San Francisco 49ers' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
Trent Baalke, general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, has had a very solid offseason to date, despite his transactions lacking the pizzazz fans yearn for. He addressed multiple positions, didn’t overspend and provided himself with incredible flexibility for the 2014 NFL draft, which is on the horizon.
That being said, the Niners do still have a few holes on the roster and areas where they can become more dangerous.
After considering all of San Francisco’s offseason transactions (and lack thereof), the following will pinpoint and break down several positions the 49ers will look to address in the draft. And if they don’t sufficiently acquire said players in May, they might do more bargain-basement shopping after the draft.
San Francisco’s secondary unit was gutted out this offseason, which included them losing two of their starting cornerbacks from 2011-2013 in Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. What hurts about that—since the 49ers have two boundary CBs in Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver—is losing Rogers, who was featured in the slot.
On 428 snaps there last year, Rogers only allowed a 73.9 quarterback rating to opposing passers, via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area (h/t PFF).
Of the 31 CBs who played at least 200 pass snaps in the slot, Rogers was tied for first, allowing a catch every 11.6 snaps and 11th in allowing just 1.05 yards per coverage snap, via Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus. His PFF grade slipped there every year, but he was solid for a bit, and it still makes for a loss.
The 49ers are now looking to replenish that position in the NFL draft.
Players like Jaylen Watkins of Florida, Bradley Roby of Ohio State and Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State may be of serious interest to the team. They are each incredibly gifted athletes that could not only step into the spot Rogers left behind, but also upgrade it for the long term.
Continuing on with the secondary issues, the 49ers have to continue adding talent there, as Tramaine Brock will be entering his first full year as a starter and Chris Culliver is coming off an ACL injury and is now facing some legal trouble, which could potentially affect his status to some degree.
There is uncertainty already, and who knows what could happen in training camp. This club can’t afford to be shorthanded at cornerback.
That being said, they need to take a few cornerbacks, and a long-bodied boundary cornerback would be their best bet in the early rounds. From a talent perspective, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller is a hot name going into the draft and appears to be a perfect fit for this defense.
At 6’0”, 190 pounds, Fuller fits the mold of what San Francisco is looking for.
There is also Jason Verrett of Texas Christian Univerisity, who is one of a few first-round prospects at the position. He is neck and neck with Fuller, which may give the 49ers options depending on which one is taken first. They won’t have to overspend but may still land a top-tier player.
Then, heading into the second and third rounds, players like Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, Clemson’s Bashaud Breeland, Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Utah’s Keith McGill may all be of interest to San Francisco. These are talented press corners with good length that could become stars under 49ers secondary coach Ed Donatell.
The 49ers are entering salary-cap purgatory with the impending deal of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, which should be in the $100 million range. With that, there are going to be losses of other marquee players in free agency because San Francisco won’t have the cash to spend.
One of the players expected to be on the outs is Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati, who is the team’s maestro of the ground-and-pound.
He is entering the final year of his contract, and no matter how badly the team will want to retain him, they won’t be able to afford him anywhere near face value. Not to mention, on the offensive line alone, they’re already paying a top-tier blindside tackle in Joe Staley and just re-upped the other end with Anthony Davis.
They cannot spend on a top-three guard.
Given Iupati’s importance to the team, it is going to take a calculated plan to replace him, which is why the 49ers would be wise to bring in a developmental player this offseason. There are going to be some options available in this draft, too, depending on how early San Francisco wants to take one.
Stanford’s David Yankey (6’6”, 315 lbs) might not be a bad selection at all, but there’s a very good chance he doesn’t make it out of the first round. As far as this year’s class, he is as well-rounded, powerful and sturdy a guard as they come, which may make Yankey appealing to a few teams in the late first that need stability along the interior offensive line.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they have a very distinguished window of time to develop a player, which means they can look at early- to mid-round guards and even tweener tackles that they can kick inside like they did with starting right guard Alex Boone. They don’t need somebody that is ready to go from day one.
That said, Gabe Jackson of Mississippi State, Brandon Thomas of Clemson, Cyril Richardson of Baylor, Jon Halapio of Florida and Trai Turner of LSU are all feasible options in the middle of the draft. These are players that would be solid backups with promise of developing into starters.
Tennessee’s Antonio “Tiny” Richardson and North Dakota State’s Billy Turner are also tackles that San Francisco can turn into bullying interior linemen.
