San Francisco 49ers Roster Breakdown Proves Long-Term Success
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Great organizations find a way to mesh proven veteran talent with hungry young talent. It's the only way to build a consistent contender year in, year out in the National Football League.
Specific examples can even be found within the San Francisco 49ers headquarters at 4949 Centennial BLVD in Santa Clara. This is how they had success over the course of a 20-year span from the early 1980's to the late 1990's. This is also exactly what's happening right in front of our eyes as San Francisco prepares for its final season at Candlestick Park.
During this slow part in the NFL calendar, I thought it made sense to breakdown San Francisco's roster to prove to even the most skeptical fan that general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh have built a consistent contender.
You will see prime examples of how San Francisco built this Super Bowl-caliber roster and why it will be sustained for the immediate future. I will utilize facts to back up my claim at the 49ers front office is among the most effective in the entire NFL. In the process, my primary goal will be to show you that success in Northern California won't be limited to 2013.
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In-House Replenishment Process
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My projected San Francisco 49ers' 53-man roster, which can be found in the last slide breaks down like this:
|Original Draft Picks||33|
|Undrafted Free-Agent Signings||4|
|Veteran Free Agents||11|
One common theme for contending teams in the National Football League is that they make the decision to build through the draft and supplement in free agency. Considering that 62 percent of my projected 49ers roster is made up of original draft picks, it could be said that they're doing it right.
Of course possessing the ability to draft right is an important aspect of success. It enables you too replenish your roster and move on from aging veterans.
San Francisco followed this model to a T in April.
Justin Smith is entering his mid 30's and will be a free agent following the 2013 season. Pretty much on cue, San Francisco exhausted a second-round pick on defensive end Cornellius Carradine. The Florida State product was Matt Miller's No. 5 overall player in the draft and will be an immediate contributor as a rotational player in 2013 before eventually taking over for Smith.
Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier was one of the better all-around pass rushers in April's draft and fits the 49ers 3-4 defense perfectly. The third-round pick will vie for the primary backup spot at outside linebacker behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.
Brooks signed a six-year, $44 million contract extension with San Francisco last offseason. He is set to count about $8 million per season against the cap after 2013. If Lemonier pans out, the 49ers could easily jettison Brooks from the roster and save a cool $7 million against the cap.
San Francisco's first-round selection Eric Reid will come in and immediately replace Dashon Goldson at free safety. While Reid may struggle in coverage early in his career, his issues in that aspect of the game should be masked by a stellar front seven; much like what we saw from Goldson during his tenure in San Francisco.
The five-year, $41.25 million contract that Goldson signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason just wasn't sustainable for a contending 49ers team. They needed to find a cheaper alternative, and just so happened to pick one up who represents more upside and is quite a bit younger.
According to Overthecap.com, Reid's contract should count $1.5 million against the cap. Is it a surprise to you that the $6.5 million difference between Goldson's deal and what Reid will earn in 2013 is nearly the same exact amount ($6 million) that newly acquired receiver Anquan Boldin is set to earn this season?
See, San Francisco has a plan and part of that plan is to utilize the money it saves by finding cheaper alternatives at one position to upgrade at another.
Some fans in Northern California might not want to face the reality that Frank Gore might only have a season or two of great football ahead of him. As one of the greatest running backs in franchise history, the idea of San Francisco taking the field without No. 21 might be hard to digest.
That being said, the 30-year-old running back has a lot of mileage in those tires and has hit that unenviable age where players at his position tend to slow down.
San Francisco exhausted a fourth-round pick in 2011 on Kendall Hunter and a second-round pick last year on LaMichael James. While both are going to be key contributors moving forward, the 49ers thought it made sense to nab a running back that fits the bill as a three-down player.
Marcus Lattimore would have easily been the first running back off the board last month if it wasn't for multiple ACL injuries at South Carolina. His rehabilitation seems to be going extremely well, but San Francisco might make the decision to sit him for the entire 2013 season (via CSN Bay Area).
It's not like the 49ers actually need Lattimore to play a role this year. They have the talent and depth to sit him for a season and rely on him to come back strong in 2014.
This was a win-win situation for both the young running back and his new team.
I could go up and down San Francisco's roster and find more examples of it replenishing the roster from within, but these were the most glaring examples.
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Starters (25 and Under)
Offense: 4 (Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Bruce Miller and Anthony Davis
Defense: 5 (Ian Williams, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Chris Culliver and Eric Reid)
Offense: 4 (Vernon Davis, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Alex Boone)
Defense: 5 (Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner)
Offense: 3 (Jonathan Goodwin, Frank Gore and Anquan Boldin)
Defense: 2 (Carlos Rogers and Justin Smith)
As you can see above, nine of San Francisco's projected 23 starters (nickel corner included) are currently 25 or under. Of those nine players, it's easy to come to the conclusion that seven might be future Pro Bowl performers. In fact, two have already made the trip to Hawaii.
