With the '09 season in the books and the postseason missed, the speculation of the 2010 season begins. With all of the close finishes against premier NFL teams this year, the emergence of Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin, Ahmaad Brooks, and Dashon Goldson, and two first-round draft picks to boot, we should have a lot to be excited about, right?
Let's break it down by groups:
Coaches and Management
Mike Singletary can take more credit for the turnaround of this team than anyone else. Greg Manusky did an excellent job with the defense with the players he had. It wouldn't hurt my feelings to see Jimmy Raye replaced.
A few personnel decisions pissed me off. Cutting Michael Spurlock was a mistake. He went back to Tampa Bay and had a game winning punt return TD, meanwhile Arnaz Battle and Brandon Jones have as many positive yardage punt returns as they do negative. Battle is a fifth string WR, and Jones should be jobless as far as I'm concerned.
I was less than happy about keeping Michael Robinson over Korey Sheets, more on that below.
If you look at this as Alex Smith's first season in a system, like a rookie, it was rather respectable; however, that's not the case. I think Alex's strongest point was that he took a reduced contract to stay with the team and has hung in there. I count on him being given 2010 to prove himself, and if he doesn't do so I hope the team will look elsewhere for the starter.
Anyone would be justified to say that he is not the guy of the future; however, at a minimum, he is a solid No. 2 QB, and I hope he stays with the team. If a QB is drafted or acquired, I hope Shaun Hill is the one on the roster that goes away.
Overall, I consider QB a question mark going into 2010. The 49ers have enough ammo with two first-round picks to go after any QB they want in this draft via trade. However, if they let Alex Smith keep the reigns for another year, Ryan Mallet will most likely be coming out.
I look forward to seeing what Nate Davis has learned in a year of practice during next year's preseason.
Frank Gore continues to share "Face of the Franchise" with Patrick Willis. Rookie Glenn Coffee looked impressive in the preseason; however, he had a low Yards Per Carry average. I think the offensive line is more to blame for that than Coffee is.
Coffee was successful at Alabama in college, mainly due to a NFL grade offensive line at a college level; however, once he got through the hole, he excels at running through shoestring tackles. Seriously...how else did he start ahead of Mark Ingram. Because in his JR season with Alabama, he led the nation in TD runs over 40 yards.
The coaching staff seems to be sold on Michael Robinson; however, I am not. He is an OK receiver out of the backfield, but he is slow and lacks power for his size. I would honestly rather see Patrick Willis take a snap at QB in the wildcat than Robinson.
To me, Korey Sheets was a better option because he had more speed. Low and behold, Singletary has since come out and said that getting a Return Specialist for 2010 is one of the team's top priorities.
If we upgrade our offensive line before the 2010 season, I expect that Coffee's yards per carry will match Frank Gore's.
WR's & TE's
This was Vernon Davis's "From Bust to Best" season. Delanie Walker is a solid second option capable of contributing in a lot of different areas. I could see adding another TE as a late draft pick since we run a lot of two-TE sets.
Crabtree's average per-game stats extrapolated to a 16 game season would've given him more catches and yards than Jerry Rice in his rookie season. I am pleased with his addition and role as a starting WR.
I don't feel the same about Josh Morgan. Singletary went on record saying that he was "Concerned that his starting WR is returning kickoffs." I counter that with being concerned that your kickoff returner is your No. 2 WR. The fact of the matter is that Vernon Davis's tremendous success this year cast a shadow over this inadequacy.
Morgan's talent level is a good No. 3 receiver, not a No. 2. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they expected Isaac Bruce to be more productive this year, but that obviously won't be the case next year.
I see Crabtree's role in the offense as more of a Chris Carter style role, a role which he fills very well. I would like to see the Niners fill the No. 2 Receiver position in the offseason with a Dez Bryant type individual...or pursue free agent WR Malcolm Floyd from San Diego. Or they could bring back Terrell Owens for a couple years!
I know what you're thinking, but Owens has decently controlled his mouth with the Bills, and Owens can still flat out play football. This would free up draft picks for positions where the free agent quality is not necessarily as good.
I expect to see Isaac Bruce retire, and I don't think the 49ers see the need to upgrade over Josh Morgan across from Crabtree. I'm not getting my hopes up for any upgrades here.
Joe Staley is solid. If we don't add depth on the offensive line in this draft I won't be happy. Chilo Rachal and David Baas project to me as off and on, mistake prone, and borderline inadequate against premier players.
The Tony Pashos/Adam Snyder duo at Tackle is due for upgrade immediately. Many mock drafts have us taking Brian Bulaga from Iowa, I would like to see this pick, but if not him Anthony Davis out of Rutgers, or Trent Williams from Oklahoma.
