The 6 Biggest Questions for San Francisco 49ers Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft
The San Francisco 49ers have had a very active offseason. There have been several changes to the roster and there will be more to come.
Gone are several key members of the team that went to the Super Bowl last year. The departed players include Alex Smith, Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francois, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss and David Akers.
The 49ers added to their roster by bringing in several players, including Anquan Boldin, Glenn Dorsey, Craig Dahl, Dan Skuta and Phil Dawson. In addition, NFL.com has confirmed the 49ers have completed a trade with the Cleveland Browns to acquire backup quarterback Colt McCoy.
"The Browns traded McCoy and their sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to the 49ers on Monday in exchange for the Niners' fifth- and seventh-round selections, a source told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. The 49ers had a lot of extra draft picks this year, so it isn't surprising that they gave up late-round selections for McCoy."
Barring any additional free-agent acquisitions or trades, the 49ers will enter the upcoming draft with several areas of need. The 49ers currently have 13 draft picks, including five in the first three rounds. Let's take a look at the six questionable areas the 49ers will be looking to strengthen in the draft.
No. 6: Can the 49ers Find a Defensive End That Can Rush the Passer?
The San Francisco 49ers' defense was one of the top rated in the league, but that does not tell the whole story. In reality, when Justin Smith went down with an injury and Aldon Smith was slowed by his own injury, the 49ers were unable to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Starting defensive ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith combined for only 5.5 sacks, and none in the postseason. The 49ers did acquire free-agent defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, who will add quality depth to the line.
Dorsey can rotate in at the defensive end position and also play nose tackle when needed. As a tackle, he is better suited to a 4-3 alignment, not the nose tackle spot in the 3-4 the 49ers use. However, Dorsey is not a great pass-rusher. In his five prior seasons, over 62 games, Dorsey has accumulated only four sacks.
Consistent pressure on the quarterback is the key to having a good pass defense. When the 49ers' pass rush faded in the latter part of the season, the defensive secondary was routinely victimized.
If the 49ers have the opportunity to acquire a solid pass-rusher to play opposite Aldon Smith, perhaps replacing Ray McDonald on passing downs, they need to take a serious look at it. Some players the 49ers may consider include Datone Jones from UCLA and Margus Hunt from SMU.
Jones will most likely be gone by the time the 49ers' first two picks come up at Nos. 31 and 34. Hunt was one of the stars of the scouting combine, but his play on the field at SMU does not warrant the 49ers taking him unless he's available late in the second round.
Hunt played regularly from his sophomore year through his senior season and totalled only 14 sacks, an average of less than five per year. Hunt would be a very risky pick because, although he wowed everyone at the combine, his production has never measured up.
No. 5: Will the 49ers Draft a Top-Flight Wide Receiver?
Michael Crabtree had an outstanding season with 85 receptions, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. He emerged as a No. 1, go-to receiver for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The 49ers made a significant trade to acquire veteran Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin is a big, strong veteran receiver and will step into the No. 2 wide receiver spot.
Neither Crabtree or Boldin have great speed or are ideally suited for mid-range pass routes. Over the past several years, the 49ers have not had a game-breaking wide receiver or quality depth at the position.
In 2012, the 49ers selected Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. The hope was that he could provide the speed necessary to be a big-play, deep threat.
Thus far, Jenkins has been a huge disappointment. He was rarely active for games and caught no passes all season. The 49ers are hoping Jenkins can develop, but he is a huge question mark.
Another major question mark is Mario Manningham. He sustained a severe knee injury, tearing two ligaments, which ended his season. It does not appear Manningham will be ready when the 2013 season begins. He is also a speed receiver and there is no guarantee he can return to the level he was at prior to his injury.
Kyle Williams has shown promise as a slot receiver, but has been unable to stay healthy in any of his three prior seasons. He also had injury issues in college and has never played an entire season. The 49ers would be very unwise to count on Williams, as his history dictates otherwise.
Undrafted free agents Chad Hall, Joe Hastings and Ricardo Lockette are unproven. If one of these players can step up and make a meaningful contribution, it would be a big lift for the 49ers' receiving corps.
The 49ers have more pressing needs than wide receiver, so it's unlikely they will use one of their top-two picks on one of the top receivers available. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and Keenan Allen all are first-round talents, but probably not in the 49ers' plans.
If USC's Robert Woods is available in the middle of the second round, he is the type of player that the 49ers may opt to trade up for.
No. 4: How Will the 49ers Replace Tight End Delanie Walker?
