This past week, I was required to write a full positional analysis of an NFL team as part of my final paper for my Football GM and Scouting Course with Sports Management Worldwide. Having already written a season preview on the 49ers, I chose them to be included in my final paper. The 49ers are a young ballclub that looks to become a dominant force, coming out of the NFC West Division.
At the quarterback position, the 49ers appear solid for the immediate future.
Former #1 overall pick Alex Smith has undergone severe scrutiny and trials his first few years in the league, however it seems as if he has regained his confidence, composure, and leadership abilities as his talent is becoming evident through his on-field play. Smith, who was benched all of 2008 and through the first 9 games of the 2010 season in place of Shaun Hill, played in 11 games and started 10.
Alex Smith threw for 2,350 yards, completing more than 60% of his passes. Smith looks to improve his numbers this year as the offense will benefit from Michael Crabtree getting to know the playbook, and along with the added downfield threat of Ted Ginn Jr. The weapons for Alex Smith to succeed are there, and if Smith experiences another solid season, I would commit to him being my franchise QB.
He is a big, strong, athlete who can make all the throws, and will for the first time in his NFL career experience 2 years worth of continuity with his offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Catering to Smith’s strengths from the shotgun, Raye has woven in multiple looks from the spread offense into the run-first system Mike Singletary demands from the team.
The selections of Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis in the past April 2010 NFL draft shore up the offensive line worries, and should provide Alex Smith more time than he has ever had. Smith has good timing with nearly every receiver, as he didn’t miss a beat in the team’s 2nd preseason game, marching up and down the field without top targets, receiver Michael Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis, and running back Frank Gore.
Alex Smith has a strikingly similar skill set to that of Aaron Rodgers, with the ability to throw accurately on the run and pick up 1st downs on the ground.
Alex Smith is in his contract year and is due to become a free agent in 2011, so as a general manager, it is imperative that he continues to improve in 2010. I won’t be concerned with the stats he puts up; rather I want to feel good about him leading my team to an eventual Super Bowl. If Smith can perform above and beyond, show that he is the leader of the offense, and win the NFC West for the 49ers, I feel it would be in the best interest of the ballclub to resign him to a 5 year deal.
This contract should be incentive based, due largely in part to how poorly he played following his big rookie contract. This way instead of getting a large proportion of money guaranteed, Smith will only get a fraction of what he could get if he played to his potential.
A 3-5 million dollar signing bonus is reasonable, and incentives reaching 35-40 million; which translates to 7-8 million dollars annually if he completes the objectives which should be: start all 16 games, win a conference championship, and either throw for over 3,000 yards, complete 65% or more of his passes, or throw for 25 TDs.
If he completes all of the said goals, he earns a salary bonus of 3 million dollars, however he only needs one completed to earn the full entry salary.
QBs Nate Davis and Jarrett Brown are big, athletic, running QBs who have shown capable throwing abilities.
Nate Davis in particular has shown remarkable strides in his throwing mechanics, and pocket footwork. He has always had the raw ability, yet has never committed himself to the “chalk-talk” part of the game.
Coach Mike Singletary seems to have found a way to motivate Davis to become the best he possibly can be, and should injury or lack of efficiency affect Alex Smith, Davis is more than capable of stepping up. Davis can make every throw needed, and has superior arm strength in comparison to Alex Smith.
The one problem that sometimes hurts Davis is his inconsistent accuracy. Sometimes he is dead on every throw, however he tends to let the ball sail on quick hitting routes across the middle.
Although Davis also has a reading disability (Dyslexia) which hinders his learning ability, Davis has shown the ability to retain knowledge once it is in his head.
Jarrett Brown is in a developmental stage, and needs much grooming before ever becoming NFL ready. I have not seen adequate amount of tape concerning his play, however I saw him against Auburn last college football season. All I can say is, he had better clean up the turnovers or he could be out of the league in a hurry.
