4 Missing Pieces the San Francisco 49ers Could Still Land
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Placing “missing pieces” next to the San Francisco 49ers in the same sentence would generally inspire some skepticism.
A team with so few needs after reaching the Super Bowl and a favorite to be the NFC representative once again isn’t in a position to land many free agents.
That said, general manager Trent Baalke loves to provide competition and depth for head coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers sideline general and his staff accept the additions—as would any in the NFL.
Offseason workouts are a time when post-draft signees fill out the non-official depth chart and compete their hearts out to make the official one when the season begins.
And that competition keeps established starters and drafted prospects hungry—whether coming from a veteran or rookie free agent.
Here are four missing pieces that the 49ers could still land. We’ll first highlight the specific position followed by a player capable of filling it.
If Dan Koppen can help orchestrate a Peyton Manning offense, he can work with any.
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Center is the foremost position featuring little depth on the 49ers.
Accomplished veteran Jonathan Goodwin will fulfill starting responsibilities before retiring or moving on in 2014. Third-year man Daniel Kilgore is second on the depth chart while also serving as a swing guard.
Joe Looney, a 2012 draftee, is another Kilgore-like lineman who has been developed as a guard and center.
Rookie Sherman Carter is the only other center currently with the team. He recently signed with San Francisco as an undrafted rookie free agent.
He started 15 games for Denver in 2012, earning a top-10 pass-blocking score by Pro Football Focus (membership required) with just seven total quarterback hurries allowed and one sack.
He also showcased some big-time football intelligence by helping lead Peyton Manning's offense.
Like Goodwin, Koppen will start the 2013 season at 34 years of age.
Despite his age, Koppen would bring great value to the 49ers due to his starting experience. Kilgore, Looney and especially Carter are still in the developmental stages.
Coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno have worked wonders with the offensive line in the past. Kilgore may have received the proper coaching and be ready to fill in when necessary.
But if Goodwin goes down with an injury, Koppen would serve as the most reliable backup.
Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle
Stuffing opposing ball-carriers is what Casey Hampton does best.
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As opposed to center, the 49ers targeted the defensive line in the offseason.
They brought in Glenn Dorsey before the NFL draft to platoon with Ian Williams as a two-down nose tackle. They also selected pass-rushing specialist Tank Carradine as the heir apparent to Justin Smith.
Fifth-round draftee Quinton Dial is a 6’6’’, 304-pounder who can play anywhere along the line.
Even with a host of others filling out the depth chart, serious injury-related consequences last season proved that the 49ers might want as many productive bodies as possible.
Another productive former Denver Bronco is available on the open market.
Bannan compiled 42 tackles, four pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 2012. He excels as an interior lineman against the run and has a high football IQ for diagnosing blocking schemes (via ESPN Insider, membership required).
Pro Football Focus gave Bannan the sixth-highest rating at defending the run among defensive tackles.
The 12-year pro would at the very least push his positional brethren already with the 49ers. At 6’3’’, 312 pounds, Bannan could offer ample football knowledge to the similarly sized Dial.
This longtime Pittsburgh Steeler should have run-stuffing extraordinaire stamped onto his birth certificate.
Hampton is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle with his 6’1’’, 325-pound frame. While never an eye-popping stat-producer, Hampton embodies that impenetrable wall in the defensive front who occupies multiple defenders.
The 12-year vet isn’t the player he was in the previous decade. But he remains viable in a two-down role.
Ian Williams has relatively zero active game-time experience and would benefit from Hampton’s presence. ESPN Insider’s highest-rated available DT may even climb ahead of Williams if he were signed by the 49ers.
Kick Returner/Offensive Specialist
Josh Cribbs would be a dynamic addition to the 49ers' scoring weaponry.
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Ted Ginn was dynamic as a kick returner but less so as an offensive specialist while playing for the Red and Gold.
Ginn ranked among the league’s best in both punt and kick-return average during his three-year tenure in San Francisco. He also registered three return touchdowns between 2010-2011.
Late-season injuries and a diminishing role as wide receiver led him to sign with the Carolina Panthers.
Wideout Kyle Williams and running backs LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter are all effective position players and returners; however, they haven’t yet established themselves as game breakers in the return game.
Let us offer a quick trivia question: Who’s the all-time leader in kick-return touchdowns and active leader in yardage off kick returns?
Cribbs has compiled a remarkable eight TDs and 10,015 yards as a kick returner. He also has three scores to his name when fielding punts.
Moreover, the two-time Pro Bowler enjoyed his best seasons with the Cleveland Browns when Brad Seely coached their special teams. Seely has held that position in San Francisco since 2011.
This potential acquisition might represent a luxury pick due to Cribbs’ little offensive contributions in 2012.
Yet, the former college quarterback’s production as both a running back and receiver in the NFL (see 2009 and 2011) could entice the 49ers coaching staff.
Prolific special teams numbers are given commodities. And with a Colin Kaepernick-led attack, Cribbs may be useful as a versatile offensive weapon.
When healthy, Brown is one powerful lineman.
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Second only to center, offensive tackle is the position in most need of depth.
Outside of No.1-rated Joe Staley and top-10-quality tackle Anthony Davis, the 49ers are depth deficient in this area (via Pro Football Focus).
Carter Bykowski (seventh-round pick) and Luke Marquardt (undrafted free agent) are unproven rookies. Kenny Wiggins has just one year of practice squad experience.
Alex Boone qualifies as one of the premier swing tackles in the game; unfortunately, he is the starting right guard. The 49ers need him there.
Brown could offer tremendous value while filling a need.
The three-year Washington Redskin missed the entire 2012 season due to a hip injury suffered in 2011. He was a great run-blocker with above-average mobility for many years before going down.
Brown earned two Pro Bowl invitations and one first-team All-Pro during his time with the New Orleans Saints.
If medically cleared by San Francisco’s training staff, Brown’s strength and athleticism would fit schematically with the 49ers’ powerful rushing attack. Those qualities would enable him to get out on the move and block into the second level.
Brown is a wild card. At full health, however, he’d be a big steal and fine addition to the 49ers’ corps of offensive tackles.
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