Read on after the jump to find my roster projections for our 2011 season. But first, my $0.2 on what the heck Baalke was thinking with this draft. It seems to me that he was playing at being a Patriot. In other words, he picked guys that would fit OUR system. They may not have what it takes to be succesful on other teams, but they are perfect for what we are doing. This is actually a brilliant idea because it negates college production. It's more about finding guys with the specific skill sets that we want and the mental make-up to be the best they can be, and then using them in ways that maximize what they do best and hide what they don't do so well. If this theory is proven to be correct and it actually works, then serious props to Baalke,
Alex Smith (Starter)
This one is pretty simple. Harbaugh likes Alex and Alex has the experience factor. Harbs isn't going to court Alex for so long just to give up on him without seeing him in a real game. That being said, I hope Kaepernick becomes starting material very soon.
Michael Crabtree (Starter)
Ted Ginn (cut)
This is where things start getting complicated. I think it's safe to say that Crabtree starts day one, if for no other reason than his high draft status. However, who starts opposite him seems to be a more complicated question.
Josh Morgan has been fairly solid, but he tends to disappear during games and he drops some balls he shouldn't. Add to this the fact that he is a long strider in an offense that is more about fast, shifty wide receivers and Morgan could be on pretty shaky ground. Harbaugh loves using his tight ends as receivers, especially on play action. Also, Ronald Johnson said that the Niners drafted him as a stretch the field type of guy. That tells me that Morgan and Ginn should be worried.
Ziegler would seem to be a perfect fit in this offense. He runs picture perfect routes, has great hands, and provides a nice mismatch with his height. However, he isn't very durable and would seem to be too weak to be effective as a blocker.
Kyle Williams looks to be starter material. He is fast, shifty, has great hands, good body positioning, and he gets open. He and Crabtree could provide a deadly duo in the short-intermediate passing game. With Vernon or another TE to go deep on play action, having two fast, sure-handed WRs would seem to be ideal. Williams, Crabtree and Johnson all seem to be in roughly the same mold, so that should be an interesting battle in training camp. However, the fact that we have 3 of this type of WR tells me that this is what Harbaugh wants out of that position.
Ronald Johnson looks like he catches the ball with his body a lot. With Kaepernick's huge arm and Alex Smith's fascination with making easy throws hard to catch, Johnson will need to work on snagging balls out of the air with his hands. Other than that, lump him into the above paragraph on quick, shifty WRs.
As far as Ted Ginn goes, I think he will be cut. He is good on returns, but he doesn't offer anything in the passing game. We just drafted several guys that are very good at returns, can play gunner on coverage units, AND possibly fill in on offense or defense. That makes Ginn expendable.
Frank Gore is our undisputed number 1 running back. There will be some extra snaps here and there in games though, so the question becomes who gets them? Personally, my money is on Kendall Hunter. Hunter is a change of pace back that can really make a big difference in games. I love Dixon to death, but I don't think he gets many carries and I will tell you why in just a moment.
Moran Norris (PLEASE cut!)
Ok, so if you haven't been following things closely this off-season you're probably wondering why the heck I've listed Dixon as a fullback. The answer is actually very simple. Dixon said that Harbaugh told him he'd be doing "some fullback stuff" this season. When you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Dixon is a very big back; big enough to play fullback. He seems to be pretty good at blocking, as evidenced by the fact that he made the 53 man roster. As we all know, Rathman is extremely picky about the pass-protection ability of his running backs. Very talented runners like Thomas Clayton and Kory Sheets failed to make the roster because they couldn't pass protect. Anthony Dixon looked good in pass protection and made the roster.
How will he be used by Harbaugh? Here is where Coach starts looking like a genius. It's a fact that Gore doesn't want to come off the field. Yet Dixon is a very talented player that can really help the Niners out. So how do you get him on the field without taking Gore out? Simple: you put him at fullback. There is a lot more to this though. Having Dixon and Gore on the field at the same time gives you a lot more options that can drive a defense crazy. Handing the ball off or throwing it to the fullback becomes a weapon when your fullback is Anthony Dixon. Defenses already have to account for Crabtree, Gore, Walker, WR No 2, and Vernon Davis. So let's just a run a sample play. You're the defense, and you've got those guys covered. Yet suddenly you realize that you've forgotten about the fullback. Dixon is all alone in the flat with all the DBs 10-20 yards down the field covering the pass. QB throws Dixon the ball and suddenly you've got to catch and bring down a 240 pound freight train who has a huge head of steam and can also juke you out of your socks with his shifty feet, hurdle you with his great athleticism, or shove your grill into the dirt with his nasty stiff-arm. Can I just say this loud and clear? If Dixon can master the blocking element of being a fullback, defensive coordinators are going to be having nightmares about him. Harbaugh is looking like a genius with this idea.
I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say about the offensive line. I'd like to see Rachal beaten out for the starting job just because he is so inconsistent, but if he happens to step it up and become a solid player than I'm ok with that. I don't really expect Heitman back just because he's old and and seemingly becoming injury prone. Before his injuries I think he was much better than Baas at calling out protections and recognizing what the defense was going to do. At this point though, I think it's better to cut him and hold onto a promising young guy like Boone or Kilgore.
Speaking of Boone, I really hope the new coaching staff can find a way to use him. There was a time when he was projected as high as a first round pick, but he ended up going undrafted because of his problems with alcohol and after he got so drunk that he had to be tazed twice. Upon joining the Niners, he became determined to beat his alcohol problems. As much as I disliked Singletary's inept coaching, I loved how he handle Alex Boone. According to Boone Singletary pulled him into his office, looked him in the eyes and said "Son, I'm going to break you like a wild horse." Boone proceeded to spend his summer at the team hotel under team supervision in order to stay clear of alcohol. He beat his demons, but still showed up to camp out of shape. He didn't make much an impact his rookie year. However, he loved football so much, and he had such a desire to be on that field, that he worked his butt off all off-season to try and win a roster spot. Last year he showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, looked good in camp and pre-season, and if I remember correctly he stuck on the 53 man roster all year, even though he was inactive. He seems to have gone above and beyond that potential that had him rated as a first round pick, yet he is still sitting on the bench. To me, that just isn't right. I'd love it if he could beat out Staley for the left tackle job, but I really don't see that happening. Maybe the new coaching staff could convert him into a nasty guard like Iuapati and he could beat out Rachal. I would LOVE for that to happen.
I will post a part 2 talking about the defense soon. Please discuss all of this in the comments!