Analyzing San Francisco 49ers' Biggest Potential Weaknesses for 2013-14 Season
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The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2013-14 season with Super Bowl expectations, yet that doesn't mean they lack weaknesses.
That being said, their potential issues look more manageable than that of most other teams.
Whereas some teams are desperate for quality play at quarterback, offensive line and defensive front seven, the 49ers are set in these areas, barring injury or dramatic underperforming.
It's the following position groups that might bring the 49ers down this year.
No. 2/No. 3 Cornerback
Chris Culliver's injury complicates San Francisco's cornerback depth chart.
Culliver thrived for the Niners last year. He ranked 29th out of the 113 cornerbacks who qualified for Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required). He was the third-most used cornerback for the Niners in 2012.
To fill his shoes, the Niners have new additions Nnamdi Asomugha and Eric Wright, along with holdovers Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox. Brock and Cox are both looking to make a name for themselves, whereas Asomugha and Wright are hoping to bounce back from dreadful play on their last teams.
Even more important than one of those four filling in for Culliver is the play of Carlos Rogers. The eight-year veteran spent much of the 2012 season guarding the opposing team's slot receiver, and he had varying results.
Tarell Brown figures to capably man one cornerback spot, but the 49ers need at least two others to fill the No. 2 and No. 3 roles.
Wide Receiver Health/Depth
On Sunday, Jim Harbaugh confirmed Mario Manningham will start the season on the active/physically unable to perform list, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com. This means Manningham won't be able to play until Week 7 at the earliest.
It's not shocking news in the slightest, but it is more of the same for San Francisco's receiving corps during the 2013 offseason.
If every receiver was healthy, the 49ers would have a top-tier group. They could the spread the field with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams.
Instead, only Boldin of that quartet has been healthy throughout training camp.
The 49ers traded 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for 2011 first-round pick Jon Baldwin on Monday, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com. Baldwin had just 579 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his two seasons with the Chiefs. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needed all along.
Quinton Patton, a 49ers fourth-round pick in 2013, has missed both preseason games due to a hand injury.
Boldin and Williams, assuming the latter's healthy by Week 1, figure to be Kaepernick's most reliable options early in the season. However, neither has the all-around talent of Crabtree, whose return timetable from a torn Achilles is unknown.
Expect the 49ers to feature several two-tight end sets early in the season to hide their wide receiver depth issues.
Donte Whitner was a sieve in coverage last year. Not surprisingly, he ranked 67th out of 88 safeties in Pro Football Focus' coverage rating. Instead of spending big money on a star free-agent safety to pair with the aging Whitner, the 49ers drafted Eric Reid and signed Craig Dahl.
After a rather pedestrian season in St. Louis, Dahl figures to be a backup who contributes on special teams. So really, the Niners are banking on a rookie to be the team's last line of defense and make up for Whitner's mistakes.
It's a bold strategy, but that doesn't mean it won't work.
Reid was known more as an enforcer than a ballhawk at LSU. However, he did total nine passes defensed and two interceptions during his last season for the Tigers.
Reid enters the NFL with a similar skill set to that of Dashon Goldson. The 49ers struck gold when they molded the former fourth-round draft pick into a defensive star. They're hoping they can do the same with Reid, whom they drafted with the 18th pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Even if Reid quickly becomes an NFL star, the Niners will be vulnerable to deep passes that Whitner is asked to defend.
The worst-case scenario is that all three of these potential issues (as well others, such as kickoff and punt return coverage) do become glaring weaknesses. However, even if they all turn out to be problems, the 49ers have ways to hide them to some extent.
Which position group will be SF's biggest weakness in the 2013-14 season?
San Francisco has arguably the best front seven in the league. If it can consistently stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback, the secondary won't have to be spectacular to be effective.
And on offense, the 49ers can run the ball more and target tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald to hide potential wide receiver issues.
Then again, it's entirely possible that Baldwin and Williams stabilize the receiving corps and Rogers, Asomugha and Reid bolster the secondary.
It's all part of the puzzle that is the 2013-14 San Francisco 49ers.
Note: This article has been modified from its original version to reflect the Jenkins-Baldwin trade.
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