QB David Carr, RB Brian Westbrook, WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr., DE/OLB Travis LaBoy, CB Will James, CB Karl Paymah.
Early Draft Picks:
OT Anthony Davis, G Mike Iupati, SS Taylor Mays, ILB Navorro Bowman, RB Anthony Dixon.
QB Shaun Hill, RB Glen Coffee, OT Tony Pashos, DE/DT Kentwan Balmer, CB Marcus Hudson.
2010 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
The 49ers have all the pieces in place to make a deep playoff run. Well, except for the most important piece. Essentially, San Francisco's fate rests on Alex Smith's shoulders.
Smith deserves a ton of credit for putting together the best season of his career in 2009, totaling 2,350 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in just 11 games. He's also reportedly been showing great leadership in minicamps this offseason. However, that's just not good enough. Smith really needs to improve upon last year's 6.3 YPA and 60.5 completion percentage.
Smith can certainly get the 49ers to the playoffs thanks to an abysmal NFC West, but they'll likely be one-and-done once they get there. Smith battled four postseason qualifiers in 2009: the Colts, Packers, Cardinals and Eagles. In those contests, he was a combined 74-of-137 (54.0%), 746 yards (5.5 YPA), seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. A completion percentage of 54.0 and a YPA of 5.5 just aren't going to cut it.
But if Smith can somehow improve, the 49ers would have a pretty potent offense. Frank Gore, one of the top running backs in the league, rushed for 1,120 yards and caught 52 balls for 406 receiving yards in 2009. Gore's 4.9 rushing average was impressive, considering how poorly the offensive line blocked. Things should be different now as right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati, both selected in the top 17 of the 2010 NFL Draft, are tremendous run-blockers (though they have issues in pass protection).
If Davis and Iupati pan out, San Francisco figures to have a tremendous offensive line. Left tackle Joe Staley allowed just three sacks in nine starts last year. Right guard Chilo Rachal had a strong finish to his 2009 campaign, while center Eric Heitmann is probably the best player up front.
An improved rushing attack is one of two reasons Alex Smith figures to improve in 2010. The other is his chemistry with Michael Crabtree. Thanks to the dynamic receiver's holdout last summer, Smith and Crabtree weren't able to work together in training camp, which is why it was amazing that Crabtree was able to step in and be very effective right away. Crabtree caught at least four passes in all but two games as a rookie.
With Crabtree split out wide, Vernon Davis at tight end and Gore coming out of the backfield behind better blockers, there are no more excuses for Smith. If he struggles to get the 49ers to at least the second round of the playoffs, he has to go.
2010 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
A year after surrendering 23.8 points per game, the 49ers improved that average to 17.6, ranking fourth in that category. The difference, as it usually is, was the pass rush. San Francisco raised its sack total from 30 to 44.
Despite that impressive sack figure, it's pretty surprising that no 49er collected more than 6.5 sacks in 2009. Four players totaled more than five sacks: Manny Lawson (6.5), Justin Smith (6.0), Ahmad Brooks (6.0) and Parys Haralson (5.0). The guy to watch out for is Brooks. He's not currently penciled in as a starting rush linebacker - that's Lawson and Haralson - but Brooks was highly impressive toward the end of the year, notching five sacks in the final five weeks of the 2009 season. If he doesn't pass Haralson on the depth chart, he'll function as a terrific third-down rusher behind Lawson, who excels against the run.
Of the four pass-rushers mentioned, only Justin Smith plays on the defensive line. Smith is arguably the best 3-4 end in the NFL, but doesn't have much next to him. The other end, Isaac Sopoaga, isn't very good, while nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin just had his first great season as a run-stuffer - coincidentally though, it was his contract year. Franklin, 30, was slapped with a franchise tag, so if he signs a long-term deal, he should revert to the lethargic player that 49er fans were sick of watching the previous two seasons.
This is Paragraph No. 4, and Patrick Willis hasn't even been mentioned yet. Willis is the top inside linebacker in the league. He signed a well-deserved 7-year, $53.5 million contract in May after recording at least 140 tackles in each of the past three seasons. Willis is joined by Takeo Spikes, a very effective two-down linebacker who thrives against the run. Spikes will be 34 in December, so if he slips, rookie Navorro Bowman and second-year Scott McKillop will challenge for playing time.
