Jim Harbaugh took the 49ers to the Super Bowl, but came up short.
The Jim Harbaugh era for the San Francisco 49ers has gotten off to a tremendous start. In his first season, the 49ers made it to the NFC championship game, only to fall to the eventual Super Bowl-winning New York Giants.
This past season, the 49ers took another step, as they made it to the Super Bowl. They came up five yards short, as the Baltimore Ravens stopped the 49ers on their final drive. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, anything short of a Super Bowl title will be a disappointment.
Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke will look to fortify their roster through the draft and via the free-agent market. Several flaws were exposed toward the end of the regular season and into the postseason.
The 49ers had major problems rushing the passer when Justin Smith was not at full strength. The lack of pressure exposed a defensive secondary that was mediocre in coverage.
Offensively, the 49ers only had one true wide receiver they could count on in Michael Crabtree. They also struggled in many facets of special teams. The 49ers' kicker, David Akers, had an abysmal year, punt returner Ted Ginn was average at best and the coverage units were shaky.
It was Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half opened up what turned out to be an insurmountable lead for the Ravens.
The 49ers have several of their own players becoming free agents they must decide on, including Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois.
In addition, there are high-priced players that could be released or traded to help the 49ers' salary-cap situation. They include Alex Smith, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner.
The draft is the most cost-effective way to build a team and the 49ers must hit it big in 2013. Although it's too early to know for sure, the 49ers had what looks like a very poor draft last year. Only LaMichael James saw meaningful playing time or made any contribution.
Looking at the 2013 draft, the 49ers currently have 11 overall selections. In addition, the potential trade of Alex Smith could net them an additional pick in the top half of the draft.
The 49ers will be looking for immediate help on the defensive line and in the secondary. It's highly unlikely the 49ers will keep all of their picks and not use some to bundle and trade up in certain rounds.
Lets take a closer look at a mock draft if the 49ers used all of their selections. All results from the NFL Scouting Combine are courtesy of nfl.com.
John Jenkins would be an ideal selection if he's available with the 31st pick in the draft.
A 6'4" nose tackle, Jenkins weighed in at 370 pounds at the end of the season. He has dropped 24 pounds and was at 346 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. This is a much better weight for Jenkins and will give him more quickness and stamina.
The 49ers may also want to consider moving up a few spots to ensure they can get him. With the extra pick they should receive in an Alex Smith trade, plus several other extra picks, the 49ers have the assets to make aggressive moves.
Jenkins played the nose tackle position at the University of Georgia for the past two seasons after transferring in from Gulf Coast Community College. He is a solid run-stopper and an adequate, though not explosive, pass-rusher. This is an area that Jenkins should work on to become a more valuable asset to his team.
Isaac Sopoaga and Rocky Jean-Francois are both free agents this year. Sopoaga was the starter, but his production declined compared to the past few years. Sopoaga made $3.8 million in 2012, and the 49ers are unlikely to offer him anywhere near that much.
Sopoaga will be 32 years old in September and has never been a good pass-rusher. At his advancing age and decreasing level of productivity, it's time for the 49ers to find his replacement, and that could be Jenkins.
Jean-Francois has backed up both at the nose tackle and defensive end positions. He is a solid reserve lineman, but does not have the strength of stamina to be an every-down player.
Jenkins would give the 49ers their nose tackle for the foreseeable future and should be able to step into the job immediately. He has good size and can be a powerful force in the center of the 49ers' defense.
Tim McDonald, T.J.'s dad, played for the 49ers from 1993-99.
T.J. McDonald gives the 49ers a great deal of flexibility in the defensive backfield. He can play either safety position, although his size makes him a better candidate for strong safety. He ran a 4.53 in his 40-yard dash at the Combine, which is decent.
McDonald comes from great stock, as his dad, Tim, was a star in the NFL. Over his 13-year NFL career, seven with the 49ers, Tim earned Pro Bowl honors six times.
T.J., like his father, is a tough hitter and strong tackler. He is also solid in pass coverage, displaying good ball skills. At 6'2" and 219 pounds, Tim is big enough to battle the big tight ends in the NFL.
