The San Francisco 49ers should be considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl, as we look ahead to the 2013 season. In the past two years, the 49ers reached the NFC title game; then this past season, they were barely edged out by the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Under head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke, the 49ers have built an outstanding nucleus of talent and leadership. Veteran leaders like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis will lead the way to the promised land for the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick proved that he is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the game today and the experience he gained in 2012 will be invaluable as he directs the 49ers' offense.
Kaepernick led with his athleticism in 2012, but in 2013, he will have the benefit of more experience to go along with that athleticism.
Offensively, the 49ers have built a strong offensive line, one of the best in the NFL. The line will enable Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter to pile up yards on the ground.
The line also did a decent job in pass protection, although having the mobile Kaepernick was a big reason the 49ers avoided a lot of sacks.
The 49ers acquired wide receiver Anquan Boldin in a trade with Baltimore and only gave up a sixth-round draft selection. Boldin will complement Michael Crabtree and give the 49ers an excellent one-two punch.
The 49ers have depth at the wide receiver position with Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette, Chad Hall, Joe Hastings and Marlon Moore all battling for three remaining jobs. Two of these players need to step forward and contribute as the third and fourth receivers.
With 13 picks in the upcoming draft, the 49ers can also add to their stable of wide receivers. Look for them to add at least one receiver through the draft, although I do not expect it to be with one of their first two picks.
Although the 49ers lost tight end Delanie Walker to free agency, Vernon Davis is one of the best in the league at that position. Expect Baalke to add a young tight end in the draft with one of the 49ers' picks in the first three or four rounds.
The offense should be solid and led by Kaepernick, it should be able to put a lot of points on the board. Kaepernick gives them the explosiveness to be able to strike quickly, something the 49ers lacked with Alex Smith under center.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are blessed with arguably the top linebacker corps in the NFL. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are the best inside linebacker tandem in all of football.
Aldon Smith can be a devastating pass rusher on the right side of the defense and Ahmad Brooks is solid on the left. When Smith was hampered by injury towards the end of the 2012 season, his production fell dramatically. In 2013, expect him to return to his earlier top form.
The 49ers' two main areas of concern following the 2012 season were on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Depth was a major issue for the San Francisco defensive line last year, then the 49ers lost starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois in the free-agent market.
In addition, when Justin Smith went down with an injury last year, the depleted 49er line could not get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Smith should be back healthy to start the upcoming season, which will provide a huge boost to the defense.
The 49ers added former first-round draft pick Glenn Dorsey from Kansas City. He will challenge for a starting job and at a minimum, provide quality depth at defensive end and nose tackle.
Look for the 49ers to address the defensive line aggressively in the upcoming draft. Nose tackle is a position that should be addressed with one of the 49ers' top three picks. We can also expect to see Baalke add a defensive end that can develop into a pass rusher somewhere in the first four rounds.
The defensive secondary was quite vulnerable towards the end of last season and in the playoffs. The problems stemmed largely from a lack of a consistent pass rush, but the defensive backfield was exposed.
One of the biggest losses for the 49ers in the free-agent market was the departure of Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Look for the 49ers to draft a safety with one of their first two picks in the draft.
Three top-caliber safeties could be available when it's the 49ers' turn. Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam and Eric Reid are on the radar map for the Niners.
The 49ers signed free-agent safety Craig Dahl from the Rams, but he could be more of a special teams contributor. In addition, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was acquired and will add a physical presence in the secondary.
In addition to a safety, the 49ers should look to select a corner with one of their picks in the first three rounds. Asomugha is signed to a one-year contract and veteran Carlos Rogers is making a lot of money. If Rogers does not step it up this year, he may be gone before next season begins.
With 13 draft picks, look for the 49ers to make a lot of moves in the upcoming draft. They will ideally select only eight players and bundle picks to trade up for players they truly covet. Baalke will also defer some picks to 2014, via trades for some of the 49ers' mid- to late-round picks this year.
The 49ers are poised for another Super Bowl run. Based on the additions expected, if the 49ers can stay healthy, they will be right there to challenge for a Super Bowl crown.
The draft will be a fun one for 49er fans, as Baalke has the assets to make plenty of moves which should lead to the 49ers acquiring two or three impact players for the 2013 season.
Through free agency, the 49ers have addressed their needs at backup quarterback, kicker, and added quality players on the defensive line, at the corner and a wide receiver spot.
The draft can fill additional areas of concern, such as the defensive line, safety and tight end.
Once the holes are filled, the 49ers will be the odds-on favorite to bring another Super Bowl title to San Francisco.