We've now covered all of the positions on the 49ers roster in the Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward series of posts. Now, I figured I could do a quick recap of each position with a grade as my look back and a final word on my look forward. The 49ers roster in its entirety is a talented one, and it's the reason that they have been favored to win the division more than once recently. It's the reason they are right now on par with the St. Louis Rams in regards to probability of taking the division, despite going through an entire coaching staff change and having no quarterback to speak of. This can only speak volumes for the talent that is currently on the roster.
So let's get to it, and remember that "bottom performer" is hard to quantify for some positions, like those in which backups are applicable but they never, you know, played. Clicking on the position itself takes you to the individual Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward post for that position.
Final Word: It's absolutely true that the 49ers have had lacking production from the quarterback position ever since Jeff Garcia departed back when I still had hope and a reason to be excited about this football team. But, it's also absolutely true that the 49ers have been lacking (outside of one or two people over the years) a good environment for a quarterback to succeed.
The years in which Alex Smith was surrounded with coaches who could maximize his potential were wasted on a roster that lacked talent through and through. He was drafted onto and started for the worst football team in the National Football League, and it was clear. The years in which Alex Smith was surrounded with talent which could potentially maximize his potential were wasted on a coaching staff that lacked vision through and through. Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye see the quarterback as some archaic piece of the puzzle, Alex Smith was but an action figure with a giant button on his back that handed the ball off when pressed like some bizarro world kung-fu grip.
That isn't to say that Alex is just some misunderstood victim of the man's crimes. It isn't to say that Troy Smith is going to go somewhere else with a more stable system and become a beast amongst boys, revered like Paul. No, we've seen enough of the both of them to know that they will never be Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or maybe even Jeff Garcia, but there are definitely question marks and perhaps some potential there in the right system.
Expect San Francisco to draft one or more quarterbacks and expect them to bring in at least one through free agency, be it Alex or someone else. Maybe Alex does deserve another chance, but he sure as [site decorum] doesn't deserve one as the sole option like he was coming into 2010.
After the jump, we delve into the rest of the 49ers roster with a quick summary, grade and expectations for the roster next season ...
Final Word: Frank Gore falling short of another consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season summoned anger from deep within that I hadn't felt since watching Arnaz Battle field punts. Seeing Frank Gore shuffling on crutches summoned depression from deep within that I hadn't felt since watching The Lion King ... earlier that day. Leave me alone, I'm an emotional man. It's a fantastic movie.
I wouldn't say that the offense didn't miss a beat without Gore, but I think Brian Westbrook filled in better than we all expected him to. He won't be back in 2011, which means the team will be looking to add another running back, be it someone like Darren Sproles who is a change of pace and can assist everywhere, or somebody in the draft, which is deep at the position.
Going forward, Frank is once again "the guy," and that doesn't look to change, barring another season-ending injury. He'll be the centerpiece of Greg Roman's 2011 offense, and we'll see more and more of Anthony Dixon as the season progresses. If you are considering the possibilities of trading Frank Gore, stop it. Just stop, you are way off base and it's not at all a possibility, unless trading Frank Gore constitutes "getting another top ten running back who fits the offense better" (not going to happen) or "getting a top ten quarterback," which will not happen either.
Final Word: The position is one of weakness, as evidenced by the starter being the bottom performer. As noted, Norris took more flack than he deserved, but he still was not effective in his role by any stretch of the imagination. The 49ers appeared to be more effective running the ball when they went with a one-man backfield. It's a clear position of need and the 49ers must address it in 2011.
2010 Depth Chart: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Nate Byham
Top Performer: Vernon Davis, 56 REC, 914 YDS, 7 TD
Bottom Performer: Nate Byham 5 REC, 27 YDS
2010 Grade: A+
Final Word: Vernon Davis had a down year, and I still consider him a Pro Bowl snub. I gave the position an A+ because even Nate Byham exceeded expectations coming out of the sixth round, showing better hands than many gave him credit for, while Delanie Walker is the definition of consistency in a backup, and could start on any other team. I'd be surprised if the 49ers looked to add a tight end in any capacity this offseason.
2010 Depth Chart: Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr., Dominique Zeigler, Kyle Williams
Top Performer: Michael Crabtree, 55 REC, 741 YDS 6 TD
Bottom Performer: Ted Ginn Jr., 12 REC 163 YDS, 1 TD
2010 Grade: C+
Final Word: Ginn didn't get the lowest numbers, but he underperformed in proportion to his time actually on the field. Nobody expected much of him as a receiver when he was brought to San Francisco, but nobody expected him to take so many offensive snaps either. Josh Morgan had a very solid year, while Michael Crabtree was very up and down. Going forward, I don't expect the 49ers to add a receiver in the draft unless somebody falls far, but I do expect them to pursue a free agent in some capacity. I also feel as though Michael Crabtree will have a much better year and can perform in a west coast offense.
Final Word: Staley had a rough game, and then elevated his level of play until he went down with an injury. Sims did not play very well in comparison to his time as a backup in 2009, which was a severe disappointment. Anthony Davis made strides and always seemed to be improving, but it's no secret that the right tackle position was the one exploited by pass rushers. The lineup will be the same going forward, and I expect Davis to progress nicely. The biggest question mark is Joe Staley's health, this is the second time he's had major injuries in as many years.
