Most agree that the 49ers were a botched punt return in Seattle and a Farve miracle pass in Minnisota away from the playoffs. Unfortunately, the near playoff miss seems to have clouded fans’ reading of the 49ers’ priorities in the coming 2010 draft.
Some mock drafts have the 49ers first pick as C.J. Spiller, despite the fact that Gore managed over 1000 yards playing in only 10 games (missing 3 for injury and 3 for Raye’s learning curve on a ‘balanced’ offense). 3rd round pick Coffee had just one year of NFL experience – not enough to gage his future productivity. In short, a strong running back is not the reason the 49ers did not make the playoffs.
Some mock drafts suggest some combination of an OT and either a CB or a DE for the two first round picks. All agree that 49ers have a huge hole in the offensive line, but also think that the defense needs shoring up. But all analyses seem to ignore that 49ers were the 6th best defense in the NFL, tied for 3rd in total sacks, and were 4th in the NFL in points allowed per game,. So while there was no pass rushing star and the passing yards allowed per game were much higher than one would prefer, the bottom line is that the defense did its job where it matters most – the opponent’s score stayed low.
Furthermore most mock drafts ignore two key team dynamics. First, both Singletary and Raye wanted a team led by an explosive defense and an offense that could grind down the clock running the game. I don’t think either is capable of running any other type of team. Second, Alex Smith proved this season that while he’s still not good enough to build an offense around, he is good enough to stick around for another season.
So what do the 49ers really need? In the danger of committing draft heresy: the 49ers first THREE choices should be used to fill the offensive line. Yes, three. The 49ers need to draft one tackle to start immediately, and a tackle and a guard to add serious depth and versatility to the line.
To support this view I refer readers to the caption picture, Alex Smith being sacked by the worst defense in the league, 29th overall in sacks. The 49ers gave up a total of 7 sacks in two games to the Rams, who ended the season 30th overall in sacks. In total, the 49ers’ offensive line allowed 40 sacks this season. This is a dismal number for any quarterback a team wants to keep healthy, much less one that has undergone three shoulder surgeries. Furthermore, the reason the spread offense works for Alex Smith is time, not that he needs the shotgun formation. A strong offensive line would allow Smith the extra second he needs to be functional.
Additionally, the run suffered greatly due to the offensive line’s failing. If Gore’s long runs are taken out of the yards per carry average, then both Coffee and Gore averaged around 2.5 yards a carry. The 49ers need to appreciate Gore’s star ability for forcing long runs despite an ineffective offensive line, instead of blaming Gore for being inconsistent.
Finally, the punt return position can be filled in the off season by simply teaching one of the many inactive receivers how to catch, or spending a later draft pick on that specialized need.
I know that most readers will scoff at the idea of using so many high picks to fill unglamorous positions. But really, what do the 49ers need?