San Francisco 49ers: 5 Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
The San Francisco 49ers have infused the roster by drafting 12 new players and signing seven undrafted free agents. In addition, general manager Trent Baalke acquired veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
Although two of the 49ers' draft picks are likely to be placed on the physically unable to play (PUP) list for the 2014 season, there will still be tremendous competition for jobs.
It was a surprise to see Baalke select so many players, even though this was considered a very deep draft. It is extremely unlikely that all 10 rookies from this class will make the roster.
Instead, what the 49ers needed are impact players who can step in an contribute immediately. The 2013 draft garnered the 49ers one such impact player. The 49ers traded up to get Eric Reid, and he looks like he will be a starting safety in San Francisco for years to come.
However, the jury is still out on the remainder of the 2013 class. 2014 will be a big year to see if players such as Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Vance McDonald, Quinton Patton and Marcus Lattimore can emerge as key contributors to the 49ers' quest for their sixth Super Bowl title.
The 2012 draft was a bust, as only LaMichael James and Joe Looney remain from that entire draft. In addition, neither James, nor Looney, has made much of an impact, and their jobs are not certain this coming year.
Baalke did not aggressively move up the draft board in the early rounds to select players who could provide immediate dividends. The 49ers are still very thin at cornerback, even though Baalke selected Jimmie Ward in Round 1.
Ward is expected to play the slot corner role in the 49ers' nickel package and is key to the success of coordinator Vic Fangio's defense.
Baalke waited until the fourth round before he selected another defensive back, Dontae Johnson, a corner out of NC State. With the uncertainty at this position, it was a surprise that Baalke did not trade up to grab a more highly rated cornerback.
Arguably the best move Baalke may have made during the draft was not making a pick at all. He traded a conditional fourth-round pick in 2015 to Buffalo for veteran receiver Stevie Johnson. If Johnson does well, this pick could also become a third-rounder.
With the influx of new talent, the future of several current 49ers is in doubt. Let's see which current players will be most affected.
5. Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith's off-field problems are well-documented. He faces a likely suspension levied by the NFL and even potential jail time.
Barring something that would keep Smith out for the entire 2014 season, his job for the upcoming year is secure. However, as reported on sfgate.com, the same cannot be said for 2015 and beyond.
The 49ers exercised the 2015 contract option on Smith, which was for $9.75 million. This is a procedural move, as the 49ers will have until March to make a final decision.
Barring a catastrophic injury in the 2014 season, the 49ers can release Smith prior to March 2015 and owe him nothing. Smith will need to produce on the field and stay out of trouble off the field, or his tenure in San Francisco could be over.
The 49ers have several players who could be in line to replace Smith, if they opt to go in that direction.
Dan Skuta and Lemonier played well when given the opportunity last season. In addition, the 49ers drafted linebacker Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. Lynch has the skills to be a good outside pass-rusher and if he develops, it would give the 49ers more options.
Smith will be a key player if the 49ers hope to contend for another championship. However, with Skuta, Lemonier and Lynch, Baalke has some leverage if he wants to renegotiate with Smith.
In addition, if Smith runs afoul of the law yet again, Baalke has some potential replacements waiting in the wings.
4. Eric Wright
Eric Wright is the first in line to be the top backup at the outside cornerback spot. However, Wright's job is far from certain.
There is plenty of competition for this spot, as Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris will push Wright for playing time.
GM Trent Baalke also selected defensive backs Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker and Keith Reaser in the draft. Reaser will likely be on the PUP list, as he recovers from an ACL injury.
With Cox, Morris, Johnson and Acker all trying to make a name for themselves, it will not be easy for Wright to retain his coveted roster spot.
In 2013, Wright played in seven games for the 49ers. He did an adequate job, but his play was far from a top-notch level.
Wright will be 29 years old in July and will need to play well to beat out his younger counterparts.
3. Daniel Kilgore
Daniel Kilgore will be entering his fourth season in San Francisco. Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Kilgore has yet to start a game with the 49ers.
Kilgore has worked at both guard and center, but he has seen action primarily on the field-goal team or as an extra blocker in the 49ers' short-yardage package.
The 49ers center for the past three seasons, Jonathan Goodwin, was not signed and has moved on. Goodwin was a pillar of reliability, as he started every game during his three years with the team.