The 49ers have some tough decisions to make at the safety position. Dashon Goldson is a free agent. If the 49ers do not sign him now to a long-term, lucrative deal, or put the franchise tag on him, Goldson could go elsewhere.
Donte Whitner is a team leader and solid against the run, but is vulnerable in pass coverage. He was exposed in the Super Bowl, as the Ravens attacked him with great success. Whitner is due to make $3.75 million this season, which is quite a bit for a safety who has problems covering anyone.
McDonald gives the 49ers some valuable insurance if they are unable to retain Goldson. If they keep Goldson and decide to jettison Whitner, McDonald could step into the strong safety spot and save the 49ers some cap space. At a minimum, he will provide more athleticism and has a much higher upside than Whitner.
John Simon was a standout defensive end at Ohio State.
John Simon injured his shoulder in the Senior Bowl and was not able to participate in workouts at the combine. He has been interviewing with several teams and that process has gone well.
Simon has good leadership capabilities and was a two-year captain for Ohio State. In 2012 he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.
At 6'1" and 257 pounds, Simon is a bit on the smaller side for a defensive end. However, with the 49ers already having Justin Smith and Ray McDonald on the outside, Simon will not be needed as an every-down player. He will add quality depth to the 49ers' defensive line, a unit that wore down in 2012.
When Justin Smith went down due to injury, the 49ers' pass rush was greatly diminished. Aldon Smith, who ended the season with 19.5 sacks, registered none over the last six games.
Simon will remind you of a young Smith, as he is a hustling, high-energy player. He has the strength to compete effectively against the run and the speed to be a good pass-rusher. Simon had nine sacks in his senior season.
The 49ers have two picks in the third round, this one being the earlier of the two. The 49ers obtained this pick from Carolina and it's the No. 12 selection in round three.
Levine Toilolo has the speed to get deep on pass routes.
With the second of their two third-round picks, Levine Toilolo would be an ideal selection. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is already familiar with Toilolo, having recruited and coached him at Stanford.
Toilolo is an outstanding athlete with excellent size and speed. He is 6'8" and 260 pounds, which makes him an ideal target downfield. He does need to work on his hands and develop more consistency due to a high number of dropped passes.
Over the past two seasons, Toilolo has split time at Stanford with Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz. Fleener was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft by the Indianapolis Colts, where he was reunited with Andrew Luck. Ertz is a projected first-round selection this year.
In 2011 and 2012, Toilolo has a combined total of 59 receptions for 736 yards and 10 touchdowns. The high number of touchdowns is a figure that stands out and Toilolo would give the 49ers an excellent red-zone option.
The 49ers frequently utilize two and three tight end formations and Toilolo would be an ideal complement to Vernon Davis. Delanie Walker is a free agent and the 49ers have expressed a desire to bring him back. However, if they are unable to retain him, Toilolo gives the 49ers a suitable replacement.
Marcus Lattimore is recovering nicely from a season-ending knee injury.
Let's face it, Frank Gore cannot go on forever.
When the 2013 season begins, he will be 30 years old and entering his ninth NFL season. Although he had a great year in 2012, rushing for 1,214 yards, eight touchdowns and a 4.7 yards-per-carry average, finding someone who can step in for Gore in a couple years would be a wise move.
Marcus Lattimore was a sure-fire first rounder had he not blown out his knee in late October. After season-ending surgery, Lattimore is recovering nicely and could even be ready to play when the regular season starts.
The 49ers may need to deal some of their picks to move up to the beginning of the fourth round, or even late-third round, to select Lattimore. If they're fortunate enough to get him, they will have the luxury of bringing him along slowly, as Gore is still going strong.
Lattimore played two-and-a-half seasons for South Carolina and is entering the draft following his Junior year. Over this stretch, Lattimore has 2,677 yards rushing on 555 carries, good for a 4.8 yards-per-carry average. He also has a total of 41 touchdowns, 38 rushing and three receiving.
Lattimore has shown a good ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, with 74 catches for 767 yards over his career with the Gamecocks.
The 49ers do not have an every-down type of back that can replace Gore. LaMichael James is too small for that and even shared time with Kenjon Barner while at Oregon. Kendall Hunter spelled Gore effectively prior to getting hurt, but the 49ers won't know about his skills and durability until he gets back on the field.
