Drafting Michael Crabtree Leaves 49ers' Other Needs Unfulfilled

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IMay 7, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on at practice during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California. Crabtree was the 49ers first round draft pick.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Last month, the San Francisco 49ers received what most fans believe to be the steal of the 2009 NFL Draft, selecting Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall pick.

However, the selection may not pay dividends right away.

Crabtree, despite being rated as the top receiver in the draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, may not have been the choice necessary to elevate the 2009 version of the 49ers.

Do not get me wrong, Crabtree appears to have all the qualities that will make a top-notch NFL receiver. But the 49ers, under new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, are going to be a run first, run second, run third type of offense.

Not only will they be a running team, but the 49ers also already had a solid group of offensive weapons.

The list of offensive weapons returning from last season includes their best overall player in running back Frank Gore, as well as a future Hall of Famer in receiver Isaac Bruce, tight end Vernon Davis, and up and coming receivers Josh Morgan and Jason Hill.

For this upcoming season, the 49ers selecting a wide receiver with their first round pick may not have been the best route to take, especially because San Francisco still has numerous other needs, including the person throwing the ball to the wide receiver.

Noticeably absent from the list of the 49ers' offensive weapons (as listed above) is the name of a quarterback. Currently, the 49ers do not have a clear-cut starting quarterback, as head coach Mike Singletary has stated that both Shaun Hill and Alex Smith will compete for the starting job.

Neither Hill nor Smith has had any sustained amount of success in the NFL. Hill has won seven out of his 10 career starts, while Smith has gone 11-19 in his injury-plagued four-year career.

Clearly it seems that Hill is the front-runner for the starting job with his short amount of success with the 49ers over the past two seasons, but whether or not he can continue that over an entire season is yet to be known.

With that being said, the 49ers are quite obviously lacking a proven entity at the quarterback position, and along with the fact that San Francisco is going to be a running offense, how often is Crabtree going to get his hands on the ball?

When they drafted Crabtree, San Francisco may have been caught in a position where they saw a big name left on the draft board and decided they could not pass up such an opportunity. However, they may not have adequately looked over all their specific positional needs.

Not only do the 49ers have multiple issues on the defensive side of the ball, but their marquee offensive free agent signing this season is also prone to injury.

Former Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith inked a contract with the 49ers early this offseason, and when healthy he is a dominant force. But back problems caused him to miss the last four games of 2007 and forced to him to miss all but five games last season.

If Smith goes down with injury, the 49ers' receivers may not have time to get open before either Shaun Hill or Alex Smith becomes lunchmeat for defensive ends.

Knowing that Smith has been often injured over the last couple seasons and the fact that the play of last year's right tackles was downright dreadful, one would've thought the 49ers would go after an offensive tackle with their first pick. Michael Oher out of Mississippi was still on the board when the 49ers took Crabtree.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are still looking for a marquee pass rusher and help in the secondary.

When it comes to the pass rush, San Francisco fared better last season, receiving a boost from free agent acquisition Justin Smith. In his first year with the 49ers, Smith had a solid season, picking up seven sacks.

However, the two other down linemen joining him on the defensive line were rotated in and out quite often. Essentially, a rotating group of down linemen, including Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ronald Fields, Roderick Green, and Kentwan Balmer, joined Smith.

It is safe to say that unless the 49ers find a way to acquire a quality pass-rushing defensive end, their pass rush will once again be rather anemic. Instead of taking Crabtree, the 49ers could have taken the top-rated defensive end in the draft, former Texas Longhorn Brian Orakpo.

In the secondary, the 49ers could use a bit more depth and perhaps ought to trade for a veteran free safety. The defensive backfield, led by $80 million man Nate Clements, could easily become one of the better backfields in the league if the front office did some tweaking.

Cornerback Walt Harris is getting up there in age and can no longer be counted on as a No. 2 corner. His backup, Shawntae Spencer, has shown time and time again that he is not the answer to replace Harris on the starting unit. Giving one of the younger corners on the roster a chance to prove himself may be the best course of action in improving the pass defense.

Also, the 49ers are no longer going to use Mark Roman at free safety. There is no way a player who hasn't had an interception in two seasons should be allowed to continue to play a position that is supposed to be prime for INTs.

Roman's poor coverage abilities have been a detriment to the play of strong safety Michael Lewis. Lewis is best known for being a stout run-stuffer and big open field hitter, but he has had to compensate for Roman's poor play, and Lewis is no longer young enough to keep up in coverage.

The 49ers could have added a marquee free safety to the roster this offseason. Whether it was through the draft or free agency, there were free safeties available. The 49ers just failed to acquire one.

Despite the fact that the 49ers have a solid group of linebackers led by Patrick Willis, if their down linemen cannot create pressure, and if their defensive backs cannot keep up with the other team's wide receivers, the 49ers defense is going to yet again have a long and difficult season.

Now perhaps further down the line Michael Crabtree will become the receiver the 49ers have been looking for ever since the departure of Jerry Rice. However, for this season, San Francisco still has more dire needs than wide receiver.

Drafting a wideout in Crabtree, along with the fact that the front office traded away their second round pick, may mean that the 49ers will have to play with nearly the exact same defensive starters as last season.

If that is the case, don't expect the 49ers to be much improved from last season's 7-9 record.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.