Kilgore is currently penciled in as the starting center. He will need to show he can handle the starting job on an every-down basis. Stamina, health and consistency will play a role for Kilgore, who has never received anything close to regular playing time.
Versatile offensive lineman Adam Snyder will push Kilgore for the starting job, but the main competition could come from third-round draft pick Marcus Martin, a center out of USC.
Martin starred at USC and is the kind of big, bruising lineman the 49ers covet. He stands 6'3" and weighs in at 320 pounds.
With the selection of Martin, it appears the 49ers were hedging their bet on Kilgore. Martin will have a chance to beat out Kilgore in training camp, but even if he doesn't, he will certainly push Kilgore very hard to keep his job.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network had good things to say about Martin: "This was the No. 1 center on my board. This is a big-bodied kid who fits exactly what San Francisco is ... a big, powerful, run-the-football kind of team, " per Martin's draft profile on NFL.com is included.
2. Frank Gore
It will be a sad day when Frank Gore is no longer wearing a 49ers uniform. Over his nine-year NFL career, Gore has been the heart and soul of the 49ers offense.
Now, at the age of 31 and entering his 10th NFL campaign, one has to wonder just how much more Gore has left in the tank.
Although he rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, his 4.1 yards-per-carry average was the lowest of his career, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Part of the blame for this lower average could be due to the offensive line not opening up enough running lanes for him. However, another concern is that Gore could have lost a step and is simply starting to slow down.
In addition to Gore, the 49ers have five other quality running backs, including Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde, LaMichael James and Jewel Hampton.
Baalke selected Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Lattimore was a first-round talent who fell down the draft board due to a devastating knee injury he sustained in college. He actually tore all three of his major knee ligaments, the ACL, MCL and PCL.
After sitting out all of last year, Lattimore is now recovered and eager to show the 49ers what he can do. In addition to bringing in Lattimore in 2013, Baalke made a surprise move and selected running back Carlos Hyde in the second round.
In his senior year, Hyde rushed for 1,521 yards on 208 carries, a 7.3 yards-per-carry average. He also ran for 15 touchdowns and scored another three as a receiver out of the backfield, per Sports-Reference.com.
Although Gore will not relinquish his job easily, the 49ers are already beginning to prepare for life without their great running back.
It most likely won't happen in 2014, but with Gore's contract up after this season, this could be his swan song. Forty-niners fans should enjoy Gore while they still can, as the end is rapidly approaching.
1. LaMichael James
No San Francisco 49ers player is in jeopardy of losing their job more than LaMichael James.
In 2012, Baalke selected James in the second round. It was a curious pick, as San Francisco already had Kendall Hunter, who possesses a lot of the same skills that James does. Hunter just does most things a little bit better than James.
James saw more action in 2012, as Hunter was injured late in the season. Prior to the Hunter injury, James did not play.
In 2012, James had 27 carries for 125 yards. He was used even less in 2013, as he had only 12 rushing attempts for 59 yards, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
For those who watch 49ers football closely, it has become obvious that head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have much more confidence in Hunter than James.
It has been a surprise that Roman has not employed more screens, swing passes or flare routes to Hunter and James to get them into the open field where they have the best chance to use their elusiveness.
Hunter is a better runner than James and is a much better blocker. James has basically been relegated to kickoff- and punt-return duty. He has been a solid return man, but in 26 kickoff returns and 23 punt returns, James has yet to break one for a score.
The 49ers have a healthy Marcus Lattimore, who will be battling for playing time in 2014. Lattimore sat out all of 2013, as he worked to rehab his knee. The 49ers had the luxury of giving Lattimore all of 2013 to get his knee healthy and strong.
In addition to Lattimore, Baalke selected Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the second round of the most recent draft.
Hyde had a stellar collegiate career, rushing for 3,198 yards and 37 touchdowns, in 41 career games. Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports that the 49ers will likely use Hyde in "short-yardage situations."
This puts James behind Gore, Hunter, Lattimore and Hyde in the pecking order of San Francisco running backs. Barring injury, James' days as a 49ers are likely nearing an end.
The 49ers also selected wide receiver Bruce Ellington in the fourth round.
Ellington will have trouble breaking in at the wide receiver spot because the 49ers have several talented receivers ahead of him. However, he will also return kickoffs and punts, which can erase all of the benefit James brings to the 49ers roster.