The selection of Lattimore gives the 49ers some valuable insurance looking forward two or three years, or if Gore misses any time in 2013.
Jamar Taylor snags this interception on the blue turf of Boise State.
The 49ers have two picks in the fifth round, the first of which is the 24th, which comes from the Indianapolis Colts. An enticing selection at this stage is Jamar Taylor, a cornerback from Boise State.
Taylor's stock has been rising as he has performed very well at the combine. The 49ers would most likely need to bundle some of their later selections and trade up to the late third or early-fourth round to get him. He would be worth it.
Taylor ran a very impressive 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and also showed excellent strength with 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press. His bench press was tied for the lead among cornerbacks.
Playing at Boise State meant Taylor was up against a top-flight passing attack every day in practice. This has helped his coverage skills.
At only 5'11" and 192 pounds, Taylor is surprisingly strong and has the ability to play tight, press coverage and knock receivers off their routes. He also is very good fighting for the ball and has excellent competitive instincts.
Taylor was susceptible to being overly aggressive and, at times, was beaten on double-moves. This is an area where he can be coached up to be more consistent.
Marquess Wilson was kicked off the Cougars team with three games left in the season.
Marquess Wilson entered the NFL draft under less than ideal circumstances. He was kicked off the Washington State team with three games remaining in his junior season.
Wilson clashed with head coach Mike Leach and made claims of abusive practices against Leach and the WSU coaching staff.
After an investigation, Leach and his staff were cleared of any improper behavior and Wilson was dismissed.
Wilson was the most productive player on the Cougars' team, even though defenses slanted coverages in his directions on virtually every play. Prior to his dismissal from the team, Wilson was well on his way to his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.
In 2011, as a sophomore, Wilson caught 83 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns. With three games remaining in his 2012 season, Wilson had 52 receptions for 813 yards and five touchdowns.
Wilson had a solid 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. He stands 6'3" and is 194 pounds.
Wilson uses his height effectively when battling for catches. He has a good sense of how to get open and make himself available to his quarterback.
The biggest question mark on Wilson stems from the way his career ended at Washington State. His interviews, more than most, will determine how high he goes in the draft.
The 49ers currently have only one proven wide receivers available to play on their roster. Michael Crabtree has emerged as the 49ers' top receiver, but he needs some help.
Randy Moss and Ted Ginn are unlikely to return and neither distinguished themselves as a go-to receiver in 2012.
Mario Manningham had a devastating knee injury, tearing both his ACL and PCL. It's very uncertain whether Mannigham will be ready at the start of the season, or if he will ever have the speed and elusiveness he once possessed.
Kyle Williams has shown flashes of potential over the three years he has played in San Francisco. However, in each of those seasons he battled injuries and cannot be counted on to stay healthy. The injury problems were also an issue when Williams played his college ball at Arizona State.
Last year's first-round pick, A.J. Jenkins, showed so little he was rarely even activated for the games and caught zero passes on the season. He is now working with Colin Kaepernick in the offseason, trying to develop his skills and some chemistry with the 49ers' quarterback.
The 49ers would be wise to go after a proven wide receiver in the free-agent market. If they can get a decent player via free agency, it would allow a player like Wilson more time to develop.
Wilson is a playmaker and would appear ready to enter the NFL ahead of where Jenkins was last year. He would be a steal in the fifth round.
Jeff Baca is a versatile offensive lineman from UCLA.
The 49ers have two selections in the sixth round. The first comes from Miami and is the No. 12 pick in the round. Jeff Baca would be an ideal addition to the 49ers' offensive line.
Baca has 45 career starts at UCLA, splitting time almost evenly between guard and tackle. He should also be an effective center with a little coaching.
The 49ers' current center is Jonathan Goodwin, who is 34. He had a good year in 2012, starting every game and playing effectively. Behind Goodwin is Daniel Kilgore, who also came into the league as a guard.
The 49ers were incredibly fortunate in 2012, as all five of their starting offensive linemen played every game. This is unlikely to happen again, so quality depth will be important for the 49ers. Baca would provide that depth and has the versatility to play any position on the line.
