Author's Note: I am taking a break this week in doing the team previews by conference due to a few time constraints. However, the weekly series will return next weekend.
One thing we know about sports, is that no matter how predictable things seem in certain instances, the unpredictable can still happen.
On the other hand, sometimes making an educated guess due to circumstance can be beneficial. So in moving forward with Jim Harbaugh's program, there's a numerous amount of things to consider in how to select veteran free-agents, and most importantly the rookies through the draft that help mold your team. The more successful teams rarely build through free agency. Although this is the norm now, if a rookie wage scale is put in place, we could see team making larger splurges in free agency. But it still does not take away the importance of the draft.
After the jump, I will be doing a breakdown of positions and players that may be this year, and potentially next year on the fringe. The lockout still being in place could totally change matters this year but I think it is still relevant and important to take a brief look in to the future after this year. Particularly because not many folks expect a Superbowl run from Jim Harbaugh in year one. Year two could be a different story pending the outcome and results of this year.
RUNNING BACK POSITION
Frank Gore is not what we would label as durable. And to his defense, not many running backs are these days. Frank Gore, despite the 49ers lack of winning while he has been there, has been one of the most prolific running backs in franchise history. Similar to Barry Sanders, Gore has not had a steady or solid offensive line to assist in what he does best, unfortunately.
Gore is beyond the average length of a NFL running backs career. While he still seems to be an asset, his days are numbered and so should his carries be.
Many 49ers fanatics believe that out of Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter, that one of the two will emerge and take over eventually for the oft injured Frank Gore. While it remains possible that either of them may, it would still be wise to be out there looking for the next Jim Brown, Walter Payton, or Adrian Peterson.
With that said, here is a short watch list of players that will be draft eligible in 2012: LaMichael James (Oregon), Chris Polk (Washington), Cyrus Gray (Texas A&M), Doug Martin (Boise State), Knile Davis (Arkansas).
It's difficult to say what will happen with the offensive tackle position within the next two years. But almost certainly expect to see change there whether it be Anthony Davis or Joe Staley moving along. Staley has thoughout his career been a decent option but he gets beat. You could say that for every tackle in the league but Staley more so than the elites. Anthony Davis is well below that even. As he should be. He is barely going to be 22 years-old heading in to his second year and began to show signs of progress but if he wants live up to first-round potential it is going to take mounds and mounds of consistency. He may or may not pan out but I believe Harbaugh will be a less tolerant coach and expect excellence from all players at all positions.
The guard position could quite potentially be less of a concern moving forward. Iupati should be able to make multiple Pro Bowls if he keeps progressing at the rate he has. Then there is the right guard position that Chilo Rachal, David Baas, Adam Snyder, and a slew of other should be able to fill. So that area may not be too much of a need moving forward.
The center position is the most valuable position outside of the left tackle protecting the blind spot. The center is responsible for quite a lot in making audibles and such. Good offensive lines always possess a stellar center. David Baas toward the end of the year began showing a bit of progress there. But a bit of progress to some may not be enough. Baas may just be better suited to always play at guard. And play at guard at a high level.
Top three centers for the 2012 49ers: Ben Jones (Georgia), Quinton Saulsberry (Mississippi State), Peter Konz (Wisconsin).
This could possibly not be that big of an issue moving ahead. Aldon Smith could quite possibly come in and dominate immediately. Then again, it could take a little while for him to get his techniques mastered and adjust to the speed of the NFL. Between Travis LaBoy, Ahmad Brooks, Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson, somebody will stay and somebody will be very effective under Fangio's new scheme.
But none the less, if there is a cannot miss prospect that falls in to the lap of the 49ers franchise, as they say, you can never have too much of a good thing. Particularly when it comes to a pass rush.
This position is such a mystery with the 49ers. Will Dashon Goldson be gone to free agency? Will he stay? If so, will he start? What will Taylor Mays' progress be? Will he amount to what the front office expected him to? What is Reggie Smith's role? Is he finally ready for a breakout season? This position could quite very well be a critical need in 2012. Let's hope not but anything is a reality at this point in regards to the defensive backs back two.
Here are the top candidates for the 49ers in 2012: Trenton Robinson (Michigan - Free Safety), T.J. McDonald (USC - Free Safety), Robert Lester (Alabama - Free Safety), Markelle Martin (Oklahoma State - Strong Safety), DeVonte Holloman (South Carolina - Strong Safety).
3-4 DEFENSIVE END
He is that last person I want to see retire, but lets start accepting it now so it won't be so hard later to let go of Justin Smith. 'Cowboy' is getting up there in age, although he looks like he is 26 years-old on given plays still. But the harsh reality of it is that he only has a bit of NOS left. He may get through this season but after that there is no telling if he will retire, go another season, or what. It's possible that heading in to 2012 he may be just a situational player.
It is still up in the air as to who will be on the left side and who will be in the middle. Speculation from the local beat writers has it rumored that Ray McDonald could very well be the left defensive end and Sopoaga as the starting nose tackle should Aubrayo Franklin leave in free agency. If that is the case, I would say it's a possibility that it would not hurt to look at this position in the near future. Ricky Jean-Francois is a wildcard in the conversation.
As mentioned above, Isaac Sopoaga is rumored to be a possibility as the starting nose tackle. As things stand, Aubrayo Franklin would be the guy. But he could be on the way out the door if he gets an appealing offer; one too good to refuse. Either way, the 49ers may need to be drafting for the future here. It takes a very solid nose tackle in a 3-4 defense for everyone to be successful. Sopoaga is great at pushing guys around and manuevering for position which is great for a nose tacke to be able to do. So we will see how it works out if it materializes.
Summary: All in all, it could be quite premature to begin looking at prospects. However, I it is of my opinion that it is never too late to start educating yourself about the amateurs. The more you know moving forward, the easier it is to provide good insight when the time comes. Each of the college kids above have an insurmountable amount of potential. All of them could quite potentially be Hall of Famers one day.