As long as Franklin plays hard, the weakest unit on San Francisco's defense is the secondary, so it's a good thing the 49ers are capable of generating tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. No. 1 corner Shawntae Spencer just had a great year, but there's nothing really across from him. Nate Clements, 31 in December, was benched in the middle of this past season. Tarell Brown stepped in and was equally ineffective.
The 49ers addressed their defensive backfield early in the 2010 NFL Draft, using a second-round selection on Taylor Mays. Mays is a terrific athlete, but has issues in coverage. The guy he'll eventually replace, Michael Lewis, is probably even worse in coverage, so you can call it an upgrade. Free safety Dashon Goldson had an up-and-down year, but is passable as a starter.
2010 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
In the San Francisco 49ers 2009 season preview, it was mentioned that the 49ers needed to develop a stronger homefield advantage because they were just 7-9 as hosts in 2007 and 2008. Lo and behold, they were 6-2 at home in 2009.
Joe Nedney connected on 17-of-21 kicks in 2009, including 2-of-3 from 50-plus. The last time Nedney failed to drill at least 80 percent of his field goals was 2001.
One of the league's top punters, Andy Lee maintained a 47.6 average despite hitting 30-of-99 attempts inside the 20.
The 49ers were pitiful on special teams last year. They surrendered a score, while their primary punt and kick returners averaged 2.9 and 23.0 yards per attempt, respectively. Fortunately, the front office was able to obtain Ted Ginn Jr. this offseason. Ginn had two special-teams scores in 2009.
San Francisco has a pretty manageable schedule. Assuming the team goes 5-1 in the division, Wins 6-9 should come against the Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos and Buccaneers. Nine wins will be more than enough to claim the NFC West.
2010 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2010 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: It'll be a pretty big upset if the 49ers don't get into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. However, that's only because the NFC West is so terrible. It's highly doubtful that Alex Smith has what it takes to lead San Francisco deep into the postseason. It's a shame, because the 49ers have all the other ingredients of a Super Bowl contender.
The 49ers had two areas they had to address in the 2010 NFL Draft: the offensive line and the secondary. They spent their first three picks on those positions.
I like the Anthony Davis selection. He's very talented, but has work-ethic issues. However, if there's one guy who can whip him into shape, it's Mike Singletary.
I was not a fan of the Mike Iupati pick. Iupati is raw and has issues in pass protection. Geno Atkins humiliated him in the Senior Bowl. Quality interior offensive linemen can be obtained in the middle rounds. Just look at the Saints - they have the best guard tandem in the league, and they obtained Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks in Rounds 4 and 5, respectively.
Taylor Mays fits this defense and Anthony Dixon is a potential late-round gem. However, the pick in between was very questionable. Navorro Bowman is a skilled player, but has major character and effort concerns. Not only that; I don't think he's a good fit for San Francisco's 3-4 defense.
San Francisco had a quality draft overall, but I don't like the fact that the team ignored the cornerback position. Why not Kyle Wilson, Kareem Jackson or Devin McCourty at No. 17 and a decent guard late in the third round?