The 49ers have revealed their proclivity of carrying up to three quarterbacks, and with Colin Kaepernick's wild-child style of play, which puts his health at risk, this team needs three decent ones. Right now, the No. 2 is Blaine Gabbert, a 2011 first-round selection formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
One of San Francisco’s first orders of business this year was trading for him with a late-round pick.
But even with Gabbert having some starting experience, he doesn’t have a very good track record, and that’s being kind. If something were to happen to the starter, the 49ers can’t confidently proceed with Gabbert at the helm. The onus is now on them to add some competition at the spot via the NFL draft.
Now, they’re not going to pick one early, so players like Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel*, Teddy Bridgewater and even Derek Carr* are not legitimate options, despite reports this offseason linking the 49ers to two of them (starred).
No, the 49ers will take a late-round flier because said player is going to be a backup and nothing more. But there are going to be some very, very intriguing options there because coach Jim Harbaugh, the quarterback whisperer, is San Francisco’s ace in the hole. He can turn water into wine.
First up is Eastern Illinois signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo, whom ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said had the highest upside of quarterbacks in this draft. A bold declaration, no doubt, but if it’s even close to being true, it makes you wonder what Harbaugh could do with him if he got his hands on him.
Not to mention, Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports reported that Harbaugh personally worked out Garoppolo this offseason.
Next is LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who is a tall, broad pocket passer that would’ve gone much higher in this draft if he had not torn his ACL. This could allow the 49ers to swoop in and add him to their training camp. They can allow him to heal up while he learns the offense from a cerebral standpoint.
Given his size, Mettenberger has drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He is a bit of a statue in the pocket, but he is hard to bring down, and he sees the field and distributes the ball very well, which is all teams can ask of a backup.
Finally, there is Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, who is one of the more intriguing overall players in this draft because of his upside and the new direction teams are now taking at the quarterback position. Thomas desperately needs some coaching and fine-tuning, but his physical qualities make him a pure playmaker.
If he can clean up his game and learn when to improvise, he can be a marvel at the next level. But again, this is a big “if” because he must take to the coaching and show strides. But one day, he may have some trade value, which is another positive aspect of the 49ers drafting a quarterback this year.
So, clearly, they’ve got options. It will be interesting to see what direction Jim Harbaugh advises his general manager to go.
Three-wide receiver sets are just not something the 49ers have done much of since offensive coordinator Greg Roman installed his run-heavy, tight end-friendly system in 2011. Nevertheless, even though it’s not the philosophy, an inability to be dynamic from the WR spot has hurt this team.
The 49ers have Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton as three viable options in 2014.
Three exceptional players, but there are some issues with this. 1) If one gets hurt in any capacity, the 49ers are in a serious bind. 2) They’re all nearly identical from a stylistic standpoint. 3) Neither brings exceptional speed and none break the 6’1” barrier, which is a problem in the NFC West.
So, not only do the 49ers need to add bodies to the wide receiver position, but they need to diversify it so they can challenge teams differently—particularly their archrival, the Seattle Seahawks—and open up their own offense. Fortunately, this draft class is chock full of enticing weapons, coming in all shapes and sizes.
The 49ers may start targeting their fourth wide receiver as soon as Round 1 and may take a couple over the course of the three-day draft period.
Some names to consider early on include Oregon State burner Brandin Cooks, who is an electric playmaker that is a blend of Tavon Austin and Steve Smith. His route running and quick-cut ability are perfect for the coast-to-coast attack in San Francisco. Not to mention, Cooks brings a much-needed element with his downfield speed (4.33 40-time).
Another first-round prospect the 49ers may go hard after is LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., who also has some serious jets.
This is a player that comes off as one of the most complete and pro-ready receivers in the entire draft, and his game is speed-based. Beckham’s game is also grounded on incredible fundamental discipline and spectacular hands. He is always where he needs to be and reels in virtually everything in his catch radius.
These two, Cooks and Beckham, should be near the top of San Francisco’s board.
If the 49ers select players in the early-to-mid rounds, Jarvis Landry (LSU), Martavis Bryant (Clemson), Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss), Davante Adams (Fresno State) and Cody Latimer (Indiana) may be of interest. They are either polished receivers or ones with unique attributes that this team needs.