The San Francisco 49ers were expected to be the runaway favorites for the NFC West crown, but they struggled severely last season. Mike Singletary was fired, and now Jim Harbaugh is in charge of taking over this once proud franchise. Finding a franchise quarterback should be priority number one this offseason.
The Alex Smith experiment is most likely over, as it is time for the 49ers to give up on him and look for a new franchise signal caller. Troy Smith is an adequate starter, but the 49ers really need to find a better long-term option.
Frank Gore is a Pro Bowl running back when he is healthy, but he has struggled with his health throughout his career. The 49ers don’t have much depth behind him, and they have some concerns with the depth that they do have.
Michael Crabtree is still looked at as the No. 1 receiver despite his struggles last season. Josh Morgan is a solid player, but I think the 49ers can find a better player to start across from Crabtree. Vernon Davis is a Pro Bowl tight end who is the best weapon for the 49ers in the passing game.
The offensive line is young, but it is very talented. Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati were drafted last season, and they performed well while starting all 16 games. Joe Staley is a very good left tackle, and David Baas and Chilo Rachal are pretty solid players at center and guard as well. The depth of the offensive line is a concern, but they can find some solid linemen later in the draft to give them some good depth.
The defensive line is a solid unit overall, but it could have some questions next season. Justin Smith is solid at one end spot, but the 49ers may want to look for an upgrade on the other side, where Isaac Sopoaga is the current starter. Aubrayo Franklin is a great nose tackle, but he is a free agent who may be too expensive for the 49ers to keep. The defensive line depth isn’t really there, so some upgrades are needed behind the starters.
The 49ers lack a pass-rushing threat at outside linebacker, which seriously hurts the overall effectiveness of the defense. Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson just aren’t getting it done, so this position could be a high priority in next week’s draft. Patrick Willis is the best linebacker in the league in my opinion, and Takeo Spikes is a solid veteran who gives the 49ers a great tandem at inside linebacker.
Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer are decent players, but they can struggle in coverage at times, so the 49ers can look for another starting cornerback in the upcoming draft. Dashon Goldson is a solid free safety, but he is a free agent and could be elsewhere in 2011. Taylor Mays began the season with the starting safety spot, but he struggled down the stretch and lost the job. He is still looked at as the long-term option heading into 2011.
1. (11) OT Anthony Davis, Rutgers: He had his ups and downs, but he is still the future at the tackle position for the 49ers. 16 GP / 16 GS
1. (17) OG Mike Iupati, Idaho: Iupati had a very solid first season, and he is another long-term solution along the 49ers’ offensive line. 16 GP / 16 GS
2. (49) S Taylor Mays, USC: He had a rough rookie season, as he failed to hang on to the starting safety position, but he is still looked at as the long-term solution. 16 GP / 6 GS
3. (91) ILB NaVorro Bowman, Penn State: Bowman played well as a backup, but he will continue to develop into a starting linebacker. 16 GP / 1 GS
6. (173) RB Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State: A powerful back who gives the 49ers decent depth behind Frank Gore. 16 GP / 0 GS
6. (182) TE Nate Byham, Pittsburgh: Byham is a nice backup tight end, but I don’t see him contributing a whole lot in the future. 14 GP / 3 GS
6. (206) WR Kyle Williams, Arizona State: He is a solid fourth or fifth option, but he missed a lot of time with injuries last season. 5 GP / 0 GS
7. (224) CB Phillip Adams, South Carolina State: He showed a lot of promise as a special teams contributor last season but suffered an injury late in the year. 15 GP / 0 GS
Summary: This was a solid draft, but none of the top picks made as big of an impact as was expected. Davis and Iupati are solid contributors on the offensive line, but Mays struggled badly down the stretch. If Mays and Bowman can turn into solid starters, then this draft has to be considered a success.
After six failed seasons as the franchise quarterback, I think it’s finally time to give up on Alex Smith. He has not shown that he has the ability to be a starting quarterback in this league, and it’s time that the 49ers draft his long-term replacement. Troy Smith had some good times as a starter last season, but I think he’s more suited for a backup role.
The 49ers will strongly consider a quarterback in Round 1, and if not, then I expect them to take one in Round 2.
Round 1: Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton
Round 2: Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett
Round 3: Ricky Stanzi
The 49ers are one of the many teams who will consider taking a quarterback in the top 10 of Round 1. Gabbert would be a great fit for the 49ers, but they can still wait and get a franchise quarterback in Round 2 if they want to.
