>\n\nWorst to First: 13. San Francisco 49ers \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 13. San Francisco 49ers

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/10/2010

The San Francisco 49ers have made massive strides under Mike Singletary and it's terriffic to see a team with quite a lot of young players get some continuity on the coaching side. It's only going to help. Alex Smith finally showed some flashes of the ability that got him drafted with a quietly efficient threequarters of a season of work. Frank Gore continued to show why he's one of the best RBs in the league and a 49ers Defense made teams work damned hard to run on them. Some real signs of recovery and with a perennially weak NFC West and a Cardinals team that has leaked talent this offseason the 49ers seem poised to make a genuine run for the playoffs in 2010. Having grown up watching those Montana/Rice/etc Superbowl winning teams in my formative football years, let me say, it would be terriffic to see this team, and Mike Singletary back in playoff football. So fingers crossed...

So let's have a gander over the roster and identify some positions they could look to improve to get them over the line and back into January.

2010 Free Agent Losses 2010 Free Agent Additions
Arnaz Battle WR (Steelers,UFA), Marcus Hudson DB (Panthers,RFA), Tony Pashos OT (Browns,UFA), Ricky Schmitt K (Titans,RFA) David Carr QB (Giants,UFA), Karl Paymah CB (Vikings,RFA)
2010 Unsigned Free Agents 2011 Potential Free Agents
David Baas OG (RFA), Dre Bly' CB (UFA), Thomas Clayton RB (RFA), Franklin Aubrayo NT (Franchise), Walt Harris CB (UFA), Mark Roman S (UFA), Jeff Ulbrich ILB (UFA) Shane Andrus K (RFA), Vernon Davis TE (UFA), Demetric Evans DL (UFA), Franklin Aubrayo NT (UFA), Dashon Goldson DB (RFA), Jason Hill WR (RFA), Manny Lawson LB (UFA), Ray McDonald DL (UFA), Brit Miller RB (XRFA), Karl Paymah CB (UFA), Barry Sims OT (UFA), Alex Smith QB (UFA), Takeo Spikes ILB (UFA), Derek Walker DL (XRFA), Tony Wragge OG (UFA)

Quarterbacks Major Need
It seems like the 49ers have put their trust in Alex Smith, their much maligned former #1 overall pick. And to be fair he did put up some good performances statswise last year. Taking the majority of the snaps in 11 games he compiled a statline that if extrapolated over 16 games would be a 3418 yard 26TD 17INT season. Which ain't half bad. The trouble being Smith did most of his best work out of the shotgun, which lessens the impact a RB like Frank Gore can have. And in some games they just didn't run the ball much at all. So finding the right balance is going to be key if they are to succeed with Smith. David Carr's been brought in as a backup which really doesn't say much for the development of Nate Davis. With Alex Smith being a free agent after this coming season, Nate Davis not coming on and David Carr not being the answer to anything the 49ers are still outwardly saying Smith is their man but IMO they'd be foolish to not at least consider Jimmy Clausen if he falls to one or both of their picks. Clausen's used to a pro style offense Big armed but small schooled John Skelton could get a bit of attention in round 2 or 3 as well. With the only viable QB a 2011 free agent I have to call this a Major Need. If Smith does become a great QB this year, being able to afford to re-sign him is questionable. If he doesn't then the 49ers still don't have a franchise QB. What I'd do if I were them, is look at the Phillip Rivers/Drew Brees situation in San Diego and do the maths with Smith/Clausen. There's a lot of similarities... Will it happen? Doubtful. Even with 2 first round picks. One thing I'll add in Smith's favour is that 2010 will represent the first time he's had the same Offensive Co-ordinator as the previous year.

Runningbacks Minor Need
Frank Gore is still only 26. Seems like he's been around forever huh? Gore's pretty much a lock every year for 1000 yards and even when he only got a shade over 200 carries last year he still made that mark. So as a lead back there's not much need there. Glen Coffee had a great preseason but couldn't hack it when Gore went down for a couple of games. Gore's not going to be a 350 carry back in his career again I feel so there is a definite need for another back to compliment Gore. Whispers from 49ers coaches about finding a change of pace guy with return skills (an area where SF have struggled) has everyone falling over themselves to place C.J. Spiller with one of the 49ers 2 first round picks. And there's probably worse ways to spend one of them. But I have a feeling they're more likely to look for this guy a bit later. Perhaps Monatrio Hardesty, Joe McKnight or maybe even smurflike Dexter McCluster? I think McKnight in particular would fit the bill and at a much lower cost. If they draft someone it could be the kiss of death for Michael Robinson.

