First down: Tight formation, Frank Gore as I-back running straight ahead for no gain (defense stacked up like Highway 101 at rush hour).
Second down: Pro-style formation with two wideouts, but it’s either another run into middle or check-down pass. Minimal gain.
Third and long, obvious passing down: Spread formation and a five-step drop against blitzes and confusing coverages, reducing quarterback Alex Smith’s chance for success.
Punt. At least that’s what many fans did on the team around Game 10. But it’s a new era, with a new coach and a new system. With that in mind, here’s an assessment of the 49ers needs on offense in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The numbers from Football Outsiders say the Niners ranked 30th in pass protection, giving up 44 sacks, four more than in ‘09.
The Niners also had two rookies in the starting five—Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis—to go along with Joe Staley and Chilo Rachal.David Baas took over for Eric Heitmann at center, but the weakness was Davis at right tackle. He's only 21.
But it didn't help there was no surprise in the Niners’ play calling, and no team can consistently overcome a defense that knows what’s coming.
There are greater needs in other areas, but if guard John Moffet of Wisconsin is available in the second round, take him to push Rachal. Dropping down in the first round and picking a Gabe Carimi wouldn't be a bad idea either.
Trend Breaker: Anthony Costanzo, tackle from Boston College. If he’s available at No. 7 in the first round, he’s too good to pass up.
Stanford’s win over Virginia Tech shows how vital the tight end is in coach Jim Harbaugh’s schemes.
“Bunching”—groups of three receivers tightly together—left the Tech defense with no idea who should cover whom, leaving wide-open receivers or ones with huge size advantages.
Exploiting the middle is the key against Cover Two defenses, and tight ends make that happen. Returning TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker are a strong tandem, but Harbaugh has to like Nevada’s Virgil Green. He’s 6'4" and 250 pounds with speed and hands.
Getting Green as a second- or third-rounder is perfect.
Trend Breaker: Stanford’s Coby Fleener is 6'6" and runs like a deer. He would be a steal if he’s available in the fourth round or later.
Frank Gore is coming off an injury and he’s on the downside of the five-year max for high-use RBs. There are few better than Gore in picking up blitzes.
It remains to be seen if Anthony Dixon can develop into not just a solid ball carrier, but also a blocker.
That said, the Niners need a jet, someone who takes a short pass in the flat, makes a defender miss and ends up in the end zone.
First glance says Jacquizz Rodgers from Oregon State, who can also run back kicks. The question is his hands, not his speed or heart, which help overcome his height of 5'7". He could be great value in the sixth or seventh round.
Rodgers would give the team more speed than Brian Westbrook, who might find it hard to stay on the roster.
Trend Breaker: Either Mark Ingram of Alabama or Mikel LeShoure of Illinois will be available at No. 7, but the Niners should look to other areas early in the draft.
This is another area that doesn’t need a high degree of help.
Some think Josh Morgan struggled last season with just 44 catches, but of those, 12 went for 20 yards or more. He seems ready to benefit from a new scheme.
Michael Crabtree is a perfect split end in the West Coast. Slants and stops are his métier due to his strong hands.
Again, deep speed is the issue. A third receiver who can burn like Ted Ginn, but catch better, is needed. Jerrel Jernigan from Troy has that speed and seems worthy of a middle-round pick.
Trend Breaker: A.J. Green, all 6'4" and 212 pounds of potential, could be sitting there when the seventh pick comes up. Here’s the gut check: You may not need him that bad, but is he another Calvin Johnson? If so, you can’t pass him up.
This is the "Big If". Wanting as many candidates as possible, Harbaugh said last week in an interview that “we’ll bring out the footballs and see who wins. It’s a job that is to be earned.”
Alex Smith is someone Harbaugh said he would like in that mix. We probably won’t see David Carr anymore. Troy Smith’s accuracy in the three-step schemes, so important in the West Coast offense, is questionable, so he remains questionable.
Does that mean Kevin Kolb comes over from Philadelphia? Depends on the trade terms. Donovan McNabb? Depends on Alex Smith’s viability with the team. But if McNabb comes and Smith says goodbye, then the Niners will definitely look to someone like Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert at No. 7
The Niners will not draft Cam Newton out of Auburn. There’s no doubt he can run, and he’s got a gun, but his skills dropping back from under center and throwing in a three-step scheme are not very good. He’s one to avoid.
Surprise Pick: If Jake Locker is gone in the second round, then Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick is a good shot; he has the strongest arm in the draft.
Next: 49ers Defense draft strategy