Debate the 49ers’ offseason possibilities in The Football Fan Forum
There are a lot of questions surrounding this team, all of which exist as a result of their decisions on draft day. I detailed these in my assessment of their draft, but I’ll bring them up again. I’m not saying they had a bad draft, as they got a lot of talent, but the type of talent they got is what poses these questions. What if Alex Smith is not the right choice at quarterback and cannot run a Pro Style offense? It’s a valid question. Smith’s production in a Pro Style offense in the past has fallen way short of expectations. He was decent last year, but out of a shotgun spread. After drafting two monster run blocking offensive linemen in the first round this year, it’s safe to say, they won’t be using a spread this year.
What if they brought in too many guys with questionable character? They’ve had good success in the past with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. However, both Taylor Mays and Anthony Davis had major work ethic concerns coming out of school, Davis going as far as to pull an Andre Smith, showing up out of shape to the Combine, and blowing off his Pro Day without telling anyone. Navarro Bowman and Anthony Dixon have been arrested. Nothing wrong with his character, but Mike Iupati is a major project. What if he becomes lazy after getting paid big money and doesn’t develop in pass protection?
What if they can’t stop anyone through the air? This is an increasingly pass heavy league and their secondary, in terms of pass coverage, leaves a lot to be desired. Nate Clements looks like he will stay at corner this year, rather than move to safety as previously rumored. He’s had good years in the past, just not the recent past, and I wouldn’t bet on him having a bounce back year this year. Shawntae Spencer is a solid #2 corner, but nothing better. Dre Bly and Walt Harris are old. Dashon Goldston, Michael Lewis, and Taylor Mays are all good safeties, but all three excel against the run and aren’t up to par in pass coverage.
Their pass rush is amazing and could be even better this year if either Manny Lawson or Ahmad Brooks steps up as a true #1 pass rusher, but can their below average coverage ability be masked by a fierce pass rush and an amazing run stopping front 7 in an increasingly pass heavy league? They did rank 4th in the league in fewest points allowed last year, but they ranked 15th in total yards last year and may not be as lucky this year. They also ranked 21st in total passing yards allowed last year, not a good sign.
They’ll run well this year. Frank Gore, assuming he stays healthy, should rank among the best in the league in total yards again this year, behind a revamped run blocking line. However, he’s not a consistent source of yards, even more so than most running backs. He had some brilliant games last year where he carried the team, but he also had 4 games of 33 or fewer yards in 13 games. That’s putting a lot of pressure on Alex Smith, who, as I alluded to before, is by no means an established top 15 quarterback in this league, especially in an under center style offense.
Because of the questions at quarterback for them and their deficiencies against the pass, I can’t call this an elite team. They’ll probably look pretty similar to what they were in 2009, in terms of wins and losses. Luckily for them, their division is so bad that the 8 wins they had in 2009 could win them this division.
Projection: 8-8 1st in NFC West
Power Ranking: 17
Last season: 8-8
#11 OT Anthony Davis (Rutgers)
I would give this an F if it were any other team. Davis is Andre Smith 2.0. He lacks motivation. He won’t stay in shape. He struggled in pass protection. However, if there’s anyone who can bring his talent out, it’s Mike Singletary. Still, I don’t see the need to trade up and I don’t think Davis will pan out longterm.
#17 G Mike Iupati (Idaho)
If there was a bigger statement made this draft than the Niners saying “Alex Smith is our quarterback,” show me, because I don’t think there is. The Niners passed up on a quarterback in Jimmy Clausen, twice, not caring about him possibly going to division rival Seattle or Arizona, so they could get some much needed offensive line help to protect Alex Smith. I like the Iupati selection a lot more than the Davis selection because I think Iupati will pan out longterm. Unlike Davis, he is not raw and lacks motivation. He is just raw. However, I cannot give this draft pick an A because in a few years they may have wished they had taken Clausen.
#49 S Taylor Mays (USC)
Wow, this guy lost a lot of money by coming back to school, didn’t he. I don’t think Mays is a first round prospect like some places, however, I love this pick in the middle of the 2nd for the Niners. He fits what they want to do perfectly. They have a coach they can bring it out of him. He fills a need. And, it’s right in the middle of the 2nd round where he would have been a steal if my books even if they didn’t have the perfect atmosphere for him to shine.
#91 MLB Navarro Bowman (Penn State)
Bowman has first round talent, but a bad attitude and a bad history of being arrested/suspended/put on probation. Also, I don’t think he fits the 3-4 scheme perfectly, but he is almost too talented for them to pass on at 91, so I can’t hate the pick.
#173 RB Anthony Dixon (Mississippi State)
Dixon will fill a goal line and short yardage role for the Niners (who obviously want to get back to smashmouth offensive football) right away, but take a look at their first 5 picks. All 5 of those players either are raw, have motivation issues, or have been arrested. I know Mike Singletary has done good work with lower character guys or project guys before, but he may be bitting off more than he can chew here. He may explode midseason and have another epic rant.
#182 TE Nate Byham (Pittsburgh)
Finally, a player who hasn’t been arrested or labeled a project. Byham is a blocking tight end, which wasn’t viewed as a need by me coming into the draft, but if they want to get back to smashmouth football, they’ll need a blocker like Byham. Better blockers could be had though.
#206 WR Kyle Williams (Arizona State)
A bit confusing because they already added Ted Ginn Jr. this offseason, who is a returner/receiver guy like Williams, but Ginn is known for some really ugly drops, so Williams could be their slot receiver sometime next year. A better receiver was available, if not multiple better receivers, but this is a solid selection.
#224 CB Phillip Adams (South Carolina State)
Why did the Niners wait this long to take a cornerback? Do they not think they have to stop the pass in this pass heavy league. Adams, however, is a very underrated cornerback, so I like the pick.
