Predicting San Francisco 49ers' Starting Lineup Post-Week 1 of Free Agency
After more than a week of free agency, the San Francisco 49ers have one major unanswered question.
Who will start at free safety?
Since Dashon Goldson fled to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers, left with a big hole at safety, signed former St. Louis Ram Craig Dahl.
Will he be starting next year?
Read on for my predictions on all of San Francisco's starters in 2013.
Projected starter: Colin Kaepernick
One of San Francisco's biggest storylines for the 2013 season is how Kaepernick will perform now that expectations are so high.
That's a debate for another day, but one question I'll address in this slideshow is who should be Kaepernick's backup.
Scott Tolzien knows the system, but I suspect the 49ers will draft a dual-threat quarterback to nurture as the backup between Rounds 3-5.
Best projected backup: Matt Scott (University of Arizona)
Projected starter: Frank Gore
Just when I think Gore is going to to slow down, he puts together another 1,000-yard season on the ground. The 29-year-old should continue to be the starter until he loses a step.
The battle for the backup role should be a great training camp storyline, assuming Kendall Hunter is fully healed from his torn Achilles.
My guess is both will contribute in 2013, but James will get a bit more playing time because he's a better fit in the pistol read-option.
Best projected backup: LaMichael James
Projected starter: Bruce Miller
The converted DE has made quite a name for himself at fullback.
Expect him to see plenty of playing time blocking for San Francisco's stable of running backs.
Best projected backup: None
Projected starters: Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin
I wrote this on how Boldin will fit with this offense. To summarize, he should only make the 49ers better.
Beyond Boldin and Crabtree, the 49ers have several question marks.
Will A.J. Jenkins have a breakout year? Will Mario Manningham be as explosive after tearing his ACL and PCL in December of 2012?
When healthy, Manningham is a dangerous third option—he was effective in that role when the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLV.
Best projected backup: Mario Manningham
Projected starter: Vernon Davis
It's a bit unorthodox to have a tight end who is clearly faster than his starting wide receiver teammates, but that's what the 49ers have in Davis.
Losing Delanie Walker hurts in several areas, and it's unlikely that San Francisco will be able to find a replacement as versatile as him.
Expect the Niners to target a tight end on one of the first two days of the draft.
Best projected backup: Zach Ertz (Stanford)
Projected starters: LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin, RG Alex Boone, RT Anthony Davis
Barring a wacky injury, the 49ers' starting offensive line should be the same as it was last season.
And I'm sure all Niners fans are thrilled about this.
Only Jonathan Goodwin, at 34 years old, is getting up there in age. San Francisco could target a center to replace him in the draft.
Best projected backup: Daniel Kilgore
Projected starters: DE Justin Smith, NT Glenn Dorsey, DE Ray McDonald
Are the 49ers planning on moving to a base 4-3 defense after signing Dorsey?
My guess is they won't. They feature a four-man front on the majority of downs anyway because they play so much 4-2-5 nickel defense.
When in the base 3-4, I expect Dorsey will play the majority of the snaps. But the 49ers might target an interior defensive lineman early in the draft, and defensive tackle Ian Williams has the potential to play a big role next season.
Best projected backup: Ian Williams
Projected starters: OLB Aldon Smith, ILB Patrick Willis, ILB NaVorro Bowman, OLB Ahmad Brooks
The growing sentiment I've heard about the 49ers this offseason is that they need another pass-rusher.
But with Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks effective and under contract, the question is would it be worth it to spend on a situational pass-rusher that could come in for Brooks on third downs?
My guess is Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio believe they have enough pass-rushing talent when this roster is healthy. Injuries to Justin Smith and Aldon Smith clearly contributed to San Francisco's inability to create pressure in the playoffs.
And without much cap space, San Francisco might choose to pass on a free-agent rusher.
However, don't be surprised if the 49ers take a pass-rusher early in the draft with the hope of finding the next Aldon Smith.
Best projected backup: Parys Haralson
Projected starters: Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers
As each day passes, I'm becoming more and more convinced that Carlos Rogers will be a 49er for the 2013 season.
However, the 49ers should at least draft a cornerback in the first three rounds on the 2013 draft just in case Rogers struggles again.
Culliver was dreadful in the Super Bowl, but over the course of the season he was the better cover corner, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). If he outperforms Rogers in training camp, he should get the starting nod.
Best projected backup: Chris Culliver
Projected starters: FS Charles Woodson, SS Donte Whitner
Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee reported that Woodson feels "shunned" by the lack of interest in him during free agency. The 36-year-old doesn't have many options remaining if he wants to start for a contender, which means he may be interested in a cheap, short deal to play in San Francisco.
The Niners did recently sign Craig Dahl, but they should still be in the market for a starter, and I think they'll eventually choose Woodson as their guy.
Without a long-term solution at strong or free safety, expect San Francisco to draft a safety with one of its first two picks.
Best projected backup: Craig Dahl
Projected starters: K Phil Dawson, P Andy Lee, Return Specialists LaMichael James and Ace Sanders
Dawson and Lee are both Pro Bowlers, and for good reason. In his last two seasons, Dawson has made 14-of-15 field goals from 50-plus yards. Lee tied for first in net punting average, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
LaMichael James is likely to handle some of the kickoff-return duties next year, but the 49ers need another player to return punts with Ted Ginn Jr. not on the roster.
Enter Ace Sanders.
The former South Carolina Gamecock is an explosive return man. The 49ers should target him in the fourth or fifth round of the draft to fill their need.