Final Word: Iupati is a beast, and there's not much else to say about the left guard position. He's probably too much better than Rachal on the right side, because the 49ers are almost exclusively rushing to the left side behind Iupati, and teams keyed in on that fact early in the season. Going forward, I don't expect anybody to added, and one of four people on the roster could be starting at right guard. My money is on Rachal.
Final Word: Heitmann was hurt before the season began and I was talking doom and gloom. David Baas came in, and in week one made 49ers fans everywhere softly weep with his awful shotgun snap. Things got much better from then on though. He didn't play at the level that Heitmann did, but he was very solid, and will be battling to keep the starting job next season. He probably will get it. This is the only position on the line that I can see the 49ers drafting in the middle rounds, as neither Heitmann nor Baas are the picture of youth.
Final Word: Justin Smith is one of the best 3-4 ends in the league and never stops going. His 8.5 sacks aren't even necessary for the job he needs to be doing, but he's taken kind of an "well nobody else is going to do it," kind of role in that regard. Evans wasn't bad by any means, but he doesn't inspire much confidence. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula really likes Evans, so I imagine he'll be back. Isaac Sopoaga, the former bane of my existence, was the biggest surprise in 2010. He actually looked good more of then than naught, playing out of his mind at times.
It's a coin toss as to whether or not he's the starter going forward. The 49ers will definitely not pursue a free agent for the position, but if the pieces fall the right (or perhaps wrong) way in the early rounds of the draft, they could be picking up one of the top 3-4 ends in the first, second or third round. Sopoaga's career renaissance or not, I don't expect him to be starting if the 49ers get a guy in the top three rounds.
2010 Depth Chart: Aubrayo Franklin, Ricky Jean Francois, Demetric Evans
Top Performer: Aubrayo Franklin, 39 TAK
Bottom Performer: Aubrayo Franklin
2010 Grade: B+
Final Word: Sure, Ricky Jean Francois took some snaps at nose tackle, but I'm not going to label him the bottom performer because Franklin deserves his fair share of criticism. At the end of 2009, I'd have called Franklin one of the top three, if not the top, nose tackle that year. He did everything you wanted the guy to do, but his offseason workout program clearly was lacking as he held out of training camp and things of that nature while he procrastinated on signing his franchise tag. It showed early on and Franklin got abused for the first few weeks of the season.
He did turn it on though, and became a dominant force near the end of the year. The problem is that he's once again a free agent, and may want to test the open market. The 49ers currently have Jean Francois waiting in the wings, but he may not be ready. The good thing is, there are quite a few nose tackles in the draft in the 2nd-4th rounds that are worth taking a look at. Would prefer if Franklin came back, however.
Final Word: The outside linebackers get a C+ as a group, and because Manny Lawson did very well. He can cover, and he's very fast. Lawson did everything he possibly could, making plays all around the field, but regardless of his increased efforts, he's just not that good of a pass rusher. Or at least, he wasn't under Greg Manusky. As a free agent, I think some team will overpay for his services and we'll see him elsewhere, but it sure would be nice to see him back, next to perhaps, a rookie on the right side drafted in the first or second round. The 49ers definitely need to address the position in some form or another.
Final Word: Willis regressed, and he was still possibly the best linebacker in the league. That's just how he does things. That position is set going forward. Next to him, many thought NaVorro Bowman would be taking over the reigns, but Takeo Spikes had one of the best years of his career. I thought Spikes' year was actually better than Willis, in that he did his job at TED better than anybody else in the league. He was actually what you wanted.
Spikes is a free agent though, but both sides have expressed interest in returning. Spikes wants to finish his career in San Francisco, and I think it's a very good idea. Bowman can play behind him some more and eventually be worked into the lineup. Hopefully not too soon, as Bowman really did not play well when he was inserted into the starting lineup in 2010.
Final Word: Oh boy ... where do we go from here? Nate Clements did not have a bad year by any stretch of the imagination, but he might be the only one. All that was clear was that he needs some help, because Shawntae Spencer seriously regressed after a strong 2009 campaign. It's also probably time to close the book on Tarell Brown, we've been holding out hope that he could be a starting corner, but it's questionable if he can even be a solid nickel consistently. The 49ers absolutely need to draft a cornerback.
Final Word: Dashon Goldson regressed after we all expected him to perform like a top safety. I'd actually say he was worse than Taylor Mays, who was benched in favor of Reggie Smith when it was clear that he wasn't ready to be a starter. Speaking of Smith, he was very consistent. He'll be battling a hopefully-progressing Taylor Mays. Goldson is a free agent, and the 49ers would like to retain his services. If he's not back though, I could see Mays at SS with Smith at FS.
Final Word: Andy Lee is Andy Lee and the team appears to be dedicated to Joe Nedney, despite his injuries. Reed was very solid in relief.
2010 Depth Chart: Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Phillip Adams, Delanie Walker, Josh Morgan
Top Performer: Ted Ginn Jr.
Bottom Performer: Kyle Williams
2010 Grade: B-
Final Word: I think Ted Ginn fell short of his expectations coming into San Francisco, but he was still solid. Then again, so long as you're not fumbling every other punt return, you're welcome in 49erland. Kyle Williams couldn't stay healthy, but he will look to compete in 2011.
Who was the 49ers top performer in 2011?
Vernon Davis (57 votes)
Patrick Willis (263 votes)
Justin Smith (225 votes)
Takeo Spikes (96 votes)
641 total votes