David Carr similar to Smith was taken as a #1 overall pick, however after years of taking beatings in Houston, Carr simply lost his confidence and has been shaky ever since. Carr is a smart player who can aid in the developmental process of Nate Davis and Jarrett Brown.
At running back, Frank Gore leads the way for the 49ers.
Gore has produced consistently over the past four seasons, making a case to be one of the league’s elite backs.
Frank Gore ranks fourth in total rushes and rushing yards over the past four seasons in the NFL, with 1,041 rushes for a total of 4,953 yards rushing. Pretty dominant numbers considering he has only played one complete season without injury, which was in 2006.
After eclipsing 300 total rushes in 2006 with a total of 312, the 49ers have since been reluctant to over-use and over-work Frank Gore; a scene too common to the NFL viewer, as running backs such as Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson were literally run out of the NFL’s elite running back class due to workhorse useage, and a considerable amount of carries.
Gore is a lock for 1,500+ total yardage and has single handedly carried the Niners offense the past 4 seasons. A contract extension Gore signed in 2007, worth over 28 million dollars through 4 years, is set to end following the 2011 season.
As a general manager, my main plan of action will be to ensure that he stays on my team until he is 32 years old. If Gore shows a willingness to step aside when the time comes, depending on his mental grasp of the game, I may or may not hire him as a running backs coach to mentor my younger backs. After his contract runs out, it seems most ideal for me to sign him to a 3 year deal with an optional 2 year contract renewal clause.
No incentives based on games played will be utilized in these contract dealings as the worst I will be dealing with is an injured Gore who helps aid in the development of the younger RBs on my roster.
The 49ers currently are taking the best plan of action, as they drafted young talent Anthony Dixon a big back capable of a heavy workload, and tested veteran and former All-Pro Brian Westbrook who can mentor both backs. In this way, the backfield has a great mix of experience, talent, and upside. Excelling in the present, while improving for the future.
The 49ers backfield is in good shape to say the least.
At receiver and tight end, the 49ers have two extremely talented players in Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
*Also to note, a common theme of the top players on the Niners current roster, is that almost all have been drafted within the last decade; which shows me one, that the scouting department has done an excellent job evaluating college talents, and two that the coaches have done a great job of mentoring these kids in doing things the “right” way.
By that I mean the discipline of the players has kept them in the league, and helped them avoid league suspensions, etc.
Vernon Davis emerged last season as Alex Smith’s go-to target and as an elite tight end, catching 13 touchdowns.
Vernon Davis obviously stands out as a lethal receiving option, however the unknown facet to Davis is his remarkably solid blocking abilities. Davis in my opinion is one of the top run blocking tight ends in the NFL, and is a complete player in all areas of the game. He understands how to attack the middle of the field efficiently and effectively, and also knows how to leverage his pads well against bigger defensive end lineman.
Michael Crabtree is an absolute monster athlete. After a contract holdout that lasted throughout training camp, preseason, and 6 regular season games, Crabtree caught 48 passes for 625 yards, and 2 touchdowns; an extraordinary feat, coming off foot surgery, shortened offseason workouts, and in his rookie season.
Look for Crabtree to explode in the coming years, and as a general manager I do not need to worry about the long term contract terms, as he is locked up for the next several years.
Also 3rd year wideout Josh Morgan is athletic, and makes for a good number 2 wideout. Ted Ginn Jr. is a speedster who helps out the KR game, and can stretch the field vertically, as well can Jason Hill who is on the verge of being cut this offseason.
My main concern as general manager will be locking up Vernon Davis in a longterm deal ranging in the 5 year to 6 year marks; Davis is a consistent contributor who has shown a nack for avoiding the injury bug; Davis’ contract is set to expire following the 2010 season and will be a top priority in next years offseason.
At the offensive line for the 49ers, the front office got both of their targeted lineman in the 1st Round of the 2010 NFL draft; once again building through the draft, the 49ers acquired the talents of tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati. Both have been starters all offseason, and have had extraordinary work ethics.
