NFC West Q&A: Do retooled 49ers still scare division opponents?

Today's question: Trent Baalke, the 49ers general manager, believes he still has the talent on his roster to compete for an NFC title, as evidenced by his drafting for the future rather than immediate need. Do the Niners still strike as much fear in the hearts of the NFC West as they did when they were going to three straight NFC title games?

Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals: In one word: No. By losing six starters on defense, the 49ers aren’t nearly as formidable as they have been in the past, especially when two of the players are the recently retired Patrick Willis and Justin Smith. And adding Darnell Dockett? Not nearly as intimidating a move as it would’ve been three years ago. But the most significant loss for the Niners isn’t coach Jim Harbaugh. It’s running back Frank Gore. He struck fear into defenses, especially since he had averaged 94.3 yards per game and 4.59 yards per rush against NFC West teams since 2005. But losing 11 players who played in at least nine games last season doesn’t make San Francisco as much of a threat as it once was.

Nick Wagoner, St. Louis Rams: The simple answer is no. During the offseason, as the Niners went through so many changes, I talked to a handful of Rams who were surprised by the amount of turnover going on there. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s departure, in particular, raised some eyebrows. The Rams beat the Niners in San Francisco last year and even though they’ve lost their share of games to the Niners in recent years, they’ve been competitive in nearly all of those contests. With the amount of turnover that’s taken place there, there’s a belief in St. Louis that San Francisco is ripe for the Rams to move past and climb out of the NFC West cellar.

Terry Blount, Seattle Seahawks: Not even close. In fact, that idea is laughable. Let’s list some of the names they’ve lost -- Gore, Willis and Chris Borland, Michael Crabtree, Justin Smith and G Mike Iupati. And as much as Jim Harbaugh had worn out his welcome, he gave the team it’s toughness and an edge that led to their success during his tenure. Don’t get me wrong, this still is a team capable of winning more games than it loses. But title contenders? That’s a stretch by any reasonable outlook. They were 8-8 a year ago and now have some major holes to fill on defense, which was 28th in the NFL last year in stopping teams inside the 20.