Projecting 49ers Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The San Francisco 49ers foray into free agency wasn't all that exciting, as expected. With the front office working with such limited cap space, the 49ers mostly focused on keep their own free agents. Plus, the 49ers have a history of being quiet in free agency.
Of course, when you have such a stacked roster, spending an exorbitant amount of money on free agents is pointless. Then again, the 49ers are in a win-now mode.
Regardless, general manager Trent Baalke played the field relatively well thus far. Plus, free agency isn't over.
Who knows? Teams are still cutting veterans, and contending teams like the 49ers usually position themselves to acquire their services on the cheap.
For now, the 49ers depth chart is pretty much set heading into the 2014 NFL draft. Let's explore the depth chart post free agency.
2. Blaine Gabbert
3. McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Colin Kaepernick will enter his second full season as the unquestioned starter at quarterback, but the backup situation is still in question. Colt McCoy served as the backup last season, but he won't be back with the 49ers.
The acquisition of Blaine Gabbert from the Jacksonville Jaguars was a great start to addressing the backup position. Gabbert, who was a first-round selection a few years ago, is more than talented enough to assume this role.
Entering the NFL out of the University of Missouri, Gabbert was rated very highly by the 49ers front office. Gabbert has a rocket arm, and despite all the criticism, is rather accurate in the short area of the field. It makes him an ideal fit in a West Coast scheme.
Nevertheless, Gabbert's struggles have been well documented. Under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh and a ace supporting cast, the 49ers are banking on Gabbert finally realizing his potential.
If the 49ers hold three quarterbacks on the active roster in 2014, McLeod Bethel-Thompson is a good bet to secure that job. He could even compete with Gabbert for the backup position.
The 49ers could also add a young quarterback to the mix from the upcoming NFL draft.
1. Frank Gore
2. Kendall Hunter
3. Marcus Lattimore
4. LaMichael James
As you can see above, the 49ers are loaded at the running back position. For a offense centered around the ground game, having great depth at halfback is a necessity.
Now, Gore will definitely handle the heavy workload at the position. However, we could see the 49ers use a committee approach this season with a fully healthy Marcus Lattimore.
Not to mention, Kendall Hunter should return to his old self after a mediocre 2013 season. Remember, Hunter suffered a season-ending injury in 2012, tearing his Achilles tendon. With a year of playing time under his belt, I expect a much improved Hunter in 2014.
Marcus Lattimore is considered the wild card in this group. If healthy, Lattimore gives the 49ers a complete back to spell Gore. Lattimore has excellent speed to play in the open field or out on the edge, while also possessing the grit and strength to run between the tackles.
With Hunter and Lattimore expected to receive the leftover scraps, the odd man out here is LaMichael James.
General manager Trent Baalke has already downplayed a potential trade, but look for that stance to change as training camp approaches. James simply doesn't fit in Greg Roman's base offense.
1. Bruce Miller
2. Will Tukuafu
There isn't much of a discussion here.
Bruce Miller will be the starting fullback for the 49ers for the foreseeable future. The 49ers rewarded their star fullback with a three-year contract, which all but signified his importance and versatility within their offense.
After Miller suffered a season-ending injury, the 49ers run game took a major dive. Not to mention, Miller is also a fantastic pass-blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
Prior to his injury, Miller was Kaepernick's most reliable receiving option outside of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.
Will Tukuafu will likely not return. He was solid in Miller's place, but there's no point in carrying multiple fullbacks on a 53-man roster.
1. Vernon Davis
2. Vance McDonald
3. Garrett Celek
4. Derek Carrier
Vernon Davis is set in the starting lineup, but with the offense using a ton of "12" (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) or "22" personnel (2 RB, 1WR, 2 TE), the 49ers basically start two tight ends.
This means Vance McDonald could be in line for a big role in 2014. McDonald was relatively quiet in his rookie season, but I expect the former Rice standout to play a major role in the passing attack in his sophomore campaign.
Both Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier could end up making the roster. As I stated above, the 49ers use many formations featuring multiple tight ends.
2. Anquan Boldin
3. Quinton Patton
4. Jon Baldwin
5. Kassim Osgood
Bringing back Anquan Boldin was a must for a 49ers team devoid of weapons in the passing attack. In addition, with a full offseason, we should see a improved Michael Crabtree in 2014.
That should be a scary proposition for opponents.
The 49ers' issues lie after the two mentioned players above. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are excellent players, but their roles are similar. Both serve as chain movers in the 49ers offense.
Second year receiver Quinton Patton is someone to keep a eye on. Patton was injured for most of his rookie season, but he has shown flashes of potential here and there.
Nevertheless, Patton still doesn't give the 49ers a vertical threat to open up the field.
Trent Baalke will have to address this need early in the NFL draft. Luckily for the 49ers, this draft is stocked with talented receivers.
Jon Baldwin will likely be a roster cut come training camp. Baldwin possesses the size (6'4'') and speed to scare opposing defenses, but he has yet to see any significant playing time since arriving from Kansas City.
Kassim Osgood is listed as a receiver, but he makes his money playing special teams.
Left Tackle (LT): Joe Staley, Jonathan Martin, Adam Snyder (T/G)
Left Guard (LG): Mike Iupati, Adam Snyder (T/G), Joe Looney
Center (C): Daniel Kilgore
Right Guard (RG): Alex Boone, Adam Snyder (T/G), Joe Looney
Right Tackle (RT): Anthony Davis, Jonathan Martin, Adam Snyder (T/G)
The offensive line for the 49ers is usually regarded as one of the best units in football, but their play in 2013 suggested otherwise.
