>\n\nWorst to First: 10. San Francisco 49ers \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 10. San Francisco 49ers

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/21/2009

Ah one of the teams that proves simply switching to a 3-4 Defense isn't a guarantee of defensive success. The 49ers have been on something of a downer since their glory days. Glory Days which are now a loooong time ago. Numerous coaches and players have come and gone, they've not had a winning season since 2002. The downfall roughly coincides with when the 49ers QB situation. As soon as Jeff Garcia left, so did any semblance of the 49ers as a playoff team. The Alex Smith experiment is all but over and the 49ers are trying to reinvent themselves as the Pittsburgh Steelers West (hello guys, the Cardinals already did that!) by trying to construct a great Defense and becoming a run first team. How well this is going to work remains to be seen but some of the elements are there. It would be nice if the Battle of the Bay was for a Superbowl instead of the perennial battle for early draft picks it's become over recent years. There are some signs of recovery in SF but while the QB situation remains a 3 way coin toss between Hill, Smith and Huard winning more than a few games in their (weak ass) division seems beyond the 49ers abilities.

2009 Free Agent Losses
2009 Free Agent additions
Tully Banta-Cain LB (Patriots, cut), Ronald Fields NT (Broncos, UFA), Bryant Johnson WR (Lions, UFA), Keith Lewis DB (Cardinals, UFA), J.T. O'Sullivan QB (Bengals, UFA), Donald Strickland CB (Jets, UFA), Billy Bajema TE (Rams, UFA), Damane Duckett OT (Patriots, UFA) Marvel Smith OT (Steelers), Moran Norris FB (Lions), Brandon Jones WR (Titans), Damon Huard QB (Chiefs), Demetric Evans DE (Redskins)
2009 Unsigned Free Agents
2010 Potential Free Agents
DeSean Foster RB (UFA), Roderick Green LB (UFA), Jonas Jennings OT (cut), Jamie Martin QB (UFA), Sean Ryan TE (UFA)
Damon Huard QB, Isaac Bruce WR, Arnaz Battle WR, David Baas OG, Barry Sims OG,  Aubrayo Franklin NT, Jeff Ulbrich LB, Takeo Spikes LB (possible voided year 2010), Walt Harris CB, Mark Roman S

Roster Breakdown
Quarterbacks Major Need

When it's looking like Shaun Hill is going to be your starting QB, regardless of how run first you're planning on your new offense being, you need a new QB. Alex Smith was inexplicably given a new 2 year deal this offseason, one would tend to think he's had enough of the 49ers money but they've gifted him another $6m 2 year deal. There's rumours aplenty of the 49ers lusting after Mark Sanchez and in many ways I think the two would be a perfect fit for each other. They'll hope he falls to their pick at #10 but the way things are looking he might not last past Seattle's pick at #4, though it may not be Seattle that selects him there. Where they'd go in that eventuality remains to be seen, they can't afford to trade up for him but they're in a bind. Can they struggle through a year or 2 with Hill/Smith/Huard while they wait for a later pick to develop? The shocking thing is Damon Huard may be the best QB on the team right now. Worst case scenario might be Matt Stafford falling to #10 but Sanchez being gone. Can you imagine the frosty mornings at Training Camp when Stafford repeatedly asks Coach Singletary about *his* parent's marriage? All the beat writers seem to be saying the 49ers won't go QB with the #10. It wouldn't surprise me to be honest, with a good running game and a good defense you don't *have* to have a great QB. At present they have neither a great running game or a great defense but if they concentrate on fixing those two facets in the draft they could put off the QB position or draft one later on.  

Runningbacks Minor Need

Frank Gore is one of the better RBs in the league. That much isn't really in dispute. It seems like he's been around forever but it's only been 4 years and he's still only 25. San Francisco are definitely in the market for a RB though. Like a lot of teams the 49ers would like to move to a 2 back system, mainly because they're wanting to run the ball a lot more. I wouldn't say that would land the 49ers in the market for Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells but with a nice spread of RB talent in this draft they'll be one of many teams looking on Day 2 for some depth or extra help at RB. They've had Arian Foster, Mike Goodson and Kory Sheets in for workouts.

Wide Receivers
Major Need

The 49ers love Josh Morgan. That much is obvious, and he has a lot of potential. Despite poor QB play, a poor team in general and a bunch of niggling injuries he busted out 16 yards per reception as a rook. Pretty good. He looks like he could be a #1 WR and he'll probably get that chance this year. They've brought in Brandon Jones to play opposite him and Isaac Bruce is returning for this year but still, this is a position where they don't have a lot of depth or players who are good right now. Morgan could be good, most of the rest don't really look like starters at this point in their careers. A Top Notch WR like Michael Crabtree would go down a treat with their first rounder, even if they have more pressing needs, they haven't had a real star at WR since Terrell Owens.

Tight Ends
Minimal Need

Ah Vernon Davis, I'm betting he didn't sign Mike Martz's leaving card. No TE I can think of has ever done well in Martz's system and Davis was no exception. He is without doubt an exceptional athlete but as yet he's not become a great TE. San Fran's new offense sounds like it might suit him a lot more and with the dearth of talent at WR I'm sure the new guys in charge will be keen to exploit the favourable matchups he can generate. Delanie Walker is the main backup at the moment though he's built more like a FB than a TE he's capable of chipping in with some catches too.

