Couldn't agree more. Berman is one of the top 10 (wait...let's double check ESPN's roster...), top 5 talents ESPN has. In fact, I propose a White House petition to bring back, back, back, back, back the Berman/Jackson NFL Primetime.
QB Damon Huard, WR Brandon Jones, DE Demetric Evans, DE/OLB Marques Harris, CB Eric Green, CB Dre Bly.
WR Michael Crabtree, RB Glen Coffee, ILB Scott McKillop, QB Nate Davis, TE Bear Pascoe, FS Curtis Taylor, DE/DT Ricky Jean-Francois.
QB Just Turnovers O'Sullivan, RB DeShaun Foster, RB Thomas Clayton, FB Zak Keasey, FB David Kirtman, WR Bryant Johnson, TE Billy Bajema, OT Jonas Jennings, OT Damane Duckett, NT Ronald Fields, DE/OLB Roderick Green, DE/OLB Tully Banta-Cain, ILB Brandon Moore, CB Donald Strickland, S Keith Lewis, S Jimmy Williams.
2009 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
The 49ers had two separate offensive entities during the 2008 campaign. The first unit, controlled by the frivolous and mentally unstable Mike Martz, matched his personality - completely careless and oblivious to detail. Just Turnovers O'Sullivan was the quarterback during the first half of the season, and in just eight starts, he threw 11 interceptions and lost 11 fumbles. In O'Sullivan's eight starts, San Francisco was 2-6, well on its way to match the 4-12 record I predicted for them.
However, once Mike Nolan was fired and Martz was forced to succumb to Mike Singletary, everything improved. The 49ers were suddenly a capable, error-free team. Under Shaun Hill, San Francisco was 5-3, losing only at Arizona, Dallas and Miami. Hill was much more responsible with the football than O'Sullivan was; in his eight starts, Hill had just 10 turnovers, and still was able to complete 62.8 percent of his passes and maintain a 7.1 YPA.
Alex Smith is apparently pushing Hill in minicamp, prompting general manager Scot McCloughan to tell the media that he believes that Smith could become the best quarterback of all time. I really hope McCloughan doesn't force Singletary's hand; Hill may not be aesthetically impressive, but he's the best quarterback on the roster by a mile. With his tiny hands, Smith will only replicate O'Sullivan's poor habits. Hill, on the other hand, can lead the 49ers into the playoffs, though his arm strength will be a major liability once he gets there.
Assuming he's the starter, Hill has tons of talent to work with. The most obvious is Michael Crabtree, though the talented rookie wideout is going to have some trouble transitioning out of Texas Tech's gimmick offense and learning how to run pro routes. My favorite receiver on the 49ers, meanwhile, is the second-year Josh Morgan. Morgan is really talented and was a fantasy sleeper of mine last season until he suffered a staph infection. Now completely healthy, Morgan has been the star at minicamp, prompting Singletary to move him over to the flanker position across from Crabtree. Newly signed Brandon Jones will battle for the slot job.
Perhaps the most intriguing player on San Francisco's offense is Vernon Davis. The physically gifted tight end has been a huge disappointment since being selected sixth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. However, it seems as though Singletary has gotten through to Davis and will be using him as a focal point on offense. Davis caught just 31 passes for 358 yards in 2008 after registering 52 receptions and 509 yards in 2007.
The offense, of course, should be centered around Frank Gore, though that has been a bit of a problem in the past two seasons. Since rushing for 1,695 yards in 2006, Gore hasn't logged more than 260 carries in a single campaign. Gore makes it up for it in the passing game, however; he has 157 receptions the past three years. Gore is always an injury risk, which is why the 49ers used an early selection in the 2009 NFL Draft on Glen Coffee, who will help the former University of Miami star carry the load.
Blocking for Gore is what I consider a pretty pedestrian offensive line. Gore's 4.3 YPC wasn't bad, but the unit surrendered 39 sacks in 2008. Third-year left tackle Joe Staley, who was just mysteriously give a new contract, has allowed 17.5 sacks in his career (8.5 last year). Staley is a huge liability on the blind side, and he should really be at right tackle. The player who holds that position, meanwhile, is the newly signed Marvel Smith. There's no questioning Smith's run-blocking ability, but he has chronic back problems and has consequently 15 games the past two seasons. Smith surrendered 7.75 sacks in 12 contests in 2007. Center Eric Heitmann also struggled in pass protection last year (4 sacks).
