teams with legitimate Super Bowl dreams, so the 49ers’ path back to the top won’t be easy. But they do face a favorable schedule and are motivated to put their injury-plagued 2020 campaign behind them.

As long as they aren’t trotting out a MASH unit again in 2021, the 49ers should be among the NFL’s best.