After a narrow defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers are looking to re-tool for a second consecutive trip to the big game and a 3rd consecutive trip to the NFC Championship Game.
In an off season that saw the Niners only lose a few key contributors, the 49ers might have the most complete roster in the NFL. With the most picks of any team in the NFL, the 49ers are in an ideal situation to replace Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean Francois and Delanie Walker, the key free agents who left for more money. They also have a chance to use their 12 draft picks to improve depth at key positions and ideally to stockpile more picks for 2014 and 2015 when some key players become free agents.
I am not a scout, by any means. I’ve watched nearly every Niner game for the past 20 years, and keep an eye on the college game, but I don’t study the players enough to tell you who I think the 49ers should draft. I do have a fair amount of second hand knowledge on key players in the 2013 NFL Draft thanks to the millions of mock drafts posted over the past few weeks as well as my twitter followers being a majority NFL writers, bloggers and scouts. However, I do know the areas where the 49ers need the most help.
The 49ers gave up way too many big plays last year, especially during the playoffs and last few games of the regular season. The safeties were mostly to blame (although the lack of pass rush could also shoulder some of that blame). Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner probably formed one of the best safety tandems in the league, but they are known more for their sure tacking in the run game and big hitting than their pass coverage. Goldson signed with the Bucaneers for over $8 million per year, which means the Niners have a hole to fill. They did sign Craig Dahl from the Rams, but I don’t know enough about him to know if he is the answer. According to a few scouts and twitter followers, he isn’t. Safety is one of the deepest positions in the draft, so I expect the Niners to take one late in the first round or some time in the second round.
It’s common knowledge that the 49ers defense took a huge hit when Justin Smith went down with an injury against the Patriots. He is the cog that makes this well oiled unit run. He’s approaching 34 years old and plays an incredible amount of plays each year, so it is time to think about a replacement. The 49ers also need to find a nose tackle to replace Sopoaga who can provide some pass rush, and some additional depth wouldn’t be a bad thing. I feel as if coach Tomsula ran the D-line into the ground last year and it was the root of our defensive struggles. I expect one of our first 3 picks to be on the Defensive line as well as a pick or two in the later rounds.
Replacing Delanie Walker is an interesting proposition. On one hand, he is one of the most versatile tight ends in the league and was a key player on our punt and kick off coverage teams. On the other hand, he drops way too many passes. If I remember correctly, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Delanie Walker dropped 30% of all passes that targeted him, tops in the league. The Niners need a tight end who can replace Walker’s blocking skills, which are instrumental to the numerous sets and run plays our offense thrives on, while providing an upgrade in the passing game. I personally don’t think we should spend a first round pick on a TE, but finding one in the middle rounds would be great.
I’m a huge fan of both Terrel Brown and Chris Culliver. I think they are up and coming corners in this league. I think Carlos Rogers is a solid slot corner and I’m really not sure what to expect from Nnamdi Asomugha. I even like Parish Cox as a 5th corner. But all of these corners deals are coming up soon, plus, you can never have too many solid cover corners in this league. It would be great to add a contributor to this group.
Last, I think the 49ers should trade a few of these picks for future picks. In most cases you can trade a 5th round pick in this year’s draft for a 4th round pick next year. With few roster holes to fill, I’m sure the 49ers will be active in the trade market during the draft tomorrow, Friday and Saturday.