2009 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
A year after ranking 22nd against both the run and the pass, the 49ers improved to 10th and 13th in the respective categories. That, however, didn't tell the whole story because the team surrendered 23.8 points per game and couldn't get to the quarterback consistently (30 sacks).
Parys Haralson and Justin Smith led the team with eight and seven sacks, respectively, but the 49ers should have acquired a more dominant pass-rushing linebacker this offseason. With Smith relegated to more defensive line duties, San Francisco needs someone better than Manny Lawson across from Haralson. Call me crazy, but Haralson's not going to strike fear into an opposing offensive lineman's eyes.
With the pass rush still in doubt, the 49ers figure to be weak versus aerial attacks. Nate Clements struggled at times last year; No. 2 corner Walt Harris is likely out for the year, and has been replaced by the woeful Dre Bly; strong safety Michael Lewis is a solid player but can be a liability in coverage; and the free safety position is still up for grabs between Dashon Goldson, Mark Roman and Reggie Smith. Roman is 32, while neither Goldson nor Smith has much experience.
Stopping the run will continue to be the defense's strength. Ends Justin Smith and Demetric Evans, and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin are fully capable of taking on blockers, which will once again allow Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes to make plays. While Spikes played surprisingly well in 2008, Willis continued to shine as the star of San Francisco's stop unit; the third-year inside linebacker is easily one of the top defensive players in the league.
The 49ers gave up 17 points or more on just one occasion after a loss to Dallas on Nov. 23. If they can figure out how to get to the quarterback consistently, they have the play-makers (Willis, Clements, Justin Smith) to have a pretty solid defense. Unfortunately, the pass rush is very much in doubt, meaning the troubled secondary will probably be exposed much more than the fans would like it to be.
2009 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
The 49ers went just 4-4 (7-9 the past two years) at Candlestick, or whatever that abomination is called nowadays. All four victories came against non-playoff teams. They obviously need to develop a stronger homefield advantage.
After Mike Singletary took over, San Francisco either won or covered six of its seven games. The team needs to use this momentum to begin the 2009 season. If the 49ers want to make the doggone playoff, starting 2-6 isn't going to cut it, especially now that the Seahawks will be tougher with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck.
Joe Nedney connected on 29-of-33 kicks in 2008, including 8-of-11 from 40 to 49, and 2-of-3 from 50-plus. However, he just turned 36, so there's bound to be a dropoff sometime soon.
Andy Lee maintained a very impressive punting average of 47.8, but nailed just 13 kicks inside the opposing 20. Maybe he just didn't have the chance; he had 42 punts inside the 20 in 2007.
Allen Rossum handled the kickoff and punt return duties last year, and did so masterfully, averaging 26.8 and 14.9 yards, respectively. He also took a punt back to the house. Unfortunately, Rossum turns 34 in October. As with Nedney, a dropoff is highly probable.
Three of San Francisco's first four games are against divisional opponents, so they need to get off to a quick start. Otherwise, the team has a pretty balanced schedule. One stretch that could determine the 49ers' fate begins right after the bye. They travel to Houston and Indianapolis, and come home to battle the Titans and Bears. An 0-4 stretch could destroy their playoff aspirations.
2009 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: 49ers fans won't have to endure Just Turnovers O'Sullivan's ineptness for the first half of the year again. That has to be a relief. Unfortunately, there are too many questions for my liking...
Can Frank Gore stay healthy? Will either Michael Crabtree or Josh Morgan emerge as a No. 1 receiver this season? Will Vernon Davis stay focused? Can Joe Staley evolve into a capable left tackle? Will Marvel Smith's back hold up? Where is the pass rush going to come from? Who will play across from Nate Clements?
