Arrivals: David Carr, QB
Karl Paymah, CB
Departures: Shaun Hill, QB
Tony Pashos, OT
Arnaz Battle, WR
Isaac Bruce, WR
Jeff Ulbrich, LB
Scott McCloughan, GM
The 49ers enter 2010 coming off their first non-losing campaign since 2002.
Popular and respected head coach Mike Singletary enters his second full year at the helm, in what many believe will be the long-awaited return to the playoffs for this once-storied franchise. Still the team is not without questions as it approaches the start of the 2010 season.
The recent resignation of GM Scott McCloughan drew significant press and anxiety over who would lead the 49ers through the draft and what the team would look like without a GM. With no collective bargaining agreement in place for 2011, many experts quipped that this was a bad time for the 49ers to lose their GM, but the true effect of this front office departure will probably be minimal.
Trent Baalke, McCloughan’s long-time second in command will assume responsibility for the draft, and the long term responsibilities of GM seem to be capably doled out across various team officials.
On the field, the 49ers struggled offensively in 2009, despite Alex Smith having his best professional stint over the final 10 starts of the year. The team ranked 18th in the NFL in points per game (20.6) and were bottom-third in yards per game (27th at 290.8), passing yards per game (22nd at 190.8) and rushing yards per game (25th at 100.0). The offensive line was suspect, allowing 40 sacks and failing to open the holes that Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore is used to seeing.
The defense was respectable, and seems to be the verge of greatness. Emerging superstar Patrick Willis led a squad which ranked 4th in points allowed per game (17.6) and 6th in rushing yards allowed per game (97.0). They struggled at times to defend the pass, however, ending up ranked 21st in the league (229.4 yards allowed per game) leading them to a middle of the pack 15th ranking in total yards allowed per game (326.4).
The 49ers made a smart move to secure QB depth, acquiring free-agent and former first overall pick David Carr. Shaun Hill (who struggled mightily to move the offense in the first six games of 2009, before giving way to Alex Smith) was subsequently traded to Detroit.
Carr and Smith are both relatively unproven and have failed to live up to their first overall draft statuses to this point in each of their careers. They are both strong and mobile QBs, however, with the potential to run much more creative offensive schemes than Shaun Hill would be able to. They should push one another toward improvement in battling for the starting role. With developmental project Nate Davis holding down the third QB position, it is doubtful the 49ers will take a look at another QB this offseason.
The offensive line is a clear area of need, particularly at OT. Re-signing Barry Sims was a key boost, as will be a healthy Joe Staley returning to action in 2010. The 49ers will also have a new offensive line coach in 2010, in Mike Solari, a former apprentice to 49er legend Bobb McKittrick, who engineered the offensive lines on each of the 49ers’ five Super Bowl Champion squads. Still, depth on the offensive line is a key consideration, as evidenced by the line’s struggles following Joe Staley’s injury in 2009.
Isaac Bruce has retired and Arnaz Battle left in free-agency to join the Pittsburgh Steelers. This suddenly leaves the 49ers with very young, fairly unproven WR corps. Michael Crabtree is fast developing into a standout at that position, and 49ers have two fast and capable TEs in Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker who can be split out wide in certain packages. Still, depth at WR will be a consideration going forward.
Defensively, the team seems set at LB with Patrick Willis developing into a perennial Pro Bowler and veteran Takeo Spikes continuing to turn in strong performances. But the 49ers need to improve in the secondary and pass rush, as evidenced by their 21st overall rank against the pass.
With two picks in the first round at 13th and 17th, I could see the 49ers going a variety of ways. Joe Haden, Trent Williams, and C.J. Spiller have been the most popular names in mock drafts. Haden may fall to 13th, and if so would be a solid pick up. Everson Griffen of USC or Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida could add punch to the pass rush around the 17th pick.
With good offensive line talent in the second round, the 49ers may be better suited to wait to address that need. Running back depth has also been identified as a consideration, but C.J. Spiller does not stand to be around for the 49ers in the first round. Toby Gerhart or Javid Best could work out, but the second round may still by a reach at running back with Gore, Coffee, and Michael Robinson all standing to make major contributions. The 49ers may look to a Joe McKnight in the mid rounds or a later option. Someone like Texas’s Jordan Shipley would also make a nice mid-round addition to add WR depth.