Four games into the season we're sitting at 3-1 with a two game lead in the NFC West. However, this team does have some glaring weaknesses that have been detrimental to the development of our team under the new coaching staff. First we'll take a look at some influencing factors and then start finding some guys that can add talent to our roster at positions of need.
Six games will be divisional matchups with the NFC West, four games against the AFC East, four games against the NFC
South North, and two games against the division winners of the NFC East and North South. Next years non-division schedule could very well be NE, BUF, MIA, NYJ, MIN, DET, GB, CHI, DAL, and NO. That is quite a gauntlet to run -- and the biggest consolation will be that Arizona, St. Louis, and Seattle will have to run it as well with the exception of the two division winners.
EDIT: Thanks to sanfranmdk for pointing out the error here. We played the NFC South last year which means next year we would play the NFC North and division winners of the NFC South and East.
In this 49ers mock I'm predicting the Niners to win the NFC West and secure a first round home playoff game. Right now we have a two game lead in the West and the second highest probability to make the playoffs in the NFC. That says more about the strength of our division than anything else. With that projected finish we should be selecting somewhere between selection 21 and 32 in each individual round barring picks acquired or given in trade and compensatory selections.
This year was an oddity in that free agency occurred after the draft. Next year should be a return to normalcy with free agency taking place well before the draft. It's a bit too early to project what players will be available around the league but it does look like we have a decent amount of work to do retaining our own guys. I'll be assuming that we do so in this mock.
Quarter Season Team Needs
For the past several years pass protection has been the bane of this offense. We've invested heavily in the offensive line in past drafts but pass protection is still a major issue hindering what we can do offensively.
Our run defense seems to be as stout as ever but the secondary still needs an infusion of talent. Whitner was a great pickup and Rogers has been lights out, but both are veterans on the backside of their careers and Rogers is only on a one-year deal. We're still waiting to see if Goldson will return to 2009 form, Williams has not impressed, and our second corner and depth are huge question marks. We'll know more as the season progresses how Spencer fares when he gets up to speed and how Culliver progresses, but cornerback could still be a huge need in the off-season.
This early in the season I'll only be looking at the first several rounds to address major team needs.
While I hate to go back to the tackle position in the first round, there isn't much choice. Joe Staley hasn't shown why he deserved his big extension and the majority of his costs are already sunk. Anthony Davis isn't progressing and is showing the same lateral agility and lack of foot quickness issues that have plagued his game at all levels.
The pick here has to be Riley Reiff (Iowa) if he falls or Levy Adcock (OSU) if he doesn't.
Cornerback was a serious issue heading into the last draft but we didn't address the position until round 3 with the selection of Chris Culliver. We've seen promise from him but his development will take some time. In the meantime Carlos Rogers is playing great but we've seen inconsistent play from whichever corner we put across from him, and Rogers is 30 years old and only on a one-year deal.
The pick here is Chase Minnifield (UVA) or Stephen Gilmore (SC).
We had quite a logjam at safety with last years draft and the free agent signings but it looks like we will be in the same boat next year. Colin Jones looks to be a special teams guy, Spillman doesn't look like he will ever be a starter, Maddy Williams has been a less than impressive pickup, Dashon Goldson might still want to be paid far more than his play calls for, and Reggie Smith has been terribly inconsistent.
In the third round we add Eddie Whitley (VT). He's a 2 year starter at free safety that has also played every position in the secondary. And you always know what you get when you draft a safety from Frank Beamer's system -- smart, aggressive, ball players that are always around the football.