Last Years Record 8-8
Wins: Arizona (x2), Seattle, St. Louis (x2), Chicago, Jacksonville, Detroit
Losses: Minnesota, Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, Seattle, Green Bay, Tennessee, and Philadelphia
Biggest Playmaker: Patrick Willis
LB, Mississippi, Drafted #11, 4th Year
Arguably the best linebacker in the NFL, Willis has posted 141 tackles or more in each of his first three seasons, including a 174 tackle rookie debut. Willis is no doubt the fastest linebacker in the league, running an estimated 4.40 time, and literally plays sideline-to-sideline. And while he has the physique needed to be a strong linebacker in the NFL, Willis is a student of the game who understands how to make proper reads, close running lanes, and recognize play-action fakes. Willis does all these subtle, unnoticed things so smoothly and naturally, almost making it look easy. He plays with his heart and soul, and it is obvious that winning is his highest priority. Willis is the commander and leader of this 49ers defense, and although stats cannot convey this, Willis has dramatically improved over the past two seasons in his pass coverage skills and play recognition skills.
Who will win the NFC West
Impact Player: Frank Gore/Vernon Davis
RB, Miami, Drafted #65, 6th Year
TE, Maryland, Drafted #6, 5th Year
In the 2009 season, the dual threat of Gore on the ground and Davis in the air combined for a massive 26 touchdowns; in perspective that is the equivalent to 74.2% of ALL offensive touchdowns score by the 49ers last season. Davis tied for the league lead in touchdowns with 13. In 8-of-12 games played, Gore posted 100 or more yards of total offense. The two wreaked havoc all last season and look to improve in 2010, as the 49ers added numerous weapons at receiver, and key components to the offensive line in Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. Look for increased production out of both players on fewer touches, as Michael Crabtree will garner a lot of attention in 2010.
Biggest Offseason Addition: Anthony Davis/Mike Iupati
OT, Rutgers, Drafted #11, Rookie
OG, Idaho, Drafted #17, Rookie
The draft of 2010 could be the best 49ers draft in the last decade. The duo of Davis an Iupati will solidify an already good offensive line. Both have been declared as outright Week-1 starters, and both have impressed during training camp. Davis is a big-bodied tackle with long arms, good feet, and Iupati is a road grading guard who can control the LOS. With these two premier linemen, the 49ers look to take their offensive production to a new height. Look for improvements in pass pro and especially in the running game.
Biggest Offseason Loss: Isaac Bruce
WR, Memphis State, Drafted #33, 16 Years, Retired
Bruce after a stellar 16-year career in which he won a Super Bowl, multiple All-Pro Awards and accolades, retired this past offseason. A veteran presence and a solid locker room character, Bruce brought experience to a 49er receiving corps sorely lacking in that department. Although the production tailed off considerably, as did his physical abilities, Bruce could have been a solid mentor for Crabtree. Chicago ffensive coordinator Mike Martz has hired Bruce to work with his young receiving corps this 2010 season however, putting away all ideas of Bruce’s return to San Fran. as a coach. To replace Bruce, the team signed speedster Ted Ginn Jr. in hopes that he can develop into more than just a return man.
Biggest Draft Steals: Taylor Mays
FS, USC, Drafted #49, Rookie
Mays was a fabulous value pick in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. Mays a first round talent slid out of the first round, and remarkably fell to the 49ers who were in need for some young talent at the safety position. Although Mays isn’t the best at play recognition, I believe that, with time and experience, his physical attributes will enable him to play at a high level in the NFL. Mays has the size, the closing speed, and the mean streak of an Ed Reed. Look for some early struggles, however towards the end of the season he will be up to speed in the NFL making plays right and left.
Biggest Draft Mistake: None
In April’s 2010 NFL Draft the 49ers were apparent winners, gathering premier talents on both sides of the ball. Both offensive lineman afore mentioned, but also Anthony Dixon from Mississippi State. Dixon, a big back, is very athletic and has great footwork and is essentially a more talented Glen Coffee. Dixon looks to take over sometime in 2010 as the team’s backup RB. On defense they added Mays and linebacker Navorro Bowman from the “Linebacker U” Penn State.
Offseason Grade: A
In the 2010 offseason the 49ers addressed numerous concerns on both sides of the ball; adding enough talent, through the draft and free agency, to make a solid post season run in 2010. What could hurt the 49ers is that all hope lies on the arm of former #1 overall pick Alex Smith, who has so far underwhelmed. The 49ers front office has done an excellent job in the past 5 years in revamping a fallen franchise.
