Every week, every season, this San Francisco 49ers team lunges further into the vision of its head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Over three offseasons, embracing vigorous self-analysis and roster changeover, this team has been made over at several key positions: linebacker, safety, quarterback and cornerback, just to rattle off a few.
However, 2013 may have yielded the most significant contributions yet—particularly when you weigh the value in the short- and long-term. Harbaugh and his partner in crime, general manager Trent Baalke, scoured free agency and the draft, avidly seeking upgrades for the roster while saving a significant amount of cash. This was no easy feat; believe you me.
But after looking at things at the halfway point, it seems they had a decent rate of success. Avoiding $91.75 million in deals that went to Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga, Delanie Walker and Ricky Jean-Francois in free agency, you could easily argue that the 49ers are better at those four spots than they were last season.
But that is just to start. The efficiency of this front office is visible all over the roster.
That being said, the following will evaluate and grade San Francisco’s offseason additions, including their entire 2013 NFL draft class, as well as their free-agent and trade acquisitions.
- Expectations: Some players can look really good out there, but how much did they leave on the field? Top pick, late pick or low-level signee—did you live up to or exceed expectations?
- Statistics: If you were blanked, booming or something in between, this plays a significant role as to how a player is graded.
- Impact: Stats are great and all, but did those yards come in garbage time or on a 3rd-and-long? Was your tackle at the goal line or after you let up a 30-yard catch? The clutch value factors in here.
- Consistency: One big play can change a game, but consistency week to week is the most important thing in the NFL. What have you done for me lately?
Pick Analysis: With Dashon Goldson gone, there's nobody to step in and play. This kid is a big, physical safety with great movement skills. He will be a wonderful complement to Donte Whitner.
The 2013 safety class was built up to be a deep one, wherein the 49ers could have easily snagged their long-term replacement, All-Pro Dashon Goldson, some said even after Round 1.
Early-to-mid round prospects like D.J. Swearinger of South Carolina, Bacarri Rambo of Georgia, Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International and even Phillip Thomas from Fresno State were some of the names buzzing around in March, all popping up in mock drafts to the 49ers at one point or another.
Florida Gator Matt Elam and Texas Longhorn Kenny Vaccaro were also linked to San Francisco as potential first-rounders.
Fortunately, the 49ers knew better and leapt up to take their man in the middle of the first in Louisiana State’s Eric Reid. They were able to weed through all the flash and “ball skills” of the aforementioned players, and were able to whittle it down to the clear-cut best pro prospect.
At the midseason mark, Bleacher Report National Columnist Dan Hope graded Reid as the second best overall rookie in the NFL (by comparison, New Orleans Saints rookie Kenny Vaccaro was at No. 11). This says a lot about the No. 18 overall pick, which San Francisco aggressively moved up for.
Honestly, it might say even more about the front office, in that it knew what it was looking for.
Out of 58 eligible safeties that have played 250-plus snaps, Eric Reid ranks 12th in the league with a +4.8 grade, per the Pro Football Focus rating system. Elam is 39th of 58 (-2.5), while the first safety off the board, Vacarro, is 50th (-6.1). Then there is Cyprien who is dead last in the league with -18.6.
So far, Reid has been a menace on the field, racking up 39 tackles, which is third on the team, only behind NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. And despite questions about his ability to cover the deep part of the field, he is tied for team-high interceptions (three), along with six pass breakups.
Eric Reid is really getting good on the back end of that 49ers defense. Upgrade from Goldson. There, I said it.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) October 15, 2013
Pick Analysis: There are some questions about his health. He tore his ACL late in the season, but he is a gifted edge rusher, and like Rich Eisen said, all he does is add that edge-rush ability for San Francisco.
Florida State sack extraordinaire Cornellius “Tank” Carradine was one of a few high-profile prospects in 2013 that was bound to fall due to injury.
Coming back from a late-season ACL tear suffered in November 2012, it seemed unlikely that he would be able to play out a full 16-game schedule as a rookie.
It was for that reason that teams in the first- and early-second rounds were wiling to pass on Carradine—they were looking for impact players that could get on the field right away. However, the 49ers—with their depth and bottomless bag of draft picks—were able to snag the NCAA pass-rusher at No. 40 overall.
Given their position, they were able to comfortably play out the first half of the schedule, be conservative with Carradine and when he is ready to come back, it will be a huge gainer. Rest of the NFL, look out. Now at the midpoint in 2013, Carradine has been called off the non-football injury list and is now ready to rock and roll for this top-ranked defense.