Wide Receivers Minor Need
When Michael Crabtree finally showed up on the field it made further mockery of Al Davis' selection of Darrius Heyward-Bey over him. Crabtree remember had no training camp to prepare and was essentially thrown into the fire. Sometimes you'll see with rookie WRs that they'll blow hot and cold, 150 yards 1 week then no catches for the next fortnight. Crabtree was remarkably consistent and caught at least 3 passes in every single game. Although he never made it past 100 once there is clear and massive promise there. And given a full offseason to get his timing down with Alex Smith he could easily enter the near-elite WRs this coming season. On the other side Josh Morgan should benefit from a lot of single coverage. He's entering year 3 having had 2 good if unspectacular seasons in his career to date. The 10 ypc average probably says more about QB play than Morgan's ability though. That's going to need to improve this year. Brandon Jones did next to nothing and must be on the bubble in an uncapped year. The 49ers could get his big contract off the books if they feel they have better options. The thing is, they probably don't have better options. Jason Hill didn't do much and neither did Dominique Zeigler. With Arnaz Battle having headed to Pittsburgh I wonder what the 49ers could do to improve this situation. With Vernon Davis they can afford to have 1 less WR than most teams but I can't help feeling they could use a 3rd WR. Someone who's just going to find ways to get open. Not someone in the first couple of rounds maybe but they may have a shot at a guy like Jordan Shipley if he falls to round 3.

Tight Ends Minimal Need
Well, they probably need to get Vernon Davis zipped up long term. And that will be costly of course. But nigh on 1000 yards, 80 catches at 13TDs will do that for a Tight End's value. Delanie Walker behind him is more your H Back type so perhaps there's a need for a genuine backup to Davis? He is such an integral part of the offense now that to lose him would be pretty catastrophic. And as he's a free agent next year some insurance there probably wouldn't go amiss. With it being a good class for Tight Ends, should someone fall to the mid rounds it might represent good value. Tony Curtis should fulfill the blocking TE role if the 49ers require one.

Offensive Line Major Need
Tackle is a genuine area of concern. Joe Staley's good enough to hold down one Tackle position but there is a very good chance the 49ers could use one of their first round picks on an Offensive Tackle. It's even conceivable they could package both and move up to ensure they get one of the top 2 Tackles. My personal feeling is that Bryan Bulaga may suit them the best but he is probably iffy to fall to them at 13. They could more likely be looking at the second tier of tackles like Charles Brown, Bruce Campbell and Anthony Davis. They may crave one of Russell Okung, Bulaga or Trent Williams instead. They have the ammunition to get one of those if they can find a trade partner. They could probably stand to upgrade inside as well. Chilo Rachal had a down year after an impressive rookie campaign, I figure he could easily bounce back. But at LG David Baas was only tendered at the low rate for restricted free agents so they may be looking at a potential replacement. I doubt it'll be with one of their first round picks but you never know, a kid like Maurkice Pouncey would let them put Heitmann at Guard potentially and 17 may not be too early for him as he's also a possiblity at RT as well. Similarly so is Mike Iupati. But I would fancy them being much more in favour of a guy like Bryan Bulaga and maybe looking at the second tier of Guards or Centers with their 3rd or 4th round selection. They have plenty of numbers on the OL though and some of them have filled in quite well at times.

Defensive Tackles No Need
Aubrayo Franklin got the franchise tag, which is just as well because he's a good 3-4 NT and with so many teams switching he'd have been in great demand on the open market. It doesn't sound like the 49ers plan to sign him long term yet which I guess is understandable. He may even have some trade value as I see Isaac Sopoaga as the more obvious NT on the 49ers roster yet Franklin has done a good job there. If they could find a good 3-4DE from somewhere and can shift Sopoaga inside they may be more willing to deal Franklin and with a few suitors no doubt around they might even get good change out of the deal. To me Kentwaan Balmer, a first round disappointment so far *should* be a nice fit at 3-4DE but he's been injury prone and is fast approaching bust status. Some 49ers coaches have alluded to Balmer being a NT prospect. I don't see it myself but I don't coach him. I think as things stand the 49ers have good options at NT for this year at least and with Sopoaga and Balmer they really don't even need to consider 2011 either provided they can fill Sopoaga's DE slot if Franklin were to get hurt. What may tempt them is the wealth of NT talent in this draft but I think it would be a luxury pick.

Defensive Ends No Need
Justin Smith is still a great player, whether it be at DE in the base 3-4 the 49ers run, or harrassing QBs from DT in their 4 man front pass defenses. A true terror and at 30 years of age probably has a few good seasons in him yet. As I mentioned I would prefer to see Isaac Sopoaga playing the Nose and a more obvious 3-4DE opposite Smith but you can't argue too much about the 49ers Run Defense. They're right up there in terms of run defense with the usual suspects, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, etc. That's not to be sniffed at and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Balmer if he can stay healthy needs to step up in at least a backup role at DE. Ricky Jean-Francois has intriguingly good size for the position too. Ray McDonald is decent depth, there are some questions over the reserves but they're not shy on numbers and promise.