Nate Clements is still a solid cornerback, but he isn’t the lockdown corner that the 49ers thought that they were getting when they signed him as a free agent a few seasons ago. Shawntae Spencer is a solid player, but I think that he may be better suited to being a nickelback than a starter. The 49ers could use someone to compete with him for the other starting spot.
Depth is a big problem at this position as well, as the 49ers don’t have a whole lot of talent behind Clements and Spencer.
Round 1: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara
Round 2: Brandon Burton, Curtis Brown, Ras-I Dowling, Johnny Patrick
Round 3: Curtis Marsh, Rashad Carmichael, Davon House, Jalil Brown
Round 4: Chimdi Chekwa, Shareece Wright
Round 5: Marcus Gilchrist, Buster Skrine
The 49ers will strongly consider both Peterson and Amukamara if they are available in Round 1. They can still find a solid starter in Round 2, where Brown or Burton would be perfect fits in the 49ers defense opposite Nate Clements.
The 49ers have lacked an impact pass rusher for a while now. They thought that Manny Lawson could be the answer when they drafted him in the first round in 2006, but he has underachieved and most likely will be elsewhere next season. Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks have also underachieved, so the 49ers need to find a replacement in this year’s draft.
Getting an impact pass rusher will take a lot of pressure off the rest of the defense, and it’ll fill a huge need.
Round 1: Von Miller
Round 2: Dontay Moch, Brooks Reed
Round 3: Sam Acho, Jeremy Beal, Greg Romeus
Round 4: Cliff Matthews
The 49ers will seriously consider taking Miller in Round 1 if he is still available, especially if all of the top quarterbacks are already off the board. Moch and Reed would also be great picks, as they would give the 49ers their first serious pass-rushing outside linebacker threat in years.
Michael Crabtree is still viewed as the No. 1 wide receiver of both the present and the future, even though he struggled last year. He has one starting spot locked down, but the other spot is still uncertain. Josh Morgan is a solid player, but he is probably a third option and shouldn’t be a starter.
The depth behind those two is nonexistent, so look for the 49ers to take at least one receiver.
The 49ers may not use a first- or second-rounder on this position, but I think we could see them take multiple receivers in this year’s draft.
Round 2: Torrey Smith, Jon Baldwin, Greg Little, Titus Young, Leonard Hankerson
Round 3: Vincent Brown, Niles Paul, Greg Salas, Jerrel Jernigan
Round 4: Edmund Gates, Jeremy Kerley, Austin Pettis, Cecil Shorts
Round 5: Ronald Johnson, Ryan Whalen, Jeff Maehl
The 49ers need to find another starter, but they have more pressing needs that probably won’t allow them to take another starting wide receiver. They can get someone like Pettis or Kerley who would give them some immediate depth. They may also look to take a late-round receiver in Round 6 or 7 as well.
Frank Gore is an excellent starting running back, but he has a long injury history. Brian Westbrook is a free agent, and his injury history is even longer then Gore’s. He is a free agent too, and he might not be back next season.
Anthony Dixon showed that he can be a threat as a power back, but he struggled with his conditioning, and I wouldn’t count on him to hold up for an entire season.
If Westbrook returns, then this isn’t as big of a need. However, both Gore and Westbrook struggle to play a full season, so another mid-round back wouldn’t hurt.
Round 3: Dion Lewis, DeMarco Murray, Shane Vereen, Jacquizz Rodgers
Round 4: Jordan Todman, Delone Carter, Bilal Powell
Round 5: Roy Helu Jr., Darren Evans, Stevan Ridley, Da’Rel Scott
There is no need to use anything higher than a mid-round pick on this position, as Frank Gore is still a top running back. However, guys like Lewis or Powell in Round 3 or 4 would really improve the depth at the position, and it would help ease the minds of 49ers fans if Gore gets injured.
Defensive End: The 49ers could look to improve upon the Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga tandem opposite Justin Smith.
Nose Tackle: Aubrayo Franklin is a very solid player at the nose tackle position, but he is a free agent who may be too expensive for the 49ers to bring back.
Safety: Dashon Goldson is a very solid free safety, but he is a free agent who many teams would love to have, so he may not be back next season.
The 49ers are another team that is looking for a franchise quarterback. If one is available in Round 1, I don’t think they can pass that player up because quarterbacks will be a hot commodity in Round 1 and 2.
The defense is the unit that needs the most help with this team, and priority number one is finding an impact pass rusher.
Von Miller can be that impact pass rusher for the 49ers, so he may make it a difficult decision for the 49ers if both he and Blaine Gabbert are available when the 49ers pick. We should expect to see the 49ers take a number of defensive players in this year’s draft.