With so much in doubt, I can't pick the 49ers to be an upstart team to go to the playoffs. They finished strong, and that should give the fans some hope, but I don't know if they're quite ready to get over the hump just yet. I have them at 6-10, but I could see them winning as many as eight games.
I don't know if the 49ers paid off a couple of teams or drugged some of the other general managers, but whatever they did to secure Michael Crabtree, it was brilliant.
Crabtree will have to adjust to a pro-style offense, but there's no denying that he's an amazing talent. Getting him at No. 10 was a steal.
The 49ers also landed some nice values later in the draft, including Scott McKillop and Ricky Jean-Francois.
My only concern is that San Francisco didn't address the offensive tackle position. That's almost a wash, however, when you consider that it acquired a 2010 first-round pick from Carolina.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A-
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
10. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
The next Jerry Rice? Probably not, but I think Michael Crabtree will be a great receiver in the NFL. I can't believe the 49ers were lucky enough to land one of the top players in the 2009 NFL Draft at No. 10. (Pick Grade: A)
74. Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama
The 49ers needed a running back behind Frank Gore. Glen Coffee isn't great value here, but he's a solid prospect. (Pick Grade: B)
146. Scott McKillop, ILB, Pittsburgh
If you get great value and fill a need in the fifth round, you probably know what you're doing. Unlike some teams in the NFL, the 49ers know what they're doing. (Pick Grade: A)
171. Nate Davis, QB, Ball State
Nate Davis is known for his supposed learning disability, which is why he dropped from Round 2 to Round 5. That's not much of a concern this late in the draft. Davis is talented and worth the gamble here. (Pick Grade: A)
184. Bear Pascoe, TE, Fresno State
Mike Singletary really wants to push Vernon Davis, so adding Bear Pascoe may help. Another solid selection by the 49ers. (Pick Grade: B)
219. Curtis Taylor, FS, LSU
Reggie Smith is expected to make a push at free safety. Curtis Taylor could provide some decent competition. He's also solid value here. (Pick Grade: B)
244. Ricky Jean-Francois, DE/DT, 49ers
Outstanding value; Ricky Jean-Francois was a mid-round prospect going into the draft. Depth is always needed on the defensive line. (Pick Grade: A)
Mike Singletary wanted winners. Well, he got 'em. After Singletary's infamous tirade, the 49ers finished 5-3 down the stretch, losing only to the Cardinals, Dolphins and Cowboys. One has to wonder if the Singletary-Shaun Hill combination would have beaten out Arizona for the NFC West title if the 49ers had gone with it all year.
49ers announce retirement of OT Marvel Smith
49ers cut FB Zak Keasey
49ers sign CB Eric Green
49ers cut RB Thomas Clayton
49ers cut DT Babatunde Oshinowo
49ers sign DT Babatunde Oshinowo
49ers sign CB Dre Bly
49ers cut S Jimmy Williams
49ers sign DE/OLB Marques Harris
49ers acquire a 2010 first-round pick from the Panthers
Chiefs sign TE Sean Ryan
Seahawks sign FB David Kirtman
Rams sign TE Billy Bajema
49ers sign OT Marvel Smith
49ers cut OT Jonas Jennings
Jets sign CB Donald Strickland
Patriots sign OT Damane Duckett
Bengals sign QB Just Turnovers O'Sullivan
49ers sign DE Demetric Evans
49ers sign QB Damon Huard
Lions sign WR Bryant Johnson
49ers sign WR Brandon Jones
49ers re-sign ILB Takeo Spikes
49ers sign FB Moran Norris
49ers re-sign CB/KR Allen Rossum
Patriots sign DE/OLB Tully Banta-Cain
49ers cut S Keith Lewis
49ers cut DE/OLB Tully Banta-Cain
Rush Linebacker: Parys Haralson surprisingly emerged as a solid pass-rusher, as he registered eight sacks in 2008. That said, San Francisco has to acquire a double-digit sack artist. With B.J. Raji likely off the board, the 49ers will target Everette Brown at No. 10 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Signed Marques Harris
Free Safety: Neither Mark Roman nor Dashon Goldson should be starting at free safety. Alabama's Rashad Johnson could be an option in Round 2. Drafted Curtis Taylor
Cornerback: Saying Walt Harris lost a step would be incorrect. More like 3.2 million steps. The former Pro Bowler turns 35 in August. He needs to be replaced. Signed Dre Bly
Left Tackle: Joe Staley struggled at left tackle in 2008, surrendering 8.5 sacks. Staley would be more effective at right tackle, provided the 49ers can find someone to man the blind side.