I believe Frank Gore's ability to maintain success with less than adequate offensive line play takes more heat away from this group than it should. If we find a solid addition or two on the OL, I think the entire offense will reap the benefits.
Defensive line in my mind was a surprise bright spot this year. Aubrayo Franklin emerged as a premier Nose Tackle, however he is also in a contract year so he may very well put himself out of the 49ers Reach. If that is the case, I'm sure our All-Star Linebacker corps would love to play behind Terrence Cody.
Justin Smith continues to prove more often than not he was a good investment, and the Ray McDonald/Isaac Sopoaga combo gives offensive linemen a handful to let the linebackers work their magic. Hopefully they know wither Franklin is in or out of the question before the draft.
One thing I am curious about, I don't know one way or the other about his strength, but Sopoaga sure has the size to play Nose Tackle if Franklin runs off for the almighty dollar.
Not a whole lot of questions here in my mind. Patrick Willis continues to be on pace to be one of the best to ever play the game. Many mock drafts have us taking a linebacker in the first round. Unless Rolando McClain unsuspectingly falls to us at No. 13, I think we need to play with what we have.
I realize fully that Takeo Spikes is old enough that it could start effecting his play any week; however with the way that Ahmaad Brooks has emerged as a pass rusher, if Spikes goes down I would like to see Manny Lawson move to Spikes's spot. Scott McKillop has also showed promise.
Still a question mark since Lance Schulters & Eric Davis left. Nate Clements never quite lived up to his expectations. Dre Bly was OK, and actually at his 1 year contract price was not a bad deal. I'm not sold on Tarell Brown, Shauntae Spencer is a solid No. 2 corner.
Other than the preseason, I don't ever remember Nate Clements making a coverage interception. All the ones I remember are either bad throws or batted balls. That's good if you're a safety, not a corner.
There was an ESPN report a while back that Nate Clements was moving to safety. If that's the case, I hope that it comes with a reduced contract and that he doesn't count on starting. More mock drafts have us taking Florida's Joe Haden than not.
I hope we don't.
I think he is overrated. I would like to see us take Alabama's Javier Arenas, or if unavailable, Syd'Quan Thompson with our second round pick. If nothing else, Arenas's return ability is good enough to warrant a roster spot on the team. I don't think there's enough CB talent in this year's draft to warrant top-20 pick.
Our bright spot this year was the emergence of Dashon Goldson as a playmaker and a hitter.
Joe Nedney continues to be a respectable kicker. Andy Lee continues to be the NFC's golden boy punter. The 49ers gave up one special teams touchdown (Percy Harvin 101 Kickoff Return), and scored one (Scott McKillop live ball recovery in end zone). After Allen Rossum was cut, our return game was atrocious aside from Josh Morgan. Brandon Jones, in my humble opinion, should be cut.
I hope that the front office makes good decisions between now and opening day 2010, but assuming we keep the players we have, these are some players I think we should target as available:
Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama (1)
Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers (1)
Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma (1)
Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State (1)
Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee (If Franklin goes elsewhere) (1)
CJ Spiller, RB, Clemson (1)
Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State (2)
Mardy Gilyard, WR/KR, Cincinnati(2)
Javier Arenas, CB/PR/KR, Alabama (2)
Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho (2)
Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati (2)
Selvish Capers, OT, West Virginia (2)
Mike Johnson, OG, Alabama (3)
Dexter McLuster, RB/WR/KR/PR, Mississippi (3)
Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinios (3)
John Jerry, OG, Mississippi (4)
Dominique Franks, CB, Oklahoma (4)
Mitch Petrus, OG, Arkansas (4)
Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State (5)
Brandon Carter, OG, Texas Tech (5)
Walter McFadden, CB, Auburn (6)
Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia (6)
Sherrick McManis, CB, Northwestern (7)
Brandon Banks, WR(KR), Kansas State (7)
Jacoby Ford, WR, Clemson (7)
Trindon Holliday, WR/KR, LSU (7)
Free Agents of Interest & Potential Roles
QB: Jason Campbell (Instead of Shaun Hill)
WR: Terrell Owens (No. 2 Ahead of Josh Morgan)
WR: Malcolm Floyd (No. 2 Ahead of Josh Morgan)
WR: Domenik Hixon (No. 2 Ahead of Josh Morgan, Dangerous Return man)
CB: Carlos Rodgers
There are many other free agents, obviously, but none that I could see the 49ers bringing in. I am not a big believer in free agent offensive linemen.
Here's looking forward to the 2010 season, hopefully I got some of your wheels turning on the possibilities!