Unfortunately, we cannot provide him with a grade yet, but the NFL community is high on his ability, especially in this environment. He will not be pressed to contribute as a starter, but can learn the game and thrive in a situational role, much like Aldon Smith in 2011 and Corey Lemonier this year.
49ers took injury risk w/ Cornellius "Tank" Carradine in the draft & now it's about to payoff. SF moves him from NFI to active.— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) October 29, 2013
Pick Analysis: Of the 36 catches McDonald recorded at Rice in 2012, 28 were for first downs. The NFL Scouting Combine standout (31 reps on the bench press; 7.08-second three-cone) can help the Niners replace Delanie Walker, who left via free agency.
One of the big pickups in the draft was tight end Vance McDonald from Rice.
The big bullying tight end, who Jim Harbaugh likened to the playing version of Iron Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears and Dalton from Roadhouse, has caught six of 12 targets this season for 86 yards (14.3 YPC).
McDonald also averaged 19-plus yards per catch in three of six games he had a reception this season. At 6’4”, 267 pounds, with a wingspan like Stretch Armstrong, he certainly looks the part of the new-era tight end. The rookie is a big-bodied rebounding type that may be a dangerous weapon down the line.
All the tools are there, but honestly, his ceiling as a receiver is yet to be seen. He hasn’t had that milestone coming-out game. Partially due to the fact that the quarterback isn’t targeting him consistently and pass plays where he is written in as the primary are few and far between.
Instead, his biggest impact has come as a blocker.
Filling in as the No. 2 tight end in this offensive system, which emphasizes the position, McDonald had to be starter-ready right away. Supplementing ex-49er Delanie Walker’s role in the run game, McDonald has been a cerebral and physical hammer up near the line of scrimmage.
He executes as a key blocker in the 49ers power-rushing scheme, which involves a lot of complex angle blocking. Everything is timing and position. In a short period of time, McDonald has grasped the physical and mental part quite well. San Francisco has been able to count on him, particularly with whams and inside leads.
And surprisingly, there has been no drop off. From what we can tell, Vance McDonald will only get better down the road, especially once he develops as a receiver.
Pick Analysis: Fits what they do. Kind of a somewhat conflicted pick in the sense that his talent would be a late-first to late-second round.
Corey Lemonier was brought in to do one thing: go get the quarterback.
Since putting on a red No. 96 jersey, the pass-rush maven from Auburn has been a natural downhill player in the box for San Francisco. As a young player learning the ropes, the 49ers have squeezed the most out of his pure physical gifts by letting him play to his strengths.
He has been awfully impressive in his debut and what he is doing is not terribly complex. Eyes down on the line, Lemonier puts his crosshairs on the quarterback and just rushes off the edge.
It is a talent that showed up almost immediately. Aside from being a big broad specimen, his initial burst of the line is mind-blowing. Lemonier's best weapon is timing the snap and beating the tackle to the punch. This is the part of his game that really caught everyone’s attention.
It is a trait that has really translated well from college to the pros.
In the 2013 exhibition, Lemonier was arguably San Francisco’s top preseason standout on either side of the ball, earning a +2.5 grade from Pro Football Focus with 11 pressures in 53 pass rushes. He’s got great hustle and a high motor. He is really one of those players that channel beast mode from snap to whistle.
In his flagship game versus the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6, Lemonier earned a +3.7 grade from PFF, including a sack/safety and four QB hurries. Now halfway through, Lemonier has 11 tackles, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble, one safety and two deflections, which is quite the haul, especially for a mid-round defensive end turned backup linebacker.
This was a pick San Francisco could hang its hat on.
Corey Lemonier looks slimmer, and faster, than I remember him being at Auburn. Really good first-step off the right side. #49ers— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 9, 2013
Pick Analysis: The productive and polished Patton finished his two-year career at Louisiana Tech with 2,594 receiving yards -- for an average of 14.2 yards per catch -- and 24 touchdowns.
In four regular season games, one catch on one target for zero yards was all rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton was able to muster.
In matches Patton participated in versus Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis and St. Louis, he, along with the entire offense, struggled to produce in the air outside of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Still, it continues to falter.
Patton, the big-play workhorse receiver formerly of Louisiana Tech, had the most promise to help recreate the production left by Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.
Unfortunately, in Week 4 versus the St. Louis Rams, Patton fractured the metatarsal bone in his foot and will miss the majority of the year. This came after a broken finger in the offseason that caused him to miss most of his first-ever training camp and a good duration of the exhibition.