Baca, who is 6'3" and 302 pounds, is a tough, high-energy player that is known for his tenacity. He also has shown an excellent football IQ, as the Bruins asked him to play multiple positions throughout his career. At his size, Baca would probably be best suited as a guard or center in the NFL.
Keith Pough had a successful career at Howard University, an FCS school. Although he typically played against weaker competition, Pough excelled and showed a high degree of athleticism.
At 6'2" and 239 pounds, Pough was a very productive player in the MEAC. Although he is unlikely to challenge for a starting job right away, Pough has the speed and tenacity to play special teams.
Parys Haralson lost his job to Aldon Smith in training camp, then tore his left triceps while lifting weights. He was lost for the season and the 49ers suffered because of it. Smith wore down as the season progressed and Haralson would have been able to give him some rest.
At this point in the sixth round, picking an athletic player coming from a small school makes sense. As a senior, Pough had 72 tackles, including 10 for loss. He ended his career as the all-time leader in the FCS in tackles for loss.
Speed is Pough's biggest asset. He can gain strength and learn his craft behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, two fine outside linebackers. Pough will also contribute on special teams.
Caleb Sturgis would replace David Akers who had a terrible season.
With the first of their two seventh-round picks, the 49ers could grab Caleb Sturgis from Florida. He has a strong leg and has shown excellent consistency on his field-goal attempts.
Over the past two seasons, Sturgis has converted 46-of-54 attempts, with a long of 55 yards. Sturgis also had a 56-yarder as a sophomore. Sturgis was also solid on kickoffs, as he had a 45 percent rate on touchbacks this past season.
David Akers' struggles were well documented in 2012. Coming off a record-setting year in 2011, Akers was the lowest-rated kicker in the league last year. He converted only 29-of-42 attempts. His 13 misses were the most of his career.
Akers struggled with a groin injury in 2012 and that threw him off. Then as he began missing kicks, his confidence wavered and he missed even more. Akers is due to make $3 million this year and if the 49ers are able to get Sturgis, they could save a lot of money.
Rod Sweeting picks off a pass against Virginia Tech.
If he's available, with the second-to-last selection in the draft, the 49ers could do a lot worse than Rod Sweeting. In fact, if he's available late in round six, it would probably be worth a trade of this pick and the 49ers' 2014 round-seven pick to move up and snag him.
Sweeting is 5'11" and 189 pounds. He surprised scouts by running a 4.42 40-yard dash at the Combine. Generally, however, he did not wow anyone during the season by displaying great speed. It's a lot different running in football gear than it is in shorts and no pads.
Sweeting is a very smart player and that can go a long way above and beyond pure athleticism. In 2012 he had 58 tackles and one interception. Sweeting is the type of player that can also contribute on special teams.
With several question marks in the 49ers' defensive backfield, adding a player of Sweeting's skill and intelligence would be a good move.
The 49ers brain trust, Jed York, Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke.
The San Francisco 49ers are well positioned to be very creative and aggressive in the 2013 draft. In addition to the 11 picks they have now, they should be receiving at least another third rounder, or potentially even a second rounder, for Alex Smith.
The 49ers have six selections in Rounds 5-7. Rather than using all of those picks, GM Trent Baalke would be better served by bundling some to move up in certain rounds to get players they really covet.
In addition, Baalke could do a package deal with a team in need of more quality depth and add a good pick in the earlier rounds. The 49ers will not have too many roster spots available, so if they kept all their picks many of those players would not likely make the team.
The 49ers were five yards away from winning the Super Bowl. Anything less than a Super Bowl victory in the upcoming season will be a disappointment for the 49ers and their fans. A team's window of opportunity only lasts for a short while, so now is the time to do whatever it takes to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
There are a few weaknesses on the roster and it will be up to Baalke to find solutions for those shortcomings. The key for the 49ers in the upcoming draft is to focus on adding as many impact players as they can.
A few impact players who can contribute right away are essential, not players who can fill up the depth chart. If the Smith deal goes through as planned, the 49ers could end up with five picks in the first three rounds. By dealing some of their other assets, they may be able to acquire one additional pick in those top-three rounds.
Impact players are generally found in the first three rounds of the draft. That's where the 49ers' focus needs to be in order to fortify the roster for another Super Bowl run.