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49ers top 5 positional concerns in 2016

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The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of questions heading into the 2016 season. Time to start sorting through the most pressing.

The San Francisco 49ers are one week into OTAs, and while there are some reasons for optimism after shorts and helmet workouts, expectations from the national media and gambling folks are pretty low. The team has changed coaching staffs for the second straight season, they did not add much in free agency, and they are still working their way back from 2015 attrition.

There will be plenty of time for optimism, but this morning I thought we'd look at the top positional concerns. I've put together a list of five that I view as the most notable. I'm confident there will be agreement on some and disagreement on others, but here's a handful to get us started.


I suppose we could have gone with the top five minus the QB position, but this is a big one. The rest of these are in no specific order, but I think this is the most important concern. The 49ers have two options in Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick. Gabbert is getting the primary on-field work while Kap continues to rehab his shoulder injury. Kaepernick is running through plays, but now actually throwing the ball outside of his rehab work. And of course, we do recall that Kap asked to be traded earlier this year.

Someone is going to win this job, but how effective will they be? Kaepernick is the most physically gifted quarterback Kelly has worked with in the NFL. And while Gabbert did very little before getting a starting opportunity last fall, I would contend he has more tools than a lot of the previous Kelly quarterbacks. I don't know that he is better than them necessarily, but he brings more athleticism than Nick Foles or Sam Bradford. Both Gabbert and Kaepernick bring some interesting tools to the table, but both have major questions heading into 2016.

Outside Linebackers

There are a lot of intriguing options in the group, but a whole lot of questions. Aaron Lynch and Ahmad Brooks each had 6.5 sacks last season to lead the team. Eli Harold and Corey Lemonier had none. And now Tank Carradine is transitioning into more of an edge rusher role.

Plenty of what to expect from this group is going to be connected to how the defensive line develops. The addition of DeForest Buckner could be a significant boost to the pass rush. But we need to see more from this group on a consistent basis. Lynch is the guy who could take a big step forward, but the 49ers need significant improvement from guys like Harold and Tank.

Offensive Line

I thought about breaking it down into just right side of the line, or just guard, but there are enough random concerns to go with the more general "offensive line" designation. The team likely has two new starting guards in Zane Beadles and Joshua Garnett. They also could be going with either Trenton Brown or Erik Pears at right tackle.

Beadles seems better suited for the 49ers zone-blocking scheme, but his struggles in Jacksonville will remain on our radar. And considering he was the only starting player the 49ers signed this offseason, he might be even more under the microscope. On the other side, the 49ers moved up into the first round to draft Garnett. He can't join the team until June, when his final exams are complete. That is not ideal as the line looks to get on the same page.

At right tackle, Pears is getting the first team snaps for now, while Brown is on the second team. Reports out of OTAs suggest conditioning issues for Brown on the first day. This is a faster offense, but conditioning was an issue for him in college. There are concerns there, and if Pears ends up starting, it's not exactly the most inspiring of decisions.

Wide Receivers

There are a whole lot of questions among the pass catchers. Torrey Smith is the only established veteran in the group. There is plenty of potential among the receivers, but it is hard to say with confidence that X, Y, or Z is going to happen. I think the upside is actually pretty high for some of these guys, but the floor is also fairly considerable at this point.

I think DeAndre Smelter and Eric Rogers both could emerge as potent receivers, but I sure as heck can't say that with certainty. The 49ers have struggled to get significant production out of their ACL All Stars. And while Rogers did a lot in the CFL last year, it remains a lower level of football.

As for Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington? They'll get opportunities, and I think Ellington could be used in some unique ways, but neither has done a whole lot of much to make us think, yep, this is the year. And so, it all remains a concern.


I was leaning toward tight end with the fifth option, but I figure cornerback could prove to be a slightly more important position. As with some of these other groups, there is talent here, but plenty of question marks. Last year saw Tramaine Brock starting at one cornerback spot, and then Kenneth Acker eventually replaced by Dontae Johnson on the other side. The team added Will Redmond and Rashard Robinson this offseason, and Jimmie Ward is getting cornerback work in OTAs.

This group reminds me of the wide receivers a little bit, although I think there is more talent in the secondary. A lot of this is a matter of how the entire depth chart shakes out. This first week of OTAs had Brock and Ward starting, and then Johnson coming on in the nickel package (with Ward moving inside to the slot). That is an intriguing unit, but I have no idea if the 49ers will settle on this group in August, or if we'll see significant shifting. And giving the amount of time the 49ers defense is likely to spend on the field, there will need to be some significant depth at the position.

So what do you think? Did I drastically miss on a position? How would you order them if you were ranking out the top five?