Linebackers Major Need
Is there a better ILB in the league than Patrick Willis? If there is I ain't seen him. So that's 1 spot nailed down tight. Takeo Spikes is on the downside of an excellent career but should be good enough to retain his starting spot. Rookie Scott McKillop couldn't earn enough of Mike Singletary's trust to replace an injured Spikes though so you have to wonder if they may be still on the lookout for Spikes' eventual replacement. Could it make Rolando McClain a target for them? I'm doubting it personally, that's awful high for a guy who's going to be the second best ILB on your team but talk about making it tough to run on the 49ers if they did... Matt Wilhelm is quality depth with starting experience. Inside is definitely a strength with the only question being Spikes' age. Outside it's not so clear cut. Former first rounder Manny Lawson has not lived up to his draft position but 2009 was his best year as a pro. It still wasn't a great season though and as a free agent in 2011 you have to wonder if they'll try too hard to bring him back. He could be in line to be upgraded but the guy to do it may already be on the roster. Ahmad Brooks got most of his work last year as a pass rusher on third downs but he has a good skillset to be more in the 3-4 and his role could expand to replace more of Manny Lawson's output. On the other side if Parys Haralson who had a good 2008 season but not quite so good last year. With the OLB slot in the 3-4 being relied on to harrass the QB and make big plays the 49ers are definitely in need of an upgrade here. As the role is often a change from what college players are used to it might pay to get one this year. Especially with a few being available. Because of the importance of the position to the Defense and no clear dominant guy (think DeMarcus Ware or James Harrison) I've got to call this a Major Need. I think 49ers fans would grow to love TCU's Jerry Hughes pretty durn quick. Especially as a better pass rush from the outside would really help out the secondary.

Cornerbacks Major Need
Shawntae Spencer played well last year and should nail down one corner slot. Nate Clements got benched, didn't play all that well and then got hurt. His massive contract made him a possible cap cut had there been a CBA. As things stand they'll probably bring him back this season to babysit the position for another player. Tarell Brown is a useful nickel player but can be exposed to the deep ball so he'd be best to stick to nickel. Cornerback's got to be a position they look at in the draft. Joe Haden until fairly recently had been a rock solid top 10 pick but after a slow combine time there's a chance he'd slide to #13. If he did they could even opt to eject or trade Clements post draft. Haden's 40 time means at least he'll slip past Oakland at 8. For anyone else they may be best off holding onto Clements for the year and give the rookie some time to learn. It's still a Major Need position and they could even consider a guy like Kyle Wilson as early as their second first round pick. Beyond the guys already mentioned we're really looking at Special Teamers. At the moment it doesn't appear as if either Dre' Bly or Walt Harris will be back.

Safeties Minor Need
Dashon Goldson came out of nowhere to a seriously good season and it's safe to say he's going to be the starting Free Safety. Worth noting though that he is a free agent after this season and has retained Drew Rosenhaus as his agent. Which is going to mean a big payday next season. It just might not be with the 49ers. It being Free Safety, a position which often requires the incumbent to make the calls for the secondary it's not a position you often want to throw a rookie into. So maybe a guy like Earl Thomas could be a good round 1 selection. He brings return abilities, enough coverage skill to at least be a nickel CB and someone who'd allow them to let Goldson walk in 2010. It's not the likeliest scenario of course but it's a consideration should Joe Haden not fall to #13. There's also the possibility in that scenario of letting Michael Lewis and his big contract go, and having Goldson play Strong Safety while the rookie plays Free Safety. At present you can look at Goldson and Lewis and see a good pairing, but factors outside on the field play could make this a position of need. Mark Roman could be back, which might be smart, depth is not exactly top notch.

Specialists No Need
Joe Nedney and Andy Lee's jobs are pretty safe. No Need here.

Return Game Minor Need
There's no escaping this needing an upgrade. You would hope that change of pace RB or some DB they pick up might be able to help them there. Wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of Josh Morgan on kickoffs.

Dream Day One
1.13 Joe Haden CB Florida
1.17 Bryan Bulaga OT Iowa
Player Visits
Aaron Morgan DE Louisiana-Monroe
Hall Davis LB Louisiana-LaFayette
Anthony Davis OT Rutgers
Ekon Udofia DT Stanford
LaMarcus Coker RB Hampton
Eric Norwood OLB South Carolina
Dexter McCluster RB Mississippi
Ryan D'Imperio LB Rutgers
Robert McClain CB Connecticut
Vincent Rey LB Duke
J'Marcus Webb OT West Texas A&M
John Skelton QB Fordham


Last Edited: 04/09/2010

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