With just a little over a month until the NFL Draft (set to take place on April 26-28th), general manager Trent Baalke and the 49ers front office have done an admirable job replenishing the roster during free agency.
During the playoffs last season, the 49ers' paper-thin depth at the wide receiver position quickly became exposed. While Alex Smith received plenty of production from tight end Vernon Davis
, the receiving corps - consisting of Michael Crabtree
, Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn, and Brett Swain - contributed little to no help at all. Once the season ended, Joshua Morgan, who was productive early on before fracturing his ankle and being placed on injured reserve, signed with his hometown team Washington Redskins
instead of returning to San Francisco.
To offset the loss of Morgan and in hopes of rejuvenating the receiving corps, the 49ers acquired Randy Moss
, who spent the entirety of the 2011-12 season "retired", and Mario Manningham
, former New York Giant and hero of Super Bowl XLVI. Additionally, the team was able to resign Ted Ginn to a 1-year contract. While Ginn didn't provide much help in the passing game, he put up prolific numbers in the return game and is expected to reprise his role as a returner next season.
After a drama-filled week in which the 49ers publicly courted (and ultimately failed to acquire) future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning
, the team eventually agreed to terms with Alex Smith on a 3-year contract. And presumably in an effort to bolster offseason competition, the team also added former Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Josh Johnson
, who played under Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. Given Johnson's familiarity with Harbaugh's offensive system, it's safe to say that third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien
will either be released or relegated to the practice squad.
Most importantly and impressively
, the front office was able to keep the entirety of the 49ers' record-breaking defensive unit intact. Approaching free agency, the 49ers were expected to lose at least two major contributors, but managed to resign or extend every pending free agent who started on defense last year. Carlos Rogers
, who received Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his career last season, signed a 3-year extension. Ahmad Brooks
, who is expected to start opposite of second-year linebacker Aldon Smith
, signed a 6-year extension. And free safety Dashon Goldson
received the franchise tag, which almost guarantees he'll be on the 49ers roster this season unless another team surrenders two 1st round draft picks for his services.
With arguably no glaring weaknesses, the 49ers are in the enviable position of being able to select the "best player available" (or "BPA") in the draft. The team holds the 30th overall selection in the 1st round, and I anticipate them going in one of three directions:
- GUARD - The team lost starting right guard Adam Snyder to the division rival Arizona Cardinals. After Snyder supplanted Chilo Rachal early in the season, the offensive line performance improved considerably (or in Joe Staley terms, they didn't "suck"). While Snyder was a serviceable and versatile offensive lineman, the team ultimately let him walk, so they obviously feel comfortable finding his replacement in the draft. It would take a miracle for Stanford guard David DeCastro to fall into the 49ers' lap in the 1st round - in which case, I guarantee they'll be sprinting up to the podium in record time - but this is very, very unlikely. If San Francisco goes with an offensive lineman, expect either center Peter Konz or guard Kevin Zeitler, both Wisconsin Badgers.
- WIDE RECEIVER - At first glance, the 49ers' revamped receiving corps might seem a little crowded, but there are a few things to consider. Although he will most likely be heading to Canton someday, Randy Moss is considered a project. Moss is infamous for lazily taking plays off (Hell, he practically disappeared during his entire stint with the Oakland Raiders), he's 35 years old, and he was out of the league last season in temporary retirement. Fortunately, Moss' 1-year contract is structured in a way that he is essentially paid for suiting up game by game. There is no guaranteed money in the contract whatsoever. At any point before the start of the regular season, if the 49ers feel he isn't worth it, they can cut him at no penalty. And although Michael Crabtree has shown flashes of great potential, he's becoming more and more expensive to keep on the roster with every passing year from his rookie contract. The team may have to either restructure his contract or let him go if they don't think he's worth the price. If the 49ers want a receiver in the 1st round, look for Baylor's Kendall Wright or Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill.
- TIGHT END - The only tight end the 49ers would consider taking at #30 is Coby Fleener, who was one of Andrew Luck's favorite targets at Stanford - both former pupils of Jim Harbaugh. You could argue that, in Harbaugh's offense, tight ends are every bit as important as wide receivers. Last season, the 49ers loved deploying double tight end sets and never went with more than three receivers at any point. Despite Vernon Davis being the featured tight end in the offense, Delanie Walker performed very well as the second tight end. And therein lies the problem. Walker will most likely be looking for a big payday once he's a free agent next year, and I don't expect the 49ers to be the ones writing the check. With an impressive performance at Stanford's pro day workout, Fleener is probably rising on a lot of draft boards, but if he's there at #30, the 49ers are going to take a long hard look and rightfully so. They'd be getting a replacement for Walker and someone who's already familiar with Harbaugh's offense. Plug him right in, and the offense wouldn't miss a beat.
Whatever Trent Baalke and company decide to do, we won't find out until April 26th-28th. For now, the 49ers have a pick in each of the seven rounds of the NFL draft. That means the 49ers squad that is largely the same from last year - the same squad that came within one game of the Super Bowl - will be getting that much more talented.
Follow Anthony Ly on Twitter: @TheBellamores
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