The San Francisco 49ers utilized dual tight end formations quite frequently under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Vernon Davis was the starter and primary tight end, but Delanie Walker saw plenty of action.
In 2012, Walker caught 21 passes for 344 yards, an average of 16.4 yards per catch. Walker also scored three touchdowns and was a valuable special teams performer.
Walker signed as a free agent with the Titans and will get the opportunity to start. This leaves the 49ers with only Davis and Garrett Celek, who is not the pass receiver Walker is.
The question is whether the 49ers will invest one of their top draft picks in a tight end like Zach Ertz or Tyler Eifert. With more needs on the defensive side of the ball, a second tight end going to San Francisco is unlikely.
Do expect the 49ers to select a tight end, but it will probably be in the middle rounds. Head coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned that the 49ers were unlikely to use as many multiple tight end formations in the upcoming season. This change in strategy could decrease the need for the 49ers to go for a tight end with one of their top picks.
A player to watch is Ryan Otten, a local product from San Jose State. He has good hands and, although not as explosive as Walker or Davis, is a good pass-catcher. Otten had 99 receptions over his last two seasons in college. He would likely be available in the fourth or fifth round, which would make sense for the 49ers.
No 3: How Aggressive Will the 49ers Be in Drafting a Top Cornerback?
The 49ers had problems in pass coverage and their cornerbacks struggled against big, strong receivers. Tarell Brown has developed into a sold corner, but there is room for improvement over Carlos Rogers and nickelback Chris Culliver.
After Dee Milliner, who will likely go in the top 10, there are several very good cornerbacks for the 49ers to consider. Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant are likely first-round selections and the 49ers would probably need to move up eight to 10 spots to have a chance to get one of them.
The cornerback that could be the steal of the draft is Tyrann Mathieu. He is a first-round talent, but has had off-field problems that have dropped his stock. Although Mathieu has had maturity issues, if he's available in the third round he would be worth the risk for the 49ers.
No. 2: How Will the 49ers Fill Their Hole at Nose Tackle?
Glenn Dorsey, who the 49ers acquired as a free agent from the Chiefs, is best suited as a defensive end. He can play nose tackle in a pinch, but is not the long-term solution.
The 49ers also kept third string nose tackle Ian Williams, but he hardly played in 2012. There's really no way to know how good Williams is until he sees regular playing time. Although the 49ers like him, he is still a question mark, having never really played.
There are three potential nose tackles who could be available with the 49ers' selections at Nos. 31 or 34. The top candidate is Alabama nose tackle Jesse Williams. He would fill the void created by the departures of Sopoaga and Jean-Francois.
If Williams is available the 49ers would fill a large hole and have their nose tackle for several years by selecting him. Another potential option is John Jenkins, who's stock has dropped recently. He and Sylvester Williams could be available in the middle of the second round.
If the 49ers went in another direction and did not land Jesse Williams with one of their top-two selections, it could be an ideal time to trade up to make sure they get either Jenkins or Sylvester Williams.
No. 1: Can the 49ers Adequately Replace Dashon Goldson?
Safety is the biggest area of concern for the San Francisco 49ers. The departure of Dashon Goldson creates a huge hole at free safety. The 49ers' strong safety, Donte Whitner, is also in the final year of his contract.
The first order of business is to get a top young safety that can step in and contribute right away. In addition, it is unlikely the 49ers will sign Whitner after the 2013 season, as his coverage skills are subpar.
Kenny Vaccaro is the elite safety in this class, but he will be long gone by the time the 49ers make their first two picks at Nos. 31 and 34. Fortunately for the 49ers, this is a deep draft at the safety position, the 49ers' biggest area of need.
With one of their first two selections, the 49ers should target Eric Reid, Matt Elam or Jonathan Cyprien. One, perhaps two of these players should be available when the 49ers make their pick.
Safety is the 49ers' top priority heading into this draft. With Elam, Reid or Cyprien, the 49ers can solve their safety position. Look for the 49ers to fill the void at safety with one of their top two selections.
The 49ers Will Be Aggressive at the Draft
The San Francisco 49ers have 13 available draft picks. Look for GM Trent Baalke to make some moves and bundle some of these picks to move up to get the player the 49ers covet.
This is a very deep draft and the 49ers' two biggest needs, safety and nose tackle, can be addressed with their first two picks. There are not even spots for 13 new players, so look for the 49ers to be active and aggressive.
A successful draft will give the 49ers the inside track for the Super Bowl again this season.