2011 NFL Draft | San Francisco 49ers Team Needs
Needless to say, the 2010 season didn’t go as planned for the San Francisco 49ers.
The popular pick to reclaim the NFC West prior to the beginning of the season, the Niners got off to a horrendous 0-5 start, and were never able to completely rebound, finishing 6-10.
The team wasn’t able to take advantage of what may have been the weakest conference in the history of the NFL, and head coach Mike Singletary was canned after a loss in week 16 to St. Louis.
Alex and Troy Smith were seemingly alternating starts at quarterback as the season went along, and the team lacked any real identity or stability.
However, they hired former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on January 7, and he’s been tabbed as the guy expected to restore glory to one of the league’s most storied franchises.
There’s a nice base of talent with guys like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis, but the team still has many holes to fill.
Biggest Needs: QB, C, WR
While Gore, Davis and Michael Crabtree give the team a decent crop of skill players, the 49ers won’t be truly contending for anything until they address the gaping vacancy at quarterback.
Alex Smith was the first overall pick in 2005, but he’s been given his fair share of chances, and it’s now time to move on. While this draft doesn’t have a true “can’t miss” QB prospect like Andrew Luck would’ve been had he entered the fray, this class does offer some intriguing options.
Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Washington’s Jake Locker, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett have all been rumored to be possible first-round selections. They’re all decent prospects, but the team would likely need to bring in a veteran to assume starting duties until the rookie is ready to contribute.
The team began to revamp their offensive line in last year’s draft, using their two first-round selections on tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati. The line also has a nice piece in left tackle Joe Staley, but they could likely use an upgrade at center.
David Baas and Eric Heitmann are decent, but Baas will be a free agent and Heitmann has battled injury problems in recent years. As one of just two players that touches the ball on every single play, center is an important position, and the 49ers could stand to add some stability there, as well.
Wide receiver isn’t as dire a need as is quarterback, but the current group does lack playmakers. Michael Crabtree, drafted 10th overall in 2009, has struggled a bit to start his career. While some of this can be attributed to poor quarterback play, he also doesn’t have much help on the other side.
Josh Morgan has big-play potential, but isn’t consistent enough to be depended upon as a viable No. 2 NFL receiver.
This draft class is fairly deep for receivers, so it would be possible for San Francisco to upgrade at the position with one of their mid- to late-round selections.
Biggest Needs: DT, CB, OLB
The 49ers were eighth in the league in terms of stopping the run, but former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin will be a free agent. The 49ers will likely stick with a 3-4 scheme under Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, but, other than Franklin, the 49ers don’t have many players suited to line up as a nose tackle.
So, the easiest way to upgrade will be through the draft. Some prospects to watch will be Baylor’s Phil Taylor, Temple’s Muhammed Wilkerson, Mississippi’s Jerrell Powe, and USC’s Jurrell Casey.
Outside linebackers are also needed. Patrick Willis may be the league’s best middle linebacker, but San Francisco needs to generate a better pass rush coming off the edge. Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy will be free agents, and Parys Haralson is absolutely awful in pass coverage.
Fortunately, this draft class is teeming with pass rushing outside linebackers. Texas A&M’s Von Miller‘s stock has been skyrocketing, and he seems likely to be selected in the top 15. Georgia’s Justin Houston, Missouri’s Aldon Smith and Pitt’s Jabaal Sheard are also very solid prospects.
The team could also stand to upgrade at cornerback. Nate Clements signed an $80M deal a few years back, and, at 31, he’s still an above-average starting NFL corner.
The problem is Shawntae Spencer on the other side. He had a good 2009 season, but his production dipped severely in 2010. He may be able to rebound, but the 49ers struggled massively in pass coverage last season.
If a good upgrade is available, the 49ers will likely be interested.