The Niners made 4 statements with this draft: Alex Smith is our quarterback. We want to get back to smahsmouth run heavy football and think Alex Smith can run an under center offense. We think we can bring the best out of players and players with poor legal history or players who are projects don’t scare us. We don’t think we need to stop the pass. Those are some dangerous statements. What if Alex Smith is not the right choice at quarterback and can’t handle running an under center offense? What if Singletary brought in too many projects and not enough proven guys with clean records? What if they can’t stop anyone through the air? It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out, but I can’t help but think they could look back on this draft and regret a few things (not taking Clausen, not taking a CB in the 3rd, not taking a few more high character leadership guys). However all things aside, the Niners draft class is one of the 5 most talented in the league, so I can’t be too harsh with their grade.
Key undrafted free agents
QB Jarrett Brown (West Virginia)
CB Patrick Stoudamire (Western Illinois)
S Chris Maragos (Wisconsin)
WR Shay Hodge (Mississippi)
WR Scott Long (Louisville)
CB LeRoy Vann (Florida A&M)
MLB Keaton Kristick (Oregon State)
Positions of need:
Nate Clements is moving to free safety and both Dre Bly and Walt Harris are getting up there in years and, let’s be honest, neither of them have been much better than average over the past two years anyway. Walt Harris is also coming off of major knee surgery. I have my doubts about Shawntae Spencer as well, but he proved late in the season last year that he has potential as a future #2 cornerback, or at least a solid nickel corner. That would still leave them without a future #1 cornerback. If Joe Haden is available at 13, they will jump all over him. Even if not, I would be very surprised if they didn’t use one of their two first rounders on a cornerback. Donovan Warren, Kyle Wilson, and Brandon Ghee would all be options at 17.
Drafted Phillip Adams (#224), Signed Will James
Even when healthy, Joe Staley is more of a right tackle. If they drafted a future left tackle, they could move Staley to right where he belongs and move Adam Snyder and his 9.5 sacks allowed where he belongs, the bench. Bruce Campbell, Anthony Davis, and Bryan Bulaga could all be options at either 13 or 17.
Drafted Anthony Davis (#11)
The Niners actually had 44 sacks last year, but they came from all over the field. Their team leader was Manny Lawson, a rush linebacker, with 6.5. If they could get a high upside future #1 rush linebacker, or a proven rush linebacker like Shawne Merriman, this offseason, they could be that much better as a pass rush and that will help their secondary. I would hope Mike Singletary realizes how risky it is to draft a rush linebacker in the first, but if he doesn’t, Jason Pierre Paul and Brandon Graham could be options at 17. More likely, he waits until the 2nd and takes a high upside guy like Sergio Kindle or Ricky Sapp.
Signed Travis LeBoy
Aubrayo Franklin had a great year this season and, what a coincidence, its his contract year. There’s a good chance he either leaves as a free agent or stays and returns to sucking next year. Either way would require a backup plan and I have my doubts about Isaac Sopoaga’s as well, so there’s a good chance they take a young nose tackle in the draft this year. Unfortunately, with so many teams switching to 3-4 defenses in recent years, this nose tackle class is going to get very thin very fast. If the Niners are really not confident about the nose tackle position, they’ll have to reach for a guy like Jay Ross, Linval Joseph, or Edom Udofia in the 4th round range.
Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan are good starters, but they need a speed slot guy to stretch the defense, especially if they are really serious about going to a spread based offense. They could target a guy like Marshawn Gilyard or Dexter McCluster in the 2nd or a guy like Jacoby Ford in the 3rd. They may be partial to a wide receiver who has experience as a punt/kick returner too because their return game stunk last year. All three guys I listed prior would fit that job description.
Drafted Kyle Williams (#206)
Alex Smith appears to have won the longterm quarterback job, but he hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency to this point in his career. They’d be smart to use a mid to late rounder on a young backup. If they are really planning to go to spread based offense next year, their options here will be a lot greater than most teams because of how widespread the spread style offense is in college. A guy like Max Hall or Zac Robinson could be an option in the 5th round.
Signed David Carr
Patrick Willis is a beast, but they need someone longterm next to him as Takeo Spikes is 33 and has just one year left on his contract. This won’t become a huge need until next offseason, but they may want to start looking at the future and guy a nice depth guy in the draft. They will have a hard time passing on Rolando McClain if he falls to them at 13. Mike Singletary, a former middle linebacker himself, could start drooling at the thought of playing McClain next to P-Willis.
Drafted Navarro Bowman (#91)
David Baas could be upgraded at guard, but they have bigger needs. This one should only be addressed if they really fall in love with a late round guard prospect, which rarely happens. They may also feel that Mike Iupati is too talented to pass on at 17.
Drafted Mike Iupati (#17)
RB Thomas Clayton (exclusive rights)- not tendered, signed with Patriots
WR Arnaz Battle- signed with Steelers 3 years
OT Tony Pashos- signed with Browns 3 years 10.3 million
OT Barry Sims- resigned
G David Baas (restricted)- resigned
NT Aubrayo Franklin- franchised
RLB Ahmad Brooks (restricted)- resigned 2 years
CB Marcus Hudson (restricted)- not tendered, signed with Panthers
CB Walt Harris- Signed with Ravens
CB ‘Dre Bly- Signed with Lions
49ers sign CB Will James
49ers extend MLB Patrick Willis
49ers sign RLB Travis LaBoy
49ers re-sign G David Baas
49ers re-sign RLB Ahmad Brooks
49ers re-sign OT Barry Sims
49ers sign CB Karl Paymah
49ers trade QB Shaun Hill to Lions for 2011 7th-rounder
49ers sign QB David Carr
49ers tender RLB Ahmad Brooks
49ers tender G David Baas