Breaking it down even further, 18 of its 23 projected starters are under the age of 30. With the exception of Gore, every single San Francisco starter over the age of 30 was brought on as a veteran addition. As it relates to Goodwin and Boldin, both were already 30 when they were acquired.
It's the idea of bringing in consistent veteran performers to mesh with young talent. San Francisco seems to have this philosophy down to a T.
Three Consecutive Drafts
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Here is a look at San Francisco's last three drafts and who projects to be on the 53-man roster this upcoming season.
|1 (7)||Aldon Smith||Linebacker|
|2 (36)||Colin Kaepernick||Quarterback|
|3 (80)||Chris Culliver||Cornerback|
|4 (115)||Kendall Hunter||Running Back|
|5 (163)||Daniel Kilgore||Center|
|7 (211)||Bruce Miller||Fullback|
This was probably one of the better draft classes that San Francisco has had over the last decade or so. It nabbed the face of its 2012 Super Bowl run in the form of quarterback Colin Kaepernick as well as one of the best young pass rushers in the entire NFL. In addition, the 2011 NFL draft yielded a great young cornerback in Chris Culliver, solid backup running back in Kendall Hunter and a future Pro Bowl fullback in Bruce Miller. While the jury is out on offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore, he could be the heir apparent to Jonathan Goodwin at center. Not a bad haul at all.
|1 (30)||A.J. Jenkins||Wide Receiver|
|2 (61)||LaMichael James||Running Back|
|4 (117)||Joe Looney||Offensive Line|
|5 (165)||Darius Fleming||Linebacker|
|6 (180)||Trenton Robinson||Safety|
While San Francisco's 2012 class might have left a little bit to be desired as rookies, there is something to the notion that it made the decision to redshirt certain players. Not until Brandon Jacobs was released and Kendall Hunter suffered a season-ending injury did LaMichael James get on the field. Once the dynamic running back saw action, he showed exactly why Trent Baalke and Co. made the decision to select him in the second round.
A.J. Jenkins, on the other hand, was active for only a handful of games and failed to produce a single catch when he saw the field. The talent is most definitely there and it's much too early to call him a bust. That being said, I'd have to say he was the biggest reach of any pick over the last three seasons. In short, Jenkins needs to show up as a sophomore in 2013. The rest of San Francisco's selections here brought in depth more than anything else.
|1 (18)||Eric Reid||Safety|
|2 (40)||Cornellius Carradine||Defensive Line|
|2 (55)||Vance McDonald||Tight End|
|3 (88)||Corey Lemonier||Linebacker|
|4 (128)||Quinton Patton||Wide Receiver|
|4 (131)||Marcus Lattimore||Running Back|
|5 (157)||Quinton Dial||Defensive Line|
San Francisco hit on value and need with pretty much every pick in the first five rounds. As I mentioned before, Eric Reid will replace Dashon Goldson at free safety, while Cornellius Carradine will play a vital role as a backup defensive end/defensive tackle as a rookie in 2013.
Vance McDonald replaces Delanie Walker at tight end and will provide Colin Kaepernick with yet another receiving threat between the hashes. Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier should be able to come in and beat out Parys Haralson for the primary backup outside linebacker spot and possesses nearly unmatched upside for a mid-round pick.
I had a second-round grade on wide receiver Quinton Patton, who should also be able to come into training camp and earn his spot as a rotational player in 2013. Patton possesses one of the best sets of hands and is as pro ready as any wide receiver in April's draft. To acquire him in the fourth round was nothing short of highway robbery.
While I have already discussed running back Marcus Lattimore, it cannot be stated enough just how much he brings to the table in San Francisco moving forward. The talented running back would have likely been a top-20 pick if it wasn't for another knee injury this past season at South Carolina. He brings nearly the same skill set that Frank Gore brought with him out of Miami (F) back in 2005.
Defensive lineman Quinton Dial should be able to play an important role along the interior of San Francisco's front seven. While he doesn't possess much of a pass-rush threat, the Alabama product is similar to Ricky Jean-Francois, who departed for Indianapolis back in March.
By my estimation, San Francisco has been able to bring in about 12 starter-caliber players in the draft over the course of the last three seasons. As you already know, that's a mighty nice haul for a team that was selecting at the bottom of each round in the past two drafts.
Future Draft Picks and Draft-Day Dealings
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This would mean that San Francisco acquired the 34th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft and a second-round pick in 2014 for its "backup" quarterback.
To make matters more interesting, San Francisco traded down from 34 to 40 with Tennessee, picking up a third-round pick in 2014 as well as a seventh rounder later in April's draft.