Edit: The recent acquisition of Brian Westbrook adds a veteran presence to a young backfield, and is an apparent upgrade to recent retiree Glen Coffee. Westbrook should provide a solid third down relief option for the 49ers, which hopefully can keep Frank Gore healthy. If Westbrook can overcome the recent concussion injuries, I believe that he still has something left in the tank.
X-Factor: Alex Smith
QB, Utah, Drafted #1, 6th Year
Smith as the No.1 overall draft pick has sure not lived up to his potential, and has obviously struggled in his first few seasons in the NFL. In 32 games played over three seasons, he had an average 54% completion percentage, 146 yards per game, 19 passing TDs, and 31 interceptions. After these wretched numbers., Smith was benched the entire 2008 campaign. At the helm of their offense, the 49ers were lead by J.T O’ Sullivan and later by Shaun Hill while Smith watched from the bench. Hill then started the season as the quarterback, but after mightily struggling, Smith got another chance to show why he is a former #1 overall pick. Smith seized the opportunity and finally showed some upside. In the 11 games played, he threw for 2,350 yards 18 TDs, 11 INTs, and competed 60% of his passes. Smith has all the weapons he needs to be a successful quarterback with Davis, Crabtree, and Gore. This past offseason all four of these guys have gotten to work together in an entire offseason for the first time and the chemistry will grow more as the season progresses. In the 2010 NFL draft, the 49ers helped solidify their offensive line, which will help protect Smith. All the pieces are set in place for the 49ers to have a successful season, but the man who decides how good they will really be is Smith.
Name You Should Know: Josh Morgan
WR, Virginia Tech, Drafted #174, 3rd Year
Morgan in 2009, quietly put together a 52 catch season in what appeared to be a vastly improved sophomore season. Morgan is a selfless character who plays with a team-first mentality, running hard clear routes and understanding that the offense will not be centered around him. Although he displays these qualities, that does not mean he is not an exceptional athlete. Morgan is a big, physical possession receiver who is a solid secondary option on the outside. Morgan is slated to start in 2010 and will look to improve his game as a third year veteran.
Rising Star: Michael Crabtree
WR, Texas Tech, Drafted #10, 2nd Year
If any other receiver than Crabtree went through the following events, I doubt they could possibly post 48 receptions for 625 yards, and two TDs in 11 games. A broken foot that kept him out of the combine and workouts for nearly five months, a contract holdout that lasted through training camp and into the season. All that withstanding, Crabtree still put up impressive numbers in his rookie debut, in what seemed to be an ad lib showcasing of Crabtree’s pure talent. With an entire offseason of workouts, and time to understand the playbook, I feel Crabtree will break the sophomore spell that has plagued young receivers in the past decade. Look for No. 15 to establish himself among the league’s elite.
Offensive Outlook: A
With a revamped O-line, and added weapons on the outside, the 49ers offense looks the best it has looked in over a decade. Top five rusher Gore is back and healthy, Davis established himself last season as a top five TE, and Smith seems to have found his groove. If Iupati and Davis can be solid throughout the season, and receivers Crabtree and Morgan produce, the 49ers could stake a claim as the league’s most prolific offense, although Smith needs to show some consistency out of the gates. Look for an increase in production across the board.
Defensive Outlook: B+
On defense the 49ers look just as strong if not stronger than they were in 2009. With one of the top NTs in Aubrayo Franklin and top MLB Willis, the 49ers have vastly improved their run defense; along with pass rushing linebacker Manny Lawson and DE Justin Smith, the 49ers can also bring the heat on the opposing QB. Drafting Mays increases the level of competition in the secondary, as well as solidifying the unit as possible the best tackling secondary in the NFL, with premier cornerback Nate Clement, and free safety Dashon Goldson, the teams second leading tackler in 2009. Look for another good year for the Niners.
Special Teams Outlook: A-
With two of the best kickers and punters and punters in the league, Joe Nedney and Andy Lee, the only missing ingredient is an electrifying return man. This summer the Niners addressed just that by signing Ginn Jr. Nedney in 09 was 17-21 on field goals up until missing two games with a injured hamstring, and Andy Lee emerged in 09 with a second rank league leading gross average per punt (47.6 y/punt.). In 09 versus the Jets, Ginn won the game for the Dolphins with two 100 yard plus kickoff returns for TDs. Ginn’s addition makes this special team unit an exciting one to watch in 2010.
Projected 2010 Record: 11-5
Playing an easy schedule against a weak NFC West division always helps an 11 win season, however the Niners will play teams from other weak divisions around the NFL, including the Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Denver (a team that has the injury bug this offseason), and Oakland. These scheduling factors along with the firepower I talked about in this article, lead me to believe that the 49ers will run away with this divisional race and Singletary will be in the playoffs for the first time as a head coach.