So, what we’ve learned about Patton is that he has some durability issues and he is not quite in sync with the quarterback. He is running good routes and positioning himself to make plays, but the trust did not result in any meaningful plays during the season.
Granted, his window to spark something was quite brief, but we cannot give Quinton Patton a grade here that did not deserve. As far as where we’ll leave it: he is teetering on an inconclusive grade but he’s taken enough snaps to earn some constructive criticism.
The midseason grade also leaves him plenty of room to improve.
Tough grab in traffic from Quinton Patton. Was one of the things I liked best about him. Really good concentration.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 26, 2013
Pick Analysis: He's the best back in the draft. When you're in a position of strength, you don't need to draft right away. They're investing in the future.
It was no secret—South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was never going to take the field as an NFL rookie.
Apart from the ghastly knee injury he is rehabbing from, he happened to land with the talent-rich 49ers, whose running depth simply wouldn’t allow it. But in that sense, it was a perfect fit of player, need, scheme/talent and team situation, making it a foreseeable pick prior to the draft.
After a storied career with the Gamecocks, it has been a fairly low-key rookie year for Lattimore. Obviously, since the 49ers were never in a rush to get him back, he is the biggest name nobody is talking about. Choosing to redshirt him this season, it has been a slow and steady approach, which has allowed him to take mental reps while continuing his rehab.
However, that does not mean he isn’t making progress.
They haven’t cleared me yet, but these next two, three weeks, I think they’re going to look at it. They really haven’t given me an indication or anything set in stone. I know I’ll most likely get a chance to practice.”
There is optimism from 49ers camp, but truth be told, this is just Lattimore getting one step closer to being ready next year, rather than prematurely trying to get involved in 2013.
After averaging 4.8 yards per carry and racking up 41 all-purpose touchdowns in 29 games for South Carolina, and earning unanimous praise from the NFL draft community, Marcus Lattimore is one of the most intriguing additions the 49ers made this offseason.
Harbaugh on Marcus Lattimore: "Every time I see him work out on the side, he is making great strides." #49ers— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 3, 2013
Pick Analysis: He's a quintessential five-technique. What they do is stop the rush.
Rookie defensive tackle Quinton Dial, formerly of the Alabama Crimson Tide, was the first to be called up from the NFI list this season. The big man missed the first six weeks of the season recovering from toe surgery to repair torn cartilage and a ligament, but seems fine now.
He first saw action in Week 7 versus the Tennessee Titans, filling in as a backup late in the game. And he is a load—you couldn’t miss him. At 6’5”, 318 pounds, Dial provides San Francisco with another big body. In two games with minimal time on the field, he’s had pressures and already logged his first career tackle.
It would not be a surprise if he and Tank Carradine were the primary backups along the defensive line from here on out. And in the long-term, it is easy to see how Dial would have upside in this system. Jim Tomsula has been able to optimize D-line talent with players from all different backgrounds.
Forget about once top-10 picks in Justin Smith and Glenn Dorsey for a minute and consider a former fourth-rounder and four-year bench player like Ray McDonald. He marinated for years, came in and now plays like a Pro Bowler. Or Ian Williams, the undrafted free agent DT out of Notre Dame.
He won the starting nose tackle job this year before being lost for the season with a broken ankle.
Third-stringers and former undrafted free agents, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs, have also filled in and played well. There have been no complaints about the defensive line and they’re banged up right now. The 49ers have been able to endure injuries and free-agent departures for years because they identify and develop talent there as well as any team in the league.
There is reason to believe Dial has a future in the Bay Area.
The 49ers think very highly of NT Quinton Dial, indeed, less than a week after beginning practice, he'll make NFL debut.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) October 19, 2013
Trent Baalke’s second draft selection from Florida State was linebacker Nick Moody.
Since bringing him in, the team was very high on his ability to step in and be a key player for the special teams, particularly on the coverage unit. The Niners were rotten in that regard in 2012 after being the top unit just a year prior.
The free-agent losses of Blake Costanzo to Chicago and Colin Jones to Carolina seemed to make the difference.
After feeling it big time last year, the 49ers invested a draft pick in Moody to be their front man. Odds are, Anthony Dixon won’t be re-signed after this season and a lot of these mercenary special teamers are going to be gone as well.
Before he could even get rolling, Moody broke his hand in the statement win over the Green Bay Packers in the first week of the season. He did not register any tackles. This eventually sent him to the injure reserved/designated to return list, keeping the window open for a late-season return, along with many others.