Nose Tackle: I wouldn't say nose tackle is San Francisco's biggest need, but it wouldn't hurt if the team added a powerful, top-notch nose tackle to their defense. If B.J. Raji falls to the 49ers at No. 10, they'll be all over him. Ron Brace could be considered in Round 2 as well.
Wide Receiver: Josh Morgan looks like he could become a star in this league. But with Isaac Bruce turning 37 in November and the ineffective Bryant Johnson hitting free agency, the 49ers will be looking for another starting wideout this postseason. Drafted Michael Crabtree; signed Brandon Jones
Inside Linebacker: Takeo Spikes played well next to Patrick Willis last season, but he's a 32-year-old free agent. Even if the 49ers bring him back, they'll need a long-term solution. Drafted Scott McKillop; re-signed Takeo Spikes
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Demetric Evans, DE, Redskins. Age: 29. Signed with 49ers (2 years, $3.8 million)
Demetric Evans is great against the run and can occasionally get to the quarterback (four sacks).
Moran Norris, FB, Lions. Age: 31. - Signed with 49ers
Brandon Jones, WR, Titans. Age: 26. Signed with 49ers (5 years, $16.5 million; $5.4 million guaranteed)
A run-of-the-mill slot receiver; nothing more. Brandon Jones garnered 41 receptions and 449 yards in 2008 - both of which were career highs.
Marques Harris, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 27. Signed with 49ers
A solid reserve in the 3-4, Marques Harris managed 2.5 sacks in just a handful of starts.
Eric Green, CB, Dolphins. Age: 27. - Signed with 49ers
Dre Bly, CB, Broncos. Age: 32. - Signed with 49ers
Damon Huard, QB, Chiefs. Age: 36. - Signed with 49ers
San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 13): $26 million
Takeo Spikes, ILB. Age: 32. Re-signed with 49ers (2 years)
Takeo Spikes brings veteran leadership to the field and locker room. He can still start for a year, but the 49ers should start looking for an upgrade next to Patrick Willis pretty soon.
Bryant Johnson, WR. Age: 28. Signed with Lions (3 years, $9 million)
Look up "mediocre" in the dictionary, and you'll see Bryant Johnson's mug. Johnson caught 45 balls for 546 yards and three touchdowns.
Allen Rossum, KR. Age: 33. Re-signed with 49ers
Allen Rossum still did a good job on returns last season, but now that he's 33, can he still get it done?
Jonas Jennings, OT. Age: 31.
Billy Bajema, TE. Age: 26. - Signed with Rams
DeShaun Foster, RB. Age: 29.
Ronald Fields, DE/NT. Age: 27. - Signed with Broncos
Zak Keasey, FB. Age: 27.
Roderick Green, DE/OLB. Age: 27.
Damane Duckett, OT. Age: 28. - Signed with Patriots
Donald Strickland, CB. Age: 28. - Signed with Jets (3 years)
Brandon Moore, ILB. Age: 30.
Tully Banta-Cain, DE/OLB. Age: 29. - Signed with Patriots
David Kirtman, FB. Age: 26. - Signed with Seahawks
Keith Lewis, S. Age: 27. - Signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Jimmy Williams, S. Age: 25.
Thomas Clayton, RB. Age: 25.
J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers. Age: 30. - Signed with Bengals (2 years)
Divisional Rival History: Arizona Cardinals: The 49ers swept the Cardinals in 2007, but it looks like that was a fluke; Arizona has won six of the previous eight tilts. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks and 49ers split the season series last year. Before that, San Francisco had won four of six. St. Louis Rams: San Francisco has claimed six of the previous eight battles in this NFC West rivalry. All but one of those games have been decided by seven points or less.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)