Do the math for a second here. San Francisco turned Smith into defensive end Cornellius Carradine, as well as two early-round picks in 2014. If you want to go one step further, the 49ers traded that seventh rounder they got from Tennessee to move up in the third round with Green Bay to select outside linebacker Corey Lemonier.
The following comes from an article that I wrote on Bleacher Report earlier this year:
About an hour later, San Francisco picked up another linebacker, NaVorro Bowman from Penn State. In addition, the 49ers acquired a sixth-round pick (Anthony Dixon) later in the draft as well as a fourth-rounder the next year.
If getting Bowman in this deal wasn't enough, that fourth-round selection the following year wasn't just used to pick running back Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State. Instead, acquiring an additional fourth-round pick enabled San Francisco to move up in the second round to nab quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Considering how much general manager Trent Baalke seems to value draft picks, a case could be made that San Francisco would not have traded up to get Kaepernick without that additional fourth-round pick.
This is the the genius Baalke.
It's his ability to play the draft board like it's his own personal toy. This has been repeated over and over again in the short time that he has been running San Francisco's front office.
The rest of the league and analysts alike literally gushed over San Francisco's multitude of draft picks last month. It's funny to think about it 11 months before the fact, but expect the same thing to occur next April.
San Francisco already boasts 10 picks in the 2014 NFL draft, including five in the first three rounds. This doesn't even take into account likely compensatory selections that it is going to be awarded after losing Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois, Delanie Walker and Isaac Sopoaga in free agency.
No one really knows the formula that the National Football League utilizes to award compensatory picks, but one thing is for sure. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will not count against San Francisco's haul here. He was released by Philadelphia, therefore will not be part of the equation that the NFL uses.
Simply put, San Francisco could be looking at a total number of draft picks nearing the 13 that it went into this past draft with.
If building through the draft is the ultimate strategy for continued success in the NFL, San Francisco has it down pat.
All trade information can be found on Draftsite.com
Final Thoughts and Projected 53-Man Roster
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By now it isn't a secret that the 2013 San Francisco 49ers are going to be absolutely stacked. General manager Trent Baalke worked some magic this offseason and filled perceived holes at every single position of need.
In addition, he was able to compile a wide array of young talent up and down the board. These youngsters will mesh with proven veterans to form what has to be considered a Super Bowl-caliber roster.
Here is my projected 53-man roster as of right now. For more roster projections check out Dylan DeSimone's article from earlier this month.
|QB (3)||Colin Kaepernick||Colt McCoy||Scott Tolzien|
|RB (4)||Frank Gore||Kendall Hunter||LaMichael James||Anthony Dixon|
|FB (1)||Bruce Miller|
|TE (3)||Vernon Davis||Vance McDonald||Garrett Celek|
|WR (3)||Michael Crabtree||Mario Manningham||Kyle Williams|
|WR (3)||Anquan Boldin||Quinton Patton||A.J. Jenkins|
|T (3)||Joe Staley||Anthony Davis||Carter Bykowski|
|G (4)||Mike Iupati||Alex Boone||Adam Snyder||Joe Looney|
|C (2)||Jonathan Goodwin||Daniel Kilgore|
|DE/DT (3)||Justin Smith||Ray McDonald||Cornellius Carradine|
|DT (4)||Glenn Dorsey||Ian Williams||Quinton Dial||Lawrence Okoye|
|ILB (3)||Patrick Willis||NaVorro Bowman||Dan Skuta|
|OLB (4)||Aldon Smith||Ahmad Brooks||Corey Lemonier||Parys Haralson|
|CB (3)||Carlos Rogers||Chris Culliver||Perrish Cox|
|CB (2)||Tarell Brown||Nnamdi Asomugha|
|FS (3)||Eric Reid||Craig Dahl||C.J. Spillman|
|SS (2)||Donte Whitner||Trenton Robinson|
|K (1)||Phil Dawson|
|P (1)||Andy Lee|
|LS (1)||Brian Jennings|
There are obviously a few roster spots up for grabs in San Francisco. As it relates to Marcus Lattimore, I am working under the assumption that he will be placed on the non-football injury list, much like what we saw with Jewel Hampton last season.
As it is, San Francisco's roster is stacked. It has a nice balance of unproven youngsters and talented veterans. It possesses the best skill-position unit we have seen from a 49ers team probably since the mid 1990's.
Defensively, there might be a bit of a concern as it relates to depth at inside linebacker. If that's all San Francisco has to worry about on that side of the ball with All-Pro performers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman manning the starting jobs, I wouldn't worry too much.
Baalke has done a tremendous job walking the tight rope between a "win-now mentality" and building for the future. The roster that he has created possesses staying power, something that can be said for just a handful of teams in the NFL.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.