SANTA CLARA, Calif – The San Francisco 49ers were several yards from winning the Super Bowl in 2012-13, a year after falling just short of the Super Bowl in 2011-12. Similar to last off-season, they don’t have a vast amount of needs but have some glaring holes that need filling.
Wide receiver remains a huge priority. Although Baalke went out and signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and also used his first-round draft pick on A.J. Jenkins, the position featured one steady receiver all year in Michael Crabtree. Moss had over 50 yards in a game once last year, and it was in a blowout loss to the Giants. Manningham fared better but an injury caused him to make one catch over the course of the team’s final seven games, including playoffs. Jenkins failed to make a single catch during the entire season, while only being targeted once.
Kyle Williams was lost for much of the season, and Ten Ginn will likely be gone from the team as well after making only two receptions all year. Ginn’s absence will open holes at both kick and punt returner, although Lamichael James is likely to claim the kick returner position.
It’s apparent that something needs to be done to take the load off of Michael Crabtree, who averaged 95 yards and a touchdown in their three playoff games.
There exists speculation that the 49ers may be looking at current NFL players Percy Harvin and Dwayne Bowe, or could address the need during the draft with Cal product Keenan Allen among others.
Tight end has become a position of need as well for the first time in several years. Delanie Walker has been the Niners’ second TE since being drafted in 2006, but his strength as a receiving tight end has been called into question with his display of shaky hands throughout the season.
During an interview with The Bay Area Sports Guy, Walker had the following to say:
“It’s funny because I’ll catch the hard passes and drop the easy ones. And that’s where I think I’m losing my focus because I’m like, ‘This is easy,’ and I’m ready to catch the ball and make a play, and I drop it.”
Although Walker is a player with great tools, it’s likely the Niners will part ways with the 28-year-old opening a hole on the line across from Vernon Davis.
There have been rumors that the Niners like Zach Ertz from Stanford and would consider the local prospect if available at the end of the first round. This is clearly taken with a grain of salt though as rumors surrounding the Niners draft picks almost never play out as expected.
There are many reasons that the defensive line will be an area of focus during the NFL draft in April. Justin Smith, 34, is entering the final year of his contract and is currently recovering from a torn triceps tendon. Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francios are both free agents, and no one other than Ray McDonald left on the roster has any experience as a starter.
The lack of depth is shocking, and the line’s performance when Smith went out with an injury may be even worse. Eric Branch of SFGate.com reports that the opposing team’s quarterbacks saw a 25 point increase in their rating during the games that Justin Smith missed.
Also, Aldon Smith’s pass rushing abilities disappeared once Smith got injured, recording zero sacks over the final six games.
Picking up several defensive linemen will be necessary to the defense.
San Francisco has Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver, Carlos Rodgers and Perrish Cox currently listed on their roster. While they have upgraded significantly from a few years ago, another addition would be vital to the success of a group that got lit up at times, including the Super Bowl.
One guy to keep an eye out for is former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. “The HoneyBadger” has all the physical tools an NFL team desires for a defensive back while also being able to take over as the punt returner. Mathieu averaged more than 15 yards per punt and had two touchdowns during the 2011 season.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area tweeted:
“@MaioccoCSN: 49ers DB coach Ed Donatell was chatting with ex-LSU CB TyrannMathieu between drills. Mathieu smiled and gave Donatell pat on his back.”
The safety position has represented a strength on one of the NFL’s best defenses. But with Dashon Goldson’s impending free agency, the 49ers will have to decide to go one way or another with him. It’s being reported that Baalke is unlikely to give him the franchise tag as he did a season ago. This means they are either pursuing a long-term deal, or are ready to let the hard-hitting free safety walk.
David Akers was a lifeline for a 49ers team that struggled in the red zone back in 2011. He nailed an NFL record 44 field goals with 84.6% precision at the age of 37.
However no player on the roster experienced a more drastic turnaround in 2012 than the kicker from Louisville. He missed 13 of his NFL-leading 42 attempts and left countless points off the board.
NinersNation has labeled David Akers as a “cut candidate,” whose release would save the team over $3 million next season. His replacement could be found by way of an NFL veteran like Billy Cundiff or through the draft with such players as Caleb Sturgis from Florida.
So long Alex?
Alex Smith, drafted first overall in 2005, has had his share of ups and downs in the league. After several terrible seasons and a handful of offensive coordinators, Alex found his way under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Smith posted a record of 19-5-1 in the past two seasons, while attaining the lowest interception percentage in the NFL in 2011.
Smith lost his job in 2012 after being sidelined with a concussion. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick took full advantage of his playing time to earn the starting role for the rest of the season.
With Smith no longer looked at as the starter, his value to the team may be highest as a trade candidate. With many teams desperate for a QB during a year with a weak draft, Smith may very well be the best signal caller available this off-season.
Many people have reported that a deal for Smith is complete, but cannot go through until March 12 when free agency begins.
Guy Haberman of 95.7 The Game has tweeted that his sources believe Smith’s market will consist of four or five teams. Some of the obvious teams with interest include Arizona, Jacksonville and Kansas City.
The Cardinals acquired Kevin Kolb from the Eagles two years ago for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd round pick. The Niners would be ecstatic to receive that much for Smith and it’s believed that they are expected to receive a pick between the second and fourth round and maybe a player at a position of need.