Yesterday afternoon Matt Maiocco put together his thoughts on the ranking of the 49ers offseason needs as we head towards the "potential" 2011 NFL season. Things are pretty quiet in the NFL right now (for better or worse), so I thought it was worth taking a look at his list and opening the floor for discussion. I'm listing the needs, but head over to MM's article to get his more detailed thoughts on the positions.
2a. Outside Linebacker
None of these positions is surprising to see, although I know some folks would argue against outside linebacker being so high. While I could see value in a high impact pass rushing OLB, I think I'm still stuck on some of the 49ers talent. Ahmad Brooks still comes across as incredibly raw, while Parys Haralson just seems wildly inconsistent. Travis LaBoy brought a lot of heat, but his injury issues continued to crop up in 2011.
However, Manny Lawson remains a guy I like. He's struggled at times in the pass rush, but I continue to ask myself how much of that comes from scheming. He's an incredibly athletic guy in coverage and I still wonder if that athleticism can translate over to the pass rush in a proper scheme. Maybe I'm completely wrong on this issue, but I continue to think an improved blitzing scheme from Vic Fangio could be a difference-maker for Lawson. For those who disagree and think Lawson will never be solid in pass rush, I'd like to know what about him leads you to that conclusion. What physical or mental tools is he missing because if all the tools are there, then wouldn't it be a scheme issue?
MM makes a good point about potentially needing to use the draft to pick up some backups if free agency doesn't happen. This is just one more possible hiccup caused by the NFL's labor strife. The 49ers would seem likely to grab a quarterback and cornerback (and even outside linebacker) no matter what happens with a possible lockout. However, if free agency is delayed beyond the draft does the team need to invest particularly high on the defensive line or at center? The team has Eric Heitman coming back in 2011, and Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sopoaga have both played some nose tackle. Would you spend a particularly high pick on either position if free agency hasn't begun by late April?