Today marks Vernon Davis's 30th birthday. Even though it seems like Davis has been with the 49ers forever, I think we also view football players in a certain youthful prism. I was doing some research on Donte Whitner, and only recently realized he is only 28 years old. He turns 29 at the start of 2014 training camp, but he always seemed like an older guy. It's something a bout the leadership he brings, I suppose.
As the 49ers head into this offseason, this year's draft is incredibly important. The draft is always important, but the 49ers need to make sure they are hitting on more than just a guy here or a guy there. The 2013 draft is still a bit incomplete, but even that is better than what we saw in 2012. The 49ers struck out with most of that draft, with Joe Looney (reserve lineman) and LaMichael James (kick/punt returner) as the only contributors of any note.
I mention this because the 49ers team is not quite as young as we might like to think. Chase Stuart put together a breakdown of team age (thanks to NEBravesFan33 for pointing it out), in a way that goes beyond just running through the 53-man roster. Chase used "Approximate Value" numbers from Pro Football Reference to break down the average age of each team adjusted to reflect the value players provide to the team. Justin Smith is going to be more important than Tony Jerod-Eddie. Anquan Boldin had more value than Quinton Patton. The list goes on and on, but the general idea was assessing it based on ages as of September 1, 2013.
While the 49ers window is not yet closed, any extension of the window is going to require hitting on more than just a couple draft picks in 2014. The 49ers rank second to last in terms of AV-adjusted average age. There are only 2.8 years between them and the No. 1-ranked Rams (25.5), but in a league where average careers are relatively short, 2.8 years might as well be a lifetime. Here's his breakdown of the 49ers:
Outside of Kaepernick, the four most important players on offense in 2013 were Anquan Boldin (32.9), Joe Staley (29.0), Frank Gore (30.3), andVernon Davis (29.6). In theory, Michael Crabtree (26.0) and Marcus Lattimore could keep the gravy train rolling at wide receiver and running back, but (1) the 49ers still need a second receiver (and Boldin is a free agent) and (2) Lattimore is no sure thing to carry Gore's torch. Spending high draft picks on A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James have hurt, and that track record doesn't exactly inspire much hope in Vance McDonald replacing Davis down the line, either.
On defense, Justin Smith (33.9), Ahmad Brooks (29.5), Patrick Willis (28.6), Carlos Rogers (32.2) and Ray McDonald (28.9) contribute to the one of the five oldest defenses in the league. And while age isn't an issue for NaVorro Bowman (25.4), his 2014 prognosis is cloudy after suffering a devastating knee injury in the NFC title game. Against that backdrop, hitting on multiple picks out of the 2013 class of Eric Reid, Cornellius Carradine, Corey Lemonier and Quinton Dial is a key to keeping the defense among the elite in the NFL.
The 49ers average age could benefit soon from guys like Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore, but neither is a sure thing. We have our hopes, but until they get out on the field, we are left to wait and wonder. The 49ers are in prime position to replenish their depth in 2014, holding 12 draft picks (via trades and a potential compensatory pick). They will likely maneuver around and acquire some 2015 picks, but there will be a sizable haul of players this year. The 49ers need to hit big on this one to extend that window beyond just the next couple seasons.
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