Pass protection was shoddy for most of the season, and the 49ers run game struggled far more than it should have in 2013. The absence of fullback Bruce Miller didn't help matters, but the offensive line deserves most of the blame.
Four of the 49ers' five starters should return in 2014. The change will happen at center with Daniel Kilgore replacing veteran lineman, Jonathan Goodwin.
With the acquisition of Jonathan Martin, it could make Adam Snyder replaceable. Snyder brings value as a swing tackle/guard, but his play last season was average, to say the least.
The 49ers could also add some young bodies at center to help compete with Kilgore. Trent Baalke will likely look towards the mid-late rounds of the draft.
Left Defensive End/Left Defensive Tackle (LDE/LDT):
1. Ray McDonald
2. Tony Jerod-Eddie
Nose Tackle (NT):
1. Ian Williams
2. Glenn Dorsey
3. Quinton Dial
Right Defensive End/Right Defensive Tackle (RDE/RDT):
1. Justin Smith
2. Cornellius "Tank" Carradine
3. Demarcus Dobbs
Much like the offensive line, the 49ers defensive line underperformed at times during the 2013 regular season. Not to make excuses, but injuries to Ray McDonald and Ian Williams did play a role in their leaky run defense.
Also, let's not forget the absence of Aldon Smith.
The 49ers' front seven was astounding during the postseason, which made up for their subpar play during the regular season. We should see even more improvement with the return of a healthy Ian Williams and 2013 second-round pick, Tank Carradine.
Left Outside Linebacker (LOLB):
1. Ahmad Brooks
2. Corey Lemonier
Right Outside Linebacker (ROLB):
1. Aldon Smith
2. Dan Skuta
The 49ers are pretty much set at outside linebacker for the next several of years. Of course, securing Aldon Smith to a long term extension will be priority number one for Trent Baalke.
Even so, backup outside linebacker Corey Lemonier flashed enough potential to make 49ers fans giddy. Lemonier was a huge part of the 49ers pass rush in place of an absent Aldon Smith.
If the 49ers are forced to move on from Smith, Lemonier would be a great replacement.
Dan Skuta was officially the starter at ROLB when Aldon Smith went to rehab. Skuta played well for the 49ers, despite playing in a 3-4 scheme for the first time in his career.
Mike Inside Linebacker (ILB):
2. Michael Wilhoite
Jack Inside Linebacker (ILB)
1. NaVorro Bowman (*Injured)
2. Nick Moody
NaVorro Bowman's injury in the NFC Championship Game was a bummer for both the league and 49ers fans. While I still think Willis is the better overall linebacker, Bowman was the top inside backer in 2013.
The 49ers haven't officially stated Bowman would miss any significant time in 2014. However, Jim Harbaugh has pointed out that the Pro Bowl linebacker could return midway into the 2014 regular season.
If so, the 49ers will need to find a suitable replacement to makeup for the lost production.
Could the 49ers look in-house? In all honesty, this is likely the best option.
Michael Wilhoite was solid last season in replacement of an injured Patrick Willis. He knows the system and is a physical thumper on run defense. The 49ers will struggle in pass coverage with Wilhoite, but Wills should help in that area.
For the past few years, Willis has covered the opposing teams top tight end. Injuries hindered Willis in coverage last season, but I expect the All Pro linebacker to be back at the top of his game in 2014.
Nick Moody is also another name to watch. Moody is more of a factor on special teams, but he could be in line for some support work in 2014.
Left Cornerback (LCB):
1. Tramaine Brock
2. Eric Wright
3. Darryl Morris
Right Cornerback (RCB):
1. Chris Culliver
2. Perrish Cox
3. Chris Cook
The cornerback position is probably the weakest part of this 49ers defense. This was before Chris Culliver was arrested this past week on hit-and-run charges.
The 49ers will gather all the facts before making a final decision on Culliver, but it doesn't look good. Culliver could very well find himself cut from the roster, which leaves the 49ers in a precarious situation at the corner position.
If there was any doubt about the 49ers using a first-round selection on a defensive back, recent events should close this debate. We could even see Baalke making a giant move up in the draft to acquire a top shelf corner.
Eric Wright and Perrish Cox are good value signings. They both know the system, and provide some versatility in nickel and dime packages.
Darryl Morris is still a project, and Chris Cook will be fighting an uphill battle to make the roster.
Free Safety (FS):
1. Eric Reid
2. C.J. Spillman
Strong Safety (SS):
1. Antoine Bethea
2. Craig Dahl
3. Bubba Ventrone
Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea will make a solid duo at safety. Bethea is replacing the departed Donte Whitner at the strong safety position.
Bethea had a bad year in 2013, but I expect him to bounce back in 2014. He fits this 49ers defense like a glove.
However, the 49ers do have limited depth behind Bethea and Reid. Dahl is a serviceable player on special teams, but I wouldn't trust the veteran safety with any significant playing time. The 49ers will likely use a mid-round selection on a young safety prospect.
Like Kassim Osgood, Bubba Ventrone is strictly a special teams player.
1. Phil Dawson
1. Andy Lee
Long Snapper (LS):
1. Kevin McDermott
Kick Returner (KR):
1. LaMichael James
Punt Returner (PR):
1. LaMichael James
Phil Dawson will return after signing a two-year deal. Dawson was fantastic in his first season with the 49ers and was considered a fan favorite.
Andy Lee will assume his starting role, as will Kevin McDermott.
LaMichael James is the only question mark. If the 49ers attempt to trade James, they'll need a replacement at both return spots.