Offensive Line
Major Need

With the loss of Jonas Jennings and the addition of Marvel Smith to play RT they seem to have their starting lineup set. They have the excellent Joe Staley as the other bookend but Smith has missed a lot of games for the Steelers with back issues over the past 2 seasons. If he's healthy he can play to a Pro Bowl level, especially on a run first team and at RT. If he's not, well it may be his career is all but over. With that in mind they have to be considering using their first rounder on one of Michael Oher or Andre Smith. Both can be brutal run blockers and in a pinch as rookies could probably play at Guard if Marvel's healthy. You can never go too far wrong picking good lineman on both sides of the ball. Singletary's no fool so this may end up being the pick. For me I would pick Oher if he was available. The Interior's not such a problem area, Eric Heitmann's a quality starter at C, last year's second rounder Chilo Rachal should enter the starting lineup full time and should be a quality starter as well. They'd be really in great shape on the OL for a few years to come if they could land Oher or Smith. 

Defensive Tackle
Minimal Need

The 49ers have a headstart on a lot of teams switching to the 3-4 Defense. The trouble is there's at this point isn't very good. It has some promise but it's certainly not the finished article. They're moving the very NT looking Isaac Sopoaga to NT this year, he played a lot of 3-4DE last year and that wouldn't seem to be his best game. Both he and Aubrayo Franklin look like they should be good on the Nose. The 49ers run D is actually pretty good. Giving up only 3.8ypc is top 10 stuff but teams ran on them a lot of times. In general I think because teams were defending early leads against them. This is promising... It's true that neither Sopoaga or Franklin is B.J. Raji but they know how to stop runners. With other pressing needs the 49ers can probably.

Defensive End
Minimal Need

Having spent a first rounder on Kentwan Balmer, who definitely passes the eyeball test for a 3-4DE, it's unlikely the 49ers would look to spend another early selection on another End. Sadly based on last year the eyeball test might be the only one Balmer passes. Let's cut him some slack though, he had to learn a new position and typically guys who do that don't start much as rookies. Those that do, don't generally impress. Even so they've brought in Demetric Evans to compete with him for the spot opposite the imperious Justin Smith. 3-4DE's aren't supposed to get sacks and yet Smith still managed 7. Parys Haralson got 8 playing alongside him so that side of the 3-4 is sorted at least. It's the other side that's the problem. Evans isn't a star at all, he had 1 great game I remember this season where from memory I think he racked up 3 sacks on Ben Roethlisberger? Other than that he was solid but nothing special. At the very least he's good depth. Still with just 6 players on roster on the DL they could definitely stand to add a player to develop on the chance Balmer never does.

Linebackers Major Need

Parys Haralson has been a great 5th round find. He's a good pass rusher and he picked up 8 sacks last year. Patrick Willis is flat out the best LB in the league and Takeo Spikes blends nicely with him. Spikes though is up there in years and may not see the 2010 year of his deal. Jeff Ulbrich, their best depth is also a free agent next year. Ahmad Brooks is also on the roster, he's an interesting guy if Mike Singletary can take a personal interest. He has bags of talent but has messed up the attitude side of things thus far. Not totally unexpected in a former Bengal. If Singletary can fashion this kid in his own image he could really be something. Long shot though and with the question marks about who'll still be on the roster at ILB a mid to late round pick on a guy like say, Scott McKillop maybe? The 49ers major LB problem lies at the ROLB slot though. Manny Lawson just hasn't developed and looks more and more like a workout warrior. He's bulked up this year to 250lbs and he is a special athlete but that's still all he is. The 49ers simply must improve their pass rush, 30 sacks is merely average and if they really want to be a run first offense they need to have a top 10 defense to win in the NFL. If not then they'll end up passing more times than they're comfortable with because they're behind in games. Turnovers and pressure are essential. They don't get enough of either at the moment. A Playmaker at ROLB is a huge need for them. Everette Brown is a real possiblity at 10, as is Aaron Maybin, but there's good pass rushers who could play 3-4 OLB into the second round as well.   

Cornerback Major Need

Nate Clements is still a fine NFL CB, Walt Harris is as well but he's up there in years and a free agent next year. Underneath there's not an awful lot to talk about so this becomes a position of Major need for them. In all likelihood they'll need someone to take over from Harris in 2010, I doubt that person's currently on the roster. There could even be a chance they look at this in round 2 where there could be a glut of good corners who fall. Guys like Darius Butler, Alphonso Smith might fall into this sort of territory.

Safety   No Need

Last year's starting FS Mark Roman may work himself out a trade, it's not looking likely right now though. As things stand Dashon Goldson is a guy the 49ers have a lot of faith in and they'll give him the role this year with Roman likely returning purely as depth. Michael Lewis at SS is a good player, aside from those guys they have a couple of so far disappointing CB converts in Reggie Smith and Jimmy Williams. It's tough to say how they'll work out at this point but the 49ers seem to have enough bodies to not worry about Safety in this draft. 

Specialists No Need

Joe Nedney is a very reliable kicker, one of the better guys in the league. Andy Lee had a stellar 2007, and a slightly disappointing 2008 but he's still very viable and they'll be hoping for more of his 2007 stuff.

Return Game
No Need

Allen Rossum was something of a revelation last year, putting in excellent performances in kick returns and punt returns (26+ yards and 2TDs on Kicks and 14 yards per Punt Return). Who knew he still had it in him?

Dream Day One

1.10 Mark Sanchez QB USC
2.43 Connor Barwin DE Cincinnati

Player Visits
Zack Follett DE California
Aaron Maybin DE Penn State
Kory Sheets RB Purdue
Rey Maualuga LB USC
Mark Sanchez QB USC

Don Carey CB Norfolk State
Nate Davis QB Ball State
Josh Freeman QB Kansas State
Arian Foster RB Tennessee

Mike Goodson RB Texas A&M
Chris O'Neill TE Boise State
B.J. Raji DT Boston College
Michael Crabtree WR Texas Tech

Last Edited: 04/21/2009

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