Heading into the 2010 season the 49ers, like all other teams in the NFL, have question marks at certain positions. Last year it was the belief of many people that the 49ers should draft a right tackle and pass rusher. The 2009 free agency period and draft came and went without the 49ers signing a right tackle or pass rusher.
With the emergence of Ahmad Brooks, a pass rusher has slid down the list of positions of need. However, right tackle and the offensive line as a whole remains an area of concern. Below is a ranking of the 49ers positions of need:
1. Right Tackle
The 49ers didn't re-sign Tony Pashos and haven't picked up a tackle thus far in free agency. Adam Snyder pictured above is a versatile player who can play tackle or guard, but has proven to be backup with versatility. With two picks in the draft the 49ers should use one of their picks to pickup a starting right tackle.
Two players that might be available at pick 13 are Trent Williams and Anthony Davis. Trent Williams might already be gone by 13, but given Davis has recently mishandled himself at Rutgers pro day he might slip to this pick. If Okung, Bulaga, Davis, or Williams aren't available at this pick the 49ers should pick up at tackle at pick 17 or in the second round. Projected Starter = ?
2. Secondary (Covers safeties and cornerbacks)
This is one area of the field where the 49ers could afford to become younger and faster. One great example of the lack of speed in the secondary was shown during the 2009 Atlanta Falcons game when the 49ers were burnt on long passing plays. Dashon Goldson and Shawntae Spencer appear to be entrenched as starters. Michael Lewis is coming off a year with multiple concussions, which is a concern.
Nate Clements is a solid corner, but hasn't shown the playmaking ability that the 49ers were looking for when they signed him. Reggie Smith and Curtis Taylor are promising safeties who are developing. Taylor Mays, Joe Haden, and Earl Thomas could be around when the 49ers pick with their first two picks. If the 49ers signed Mays, he would eventually start at strong safety to replace Michael Lewis. It will be interesting to see if Haden runs a faster 40 at his pro day.
If not that might create some red flags and the 49ers might view him similar to Nate Clements in terms of abilities. Earl Thomas, in my opinion, is underrated. He showed up at the combine heavier than his playing weight but still ran a fast 40. Thomas has excellent playmaking ability, but the only thing hurting him is his height. If the 49ers draft him he would play free safety and push Goldson over to strong safety.
This draft is deep with cornerbacks. A few names who the 49ers should look at in the middle rounds are Donovan Warren, Myron Lewis, Chris Cook, and Walter Thurmond. Projected Starters = CB1, Shawntae Spencer; CB2, Nate Clements or Rookie; FS, Dashon Goldson; SS, Michael Lewis or Rookie.
3. Kick/ Punt Returner
This is a major area for the 49ers to address. I would put this at Number 2, but the secondary needs to become younger and add depth. The 49ers have not targeted anyone thus far in free agency to return kicks.
It appears that they will look to the draft for a kick/punt returner. Plus there are prospects available throughout the draft that could play corner and return kicks. A few cornerback prospects to look at in the draft are Javier Arenas, Walter Thurmond, and Perrish Cox. The 49ers could also add a running back or wide receiver that has return abilities.
They are deeper at the wide receiver position so it wouldn't surprise me if they picked a running back or cornerback with return abilities. Projected Starter = ?
This is a position where some competition would be welcomed. David Bass started to look better toward the end of the season as did Chilo Rachal. Bass played hurt for the first half of the season so he has an excuse for not playing up to par; however, this is an area where the 49ers should add at least a solid backup.
There are a few guard and tackle prospects available in the second to fourth round that are intriguing. Rodger Saffold is a prospect who could possibly play left tackle and may be around in the second round. John Jerry is a guard who would be around in the third or fourth round. Projected Starters = David Bass and Chilo Rachal.
5. Outside (Rush) Linebackers
A team can never have enough pass rushers. With Ahmad Brooks emergence at the end of last year it appears that the 49ers have at least three players who can put pressure on the quarterback. It would be nice to see the 49ers add a player in free agency or in the draft to develop. Projected Starters = Parys Haralson/ Manny Lawson/ Ahmad Brooks.
6. Halfback and Fullback
The 49ers have three backs in Gore, Coffee, and Robinson that have similar running styles. Moran Norris does his job at fullback. To add more versatility to their offense the 49ers should add a change of pace back either a thumper or burner. If they go the burner route, someone with return abilities would be key.
This pick would likely be somewhere in the third to fifth rounds if the 49ers don not add someone in free agency. Prospects that fit this type of mold are Toby Gerhart, LeGarrette Blount, and Dexter McCluster. Projected Starters = RB, Frank Gore and FB, Moran Norris.
It seems the roster is set at quarterback unless the 49ers have a high regard for one of the college quarterbacks in the draft. Alex Smith continues to show glimpses of why he was selected No. 1 overall; however, he needs to show them on a daily basis. Hopefully with the signing of Carr to push him and the carry over of the same offensive coordinator for the first time in his career, fans will finally see a playoff birth. Nate Davis is a project quarterback with promise. Projected Starter = Alex Smith.
8. Wide Receivers
Morgan and Crabtree are young players who give the 49er's receiving corp hope in the future. Jason Hill is a capable slot receiver with speed. Brandon Jones showed some glimpses of why he was signed during free agency last year.
The 49ers might look to add either a big red zone target with blocking skills or a small slot receiver through the draft. The slot receiver would obviously need to have excellent return skills. A few names come to mind: Jacoby Ford, Trindon Holliday, Mardy Gilyard, Carlton Mitchell, and Demaryius Thomas. Projected Starters = WR1, Michael Crabtree; WR2, Josh Morgan.
9. Left Tackle
Joe Staley has proven to be a solid left tackle; however, their is a chance that the 49ers might be in the position to draft a player with one of their first round picks who could compete for his spot. Projected Starter = Joe Staley.
10. Defensive Line
Justin Smith is relentless. Aubrayo Franklin had a pro bowl type year. The 49ers could possibly add additional depth through the draft or free agency; however, they have quality depth on the defensive line. Kentwan Balmer continues to be a project and is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
I wouldn't call him a bust, but he has a lot to prove by the end of this year. A possible sleeper pick that would not be too surprising is the selection of Dan Williams in the first round to eventually replace Franklin at nose tackle. Projected Starters = DE, Justin Smith; NT, Aubrayo Franklin; DE, Issac Sopoaga.
11. Tight End
Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis are both playmakers and are almost guaranteed a spot on the roster. The 49ers already have acquired some blocking tight ends to compete for a third roster spot. This is a position that might see a draft pick towards the end of the draft. Projected Starter = Vernon Davis.
12. Inside Linebackers
Spikes and Willis have been an excellent combination. The 49ers also have great depth with Scott McKillop and Matt Wilhelm. This is a position where the 49ers should not have to worry. McKillop appears to be in the mold of Jeff Ulbrich. He is a solid backup who can start if required.
If McClain or Brandon Spikes drop in the draft I wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers pick up either player to place alongside Patrick Willis. Projected Starters = Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis.
Eric Heitmann is the starter. This position has no controversy to it. Projected Starter = Eric Heitmann.
Another position has a solid starter. The 49ers will probably sign a camp kicker. Projected Starter = Joe Nedney.
A position with a Pro Bowler. Projected Starter = Andy Lee.
16. Long Snapper
One of the best in football. Projected Starter = Brian Jennings.