One source of mine, has told me that Davis’ main problem is allowing the defender in on his shoulder pads, giving the defender the ability to grab a hold of Davis’ pads. If Davis can use his long arms effectively, and bench press the defender off away from his body, Davis will see success.
Mike Iupati from what I have seen is a polished run blocker who can absolutely move piles. The main knock on him coming out of the draft was his pass blocking abilities, “Will he be a liability, pass blocking?” From what I have seen in preseason games, Iupati looks solid in pass pro; picking up blitzes and checks like a seasoned player, Iupati is utilizing his overall strength as an anchor, exactly what you want to see from your O-lineman.
*The last time any team drafted two offensive lineman in the first round and started them the same season, was when the New York Jets drafted Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson in 2006. Both players have become elite level players at their respective positions, so this move by the 49ers could pay huge dividends as history shows.
The signing of David Baas to a two year deal gives the Niners at least a few years to develop some more young lineman to step in with the future core of Joe Staley, Iupati, and Davis. Baas is an adequate NFL starter who will compete every play.
Joe Staley is an extremely talented offensive tackle, and is regarded by some as one of the elite in the league. Staley over the past four seasons has been the only immovable piece of this offensive line. The additions of Baas, and rookies Iupati and Davis will shore up the weaknesses of the past, as the 49ers look to have their best O-line in five years.
In the upcoming draft, the 49ers should trade down in order to gather as many 2nd to 4th round picks as possible in order to bring some depth to a talented and revamped O-line. At least two more linemane ought to be drafted by the Niners in the 2011 draft.
At defensive line, the Niners have just franchise tagged end Aubrayo Franklin, a great move by the front office.
Franklin is the only legitimate nose tackle on the team, a very important position to secure in a 3-4 scheme.
Ends Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga allow the D-Line to be competitive, yet the D-Line is a weak point in a otherwise solid core of defensive players.
Ricky Jean-Francois is a solid contributor who during Franklin’s holdout assumed the nose tackle starting position; Franklin will likely start, but Francois has gained valuable playing time in 2010.
I am extremely impressed by the linebackers on this team, obviously spear-headed by tackling machine Patrick Willis who has recorded a monstrous 467 total tackles in only 3 years.
Willis has the rare blend of speed, arm strength, ability to close on a ball carrier, explode through tackles, and contribute in the pass rush and coverage schemes of the defense.
Mike Singletary has utilized Willis very effectively over the past season, and the two seem to be on the same page.
Outside linebacker Manny Lawson is also very exciting to watch as he has the same speed characteristics Willis has.
Overall the linebacking corps is solid from top to bottom and also has extreme depth.
Travis Laboy and Takeo Spikes bring a veteran experience to this group, and young Ahmad Brooks and rookie NaVarro Bowman have shown ability over the past preseason games.
Turnover producer Dashon Goldson, and shutdown corner Nate Clements lead the defensive backfield for the Niners.
In 2009 Goldson showed he could be the leader of the secondary by snatching 4 interceptions and making 94 tackles.
Nate Clements is a physical, man-to-man corner who can run up and down the field in any receiver’s pockets.
The only weakness I see in the secondary is at the opposite corner position which is held by Shawntae Spencer, if Spencer can perform at a high level in 2010, my doubts would be erased however. I still feel that if the 49ers have an opportunity to acquire a veteran corner across from Nate Clements that they could perform at a much higher level. Spencer in my opinion would be used more effectively as a nickel back specialist who can guard a slot receiver across the middle of the field.
As general manager, I would look to draft at least one cornerback in the 2011 draft, and attempt to sign either Champ Bailey or Ronde Barber. Also the team must make a priority to resign Dashon Goldson to a long year deal, as he is showing the ability to direct the pass defense and make plays across the entire field
Thanks for the read, and be sure to check out my website; The3-4, NFL news, scouting, and in depth analysis.