As the San Francisco 49ers look forward to the NFC Championship this weekend, plans are already in the works for upgrading the team during the offseason.
Niners' General Manager Trent Baalke made numerous moves last offseason, providing San Francisco 13 picks in the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft, including all seven of their own.
Regardless of how the 49ers finish in the playoffs, a statement has been made.
San Francisco is intent on building upon an already formidable franchise.
Despite the success the 49ers have enjoyed over the past two seasons, there are some glaring needs that San Francisco needs to consider.
Apparent to all 49er fans is the lack of production out of veteran kicker David Akers. One year removed from a record-setting season, Akers has fallen on bad times and is suffering through his worst career season.
It is safe to say that San Francisco is planning on parting ways with Akers in this offseason.
One prospect that could fill his slot nicely would be Caleb Sturgis from Florida. Sturgis was a finalist for the Groza Award, given to the top collegiate kicker, and out of his four missed field goals this past season, three were blocked (cbssports.com). The 49ers could easily obtain him with one of their two 7th-round picks.
Another significant need the 49ers should address is center.
Current center Jonathan Goodwin has been decent, if not stellar in his first two seasons with San Francisco. However, if the 49ers were interested in parting ways with the 34 year old Goodwin, they could save up to $4 million next season (ninersnation.com). Backup center Daniel Kilgore is probably best suited as a backup, giving San Francisco ample reason to fix the issue via draft.
Barrett Jones would be nice, but the Alabama center may not be around long enough to fall to San Francisco, so Iowa center and East West Shrine Game invitee James Ferentz looks like a plausible option. Despite not being a top NFL prospect, Ferentz has shown he has the ability to overcome adversity and compete at a high level (nfldraftscout.com). He is tough, smart and willing to accept the challenge.
Niners' head coach Jim Harbaugh has shown that he likes that in his players.
Using a 5th-round pick to get him may be a little high, but given San Francisco's abundance of picks, it is one worth spending. If drafted, Ferentz could see himself starting on San Francisco's already talented offensive line, which will surely help build his confidence. At worst, he could back up either Goodwin or Kilgore until he is ready to start.
The 49ers must also consider the needs in the defensive backfield.
Safety Dashon Goldson is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and has hinted at testing the market. If he returns, the defensive backfield shortfalls may not be as apparent, but given the 49ers salary cap issues, it is plausible that San Francisco will use the draft as a long-term solution.
USC free safety T.J. McDonald would be a perfect fit to fill the void if Goldson leaves.
McDonald is from California and his father, Tim McDonald, was a Pro Bowl safety for the 49ers. That would make for a nice story. In addition to the family and geographical ties, McDonald is tall, fast and smart. All signs point to him being able to make the adjustment to the NFL level and spending a 3rd-round pick on him would be a smart investment.
CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang has him going to San Francisco in the 3rd round (cbssports.com).
During the 2012 offseason, the 49ers attempted to upgrade their receiver core with the additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and by drafting A.J. Jenkins. Moss is set to be a free agent after this season and who knows how Manningham will recover next season from his ACL and PCL injuries. Jenkins is still a work-in-progress and has yet to become a factor in San Francisco's long-term plans.
With that being stated, it is entirely plausible and perhaps likely that the 49ers could draft a wide receiver in the early rounds who can compliment standout Michael Crabtree.
Tennessee Tech wideout Da'Rick Rogers would be an awesome addition to San Francisco's receiving core. He is fast and strong with a tremendous ability to create big plays after the reception. Despite having some off-the-field issues early in his college career, Rogers could wind up being a tremendous asset.
While he may not fall to the 49ers' 2nd-round draft pick slot, San Francisco would be wise to trade some picks and/or depth players to move up a few spots to grab him. It is nice to imagine a 49er receiving core that includes Rogers and Crabtree, both guys who excel in yards after the catch.
Lastly, the 49ers have to be thinking about how they will replace defensive end Justin Smith.
While all Niner fans would love to see Smith continue his style of play for years to come, the fact is that he is not getting any younger. At 33, he is expected to have surgery on his left triceps in the offseason and who knows how effective he will be afterwards?
All signs point to San Francisco being interested in Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. ESPN NFL insider Mel Kiper has projected Floyd going to the 49ers, and by all means, they should take him. (espn.go.com). Floyd is projected to go late in the first round and looks capable of switching over to defensive end as indicated by his play at Florida (cbssports.com).
If drafted, Floyd would easily be able to spell Smith in various packages and learn from the ageless veteran, giving an already potent defense even more strength.
Given San Francisco's salary cap concerns and attempts to bolster their picks for this upcoming draft, one can assume that the 49ers will be able to round out what has become a top-tier NFL franchise.
As they look to part ways with older, more expensive commodities, the 49ers are in excellent position to obtain the aforementioned players who may offer an immediate impact.
However, draft predictions are just that: predictions.