While we don’t quite know what Moody is going to be in the NFL, the pre-draft hype form the organization remains in tact, which means he could be another addition that gives this team a boost.
Seventh-round picks B.J. Daniels (South Florida) and Marcus Cooper (Rutgers) are no longer with the team. The depth on the roster was too much, which prevented their chances of sticking around. However, they were both claimed: Daniels by the Seattle Seahawks and Cooper by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Daniels was released in favor of John Skelton and then McLeod Bethel-Thompson and now resides on Seattle’s active roster. He is now backing up the very man he most closely resembles in quarterback Russell Wilson.
So, to recap, the 49ers believe John Skelton is better than B.J. Daniels, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson is better than John Skelton.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) October 9, 2013
Cooper, on the other hand, is not a seat warmer in Kansas City. He is a player.
In eight games played for the Chiefs, the cornerback has 15 tackles, one fumble recovery, two interceptions and 11 pass deflections. Cooper is a baller and it is almost a sure thing that the 49ers are kicking themselves for retaining soon-to-be ex-49er Nnamdi Asomugha instead of him.
He is the fifth-best CB in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
From @PFF: Marcus Cooper has allowed 3 catches in 93 snaps in coverage, best ratio in the league.— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) October 8, 2013
The last of the bunch is tackle Carter Bykowski of Iowa State, who is now on the practice squad. The 6’7”, 306-pounder looks like a prospective stand-in at swing tackle for Alex Boone, who is now the starting right guard, and Adam Snyder, once his contract expires at the end of the season.
Anquan Boldin was not a free agent signing this offseason.
Instead, to procure his services, the 49ers dealt a sixth-round draft pick to the Baltimore Ravens for the Super Bowl-winning wide receiver and agreed to take on a substantial $6 million cap figure for the 2013 season.
Funny thing, upon Michael Crabtree’s Achilles tear, Boldin’s presence on the team immediately clicked over from a luxury to a dire need.
If the Niners did not have Boldin, they might be a .500 team right now. He assumed the role of the No. 1 wideout and has led the team in receptions and yards in his first year with the team (38 receptions on 62 targets for 551 yards, two touchdowns and a 14.5 yards-per-catch average).
According to the advanced statistics at Pro Football Focus, he is currently the third-ranked wideout in yards per route run (2.45). It speaks to his level of productivity when San Francisco does call pass plays. In that respect, has really shouldered the brunt of the work.
Contrast to Boldin, all 49ers wideouts beside the vet average 0.48 YPPR.
But, his most notable impact so far? Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is rocking a healthy 100.9 QB rating when targeting Boldin. That’s the best on the team. Fourth-year wide receiver Kyle Williams is second with a 23.3 rating, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Not to mention, No. 81 is also an animal in the run game, eating up cornerbacks and helping setup those perimeter runs. He also gets downfield, showing immense grit on a consistent basis. But that’s Boldin—he’s made a career out of that.
However, there are consistency issues. The ugly truth is that he has not thrived like a true No. 1 wide receiver, which has hurt San Francisco at times. And that dings his grade a bit at the halfway point. For $6 million, he has to be able to do more. Bailing the Niners out versus the Seahawks is an example.
There is no dynamic threat there.
And the games he has contributed in have not been all that significant overall. It was mostly a few circus grabs by Boldin to complement a tirade by Vernon Davis and Frank Gore. He has had games of 7, 67, 21, 28 and 56 yards. Also, 37.7 percent of his 2013 yardage came in Week 1 versus the Packers.
So, the acquisition has been worth it, but not really a difference-maker week to week.
Odds are, Anquan Boldin will be playing at an A-level by the end of 2013 when Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are back, which would allow him to kill teams as a complementary weapon again. That is the role he needs to assume in order to reach his full potential in San Francisco.
In his first four games with his new team, including two starts versus the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams, Glenn Dorsey was the second highest-rated defensive tackle in the National Football League versus the run, racking up a league-high eight stops in that time, via PFF.
He also came up with two sacks in that stint. While he might not ever be able to shake the bust label after leaving LSU five years ago, Dorsey certainly has a purpose in this league. The man has been a top-five lineman versus the run for the entirety of the 2013 season. And at this rate, he is likely to finish there, too.
Taking over for Ian Williams (ankle), there was some uncertainty as whether or not he was up to the challenge, but he’s filled in beautifully without any skew in the overall performance of the defensive line. With Dorsey at the nucleus, the unit is still able to pressure and control the line of scrimmage.
He has 15 tackles and two sacks in eight weeks as a 49er.
What do you do with a defensive player that can’t cover or tackle? You leave him on the inactives list.
That’s what San Francisco has done with one of its newer, and arguably its most well known free-agent signing.
Following much deliberation, the 49ers decided to take a leap of faith, inking former AP All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a one-year incentive-laden deal with no guaranteed money. If he wanted to play, or even stick around, he would have to earn every bit of it.
It did not take long to find out that Asomugha did not have anything left in the tank.
When he was on the field, the 49ers used him as a press corner, which is his forte, but he wasn’t aggressive and didn’t challenge receivers. Wideouts ran freely on him and passers tried to pick on him. He let up a touchdown against Green Bay and almost let up a second in as many weeks to Seattle if Sidney Rice didn’t have butterfingers.
Moreover, when the ball was caught or the front-seven required help in run support, Asomugha couldn’t be counted on to tackle.
Overall, he quickly demonstrated that he had no purpose. If anything, he was a liability.
After sustaining a relatively minor knee injury and missing time, rotational cornerback Tramaine Brock stepped up and stole Asomugha’s job flat-out. It became clear that Brock was hungry, and a talented up-and-comer, while Asomugha was on his way out of the league.
And the 49ers have proceeded accordingly. Even though he is deemed healthy enough to be active on game day, the 49ers have kept Nnamdi Asomugha on the inactives list, pushing Brock, Perrish Cox, Darryl Morris, and soon, Eric Wright, ahead of him.
The writing is on the wall: Nnamdi Asomugha is done in San Francisco, and maybe for good.
As I said on @NFL_ATL: When Eric Wright comes on the active roster, he'll take someone's spot. One real possibility: Nnamdi Asomugha.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 30, 2013
The 49ers are a team that looks for lightning in a bottle at nearly every position. And in this case, they are hoping to catch a little of that magic that David Akers brought with him 2011.
As the NFC’s AP All-Pro selection, coming over to the Bay Area from the mean streets of Philly, Akers had a stellar campaign that year; his best ever. However, it was abruptly followed by a career-worst season, which included several missed kicks, including one in Super Bowl XLVII.
This prompted San Francisco to cut ties with Akers and see if they could hit the reset button at placekicker.
So what does Trent Baalke do? He dials up the same formula. The 49ers signed the league’s reigning All-Pro placekicker, Phil Dawson, who spent his first and only 14 seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
In 2013, he is 9-of-12 from the field, which is solid if you’ve followed the games. His one “bad game” came against St. Louis where he missed his only two field goal attempts, finishing with a 0.0 percentage. Though, one was a long 53-yarder and the other a 71-yard free kick.
Other than that he had a one missed field goal in a Week 1 game that San Francisco won.
Aside from those few ticks in the box score, the 15-year pro has obviously been a lock for points when Colin Kaepernick and the Niners find the end zone. Midway through, Dawson is 27-of-27 on extra points. All in all, he has accounted for 54 of the team’s 218 points this season.
Ray Ventrone, S
The journeyman special teamer has been a staple in the 49ers’ special teams unit this season. San Francisco got what they expected, which is a disciplined gunner who runs clean alleys and can contribute wherever they ask him to. Ventrone has five tackles so far in 2013.
Craig Dahl, S
The former St. Louis Rams safety came over as a backup, special teamer and stepping stone for top pick Eric Reid. So far, he has done everything the 49ers brought him in to do. Dahl has functioned as the primary backup to the starting safeties, while also racking up eight tackles on special teams.
Kassim Osgood, WR
Osgood was a late addition and might be a cut candidate once the 49ers start bringing players back. However, that does not mean he has not been a contributor (neither do his zero tackles). The longtime special teams ace has been a key component covering kicks, even being involved in the big S/T play of the season.
Dan Skuta, OLB
This is one under-the-radar signing that has done a lot more than he was originally signed to do, but has filled in and played well, nevertheless. During Aldon Smith’s leave of absence, Skuta has been a starting outside linebacker, racking up 14 tackles and one fumble recovery for a 47-yard touchdown. He also plays special teams.
Since this was a collective attempt to upgrade, we shall grade San Francisco as such. And they pass with flying colors. According to the DVOA rating given to the 49ers special teams by Football Outsiders, San Francisco has the No. 14 S/T unit in the NFL. They’d be ranked higher if the return game were not sputtering.