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: B
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
11. Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
Anthony Davis has work ethic issues. I'd be concerned if he were going to any other team, but Mike Singletary will whip him into shape. Davis is very talented and fills San Francisco's biggest need. (Pick Grade: B)
17. Mike Iupati, G, Idaho
Not a huge fan. I know the 49ers need a guard, but you can find stud guards in the middle rounds - especially ones who can pass protect. Geno Atkins humiliated Iupati in the Senior Bowl. (Pick Grade: C)
49. Taylor Mays, S, USC
Taylor Mays has coverage issues, but fits well into San Francisco's defense. He's a first-round talent and fills a need. Great pick. (Pick Grade: A)
91. Navorro Bowman, ILB, Penn State
Another character guy that Mike Singletary will have to "fix." The 49ers are collecting talent - and Navorro Bowman is a first-round talent - but they're quickly becoming the Pacific version of the Bengals. I'm not giving San Francisco a good grade here because I don't think Bowman fits the 3-4. Maybe I'm wrong. (Pick Grade: C)
173. Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State
And now every team has picked in Day 3. The 49ers made the most of their first selection on Saturday; Anthony Dixon was a Round 3-4 prospect. (Pick Grade: A)
182. Nate Byham, TE, Pittsburgh
A quality blocking tight end to complement Vernon Davis. Solid choice. (Pick Grade: B)
206. Kyle Williams, WR, Arizona State
The 49ers don't have the greatest depth at receiver behind Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn. Kyle Williams is pro-ready and could compete for playing time. (Pick Grade: B)
224. Phillip Adams, CB, South Carolina State
The third guy I had to look up. I'm really surprised the 49ers waited this long to address their secondary. (Pick Grade: C)
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
Jarrett Brown, QB
Scott Long, WR
Chris Maragos, FS
Patrick Stoudamire Jr., CB
Progress. For the first time since 2002, the 49ers finished a season with a non-losing record. They swept the Cardinals. They nearly knocked off the Vikings and Colts. Unfortunately, their mediocre offense betrayed them in two must-win games against the Seahawks and Eagles.
49ers sign RB Brian Westbrook
Seahawks acquire DT Kentwan Balmer from 49ers for 6th-round pick
49ers announce retirement of RB Glen Coffee
Patriots sign RB Thomas Clayton
49ers sign CB Will James
49ers extend ILB Patrick Willis (5 years)
49ers sign DE/OLB Travis LaBoy
49ers acquire WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr. from Dolphins for 2010 5th-round pick
49ers re-sign G David Baas
49ers re-sign DE/OLB Ahmad Brooks
49ers re-sign OT Barry Sims
49ers sign CB Karl Paymah
Panthers sign CB Marcus Hudson
Lions acquire QB Shaun Hill from 49ers for 2011 7th-rounder
Steelers sign WR Arnaz Battle
49ers sign QB David Carr
49ers franchise NT Aubrayo Franklin
Browns sign OT Tony Pashos
Right Tackle: The 49ers have a huge hole at right tackle. Tony Pashos was out for the year, while Adam Snyder allowed 9.5 sacks. Finding an upgrade here is San Francisco's greatest priority. One of the team's two first-round picks will be used to satisfy this need. Drafted Anthony Davis
Quarterback: The 49ers will continue to roll the dice with Alex Smith, but that doesn't mean that they don't need an upgrade at quarterback. Smith is very mediocre and the offense was limited to 20 or less points in six of his 10 starts. Signed David Carr
Guard: Left guard David Baas has battled consistency and injury issues throughout his career. Vladimir Ducasse is a strong second-round option this April. Drafted Mike Iupati
Strong Safety: Michael Lewis struggles in coverage and suffered three concussions last season. There will be plenty of safeties in the middle of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Taylor Mays
Return Specialist: The 49ers' punt-return teams were pathetic. In 30 attempts, Arnaz Battle and Brandon Jones averaged a whopping 2.9 yards per return. That's just embarrassing. Traded for Ted Ginn Jr.
Backup Nose Tackle: Someone is needed behind Aubrayo Franklin. A mid- or late-round pick can be used to fill this void.
Slot Receiver: Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan are solid starting receivers, but San Francisco could use an upgrade in the slot. Mardy Gilyard and Jordan Shipley make sense in Round 3. Traded for Ted Ginn Jr.
Cornerback Depth: Dre Bly probably won't be back. Someone will need to push Tarell Brown and aging veteran Nate Clements. Signed Karl Paymah
Third-Down Back: Glen Coffee is a nice backup running back for Frank Gore, but the 49ers need to complement Gore with a pass-catching back who can go the distance. C.J. Spiller is an obvious option in the first round, and he would also fill Need No. 5. Signed Brian Westbrook
Inside Linebacker Depth: Takeo Spikes will be a 34-year-old free agent next March. San Francisco needs depth and a 2011 successor for Spikes. Drafted Navorro Bowman
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles. Age: 30. Signed with 49ers (1 year, $1.25 million)
Will Brian Westbrook even play again? He's had too many concussions and other injuries over the years, and he should seriously consider retirement. Even when he was in the lineup last season, Westbrook was not the same player.
Will James, CB, Lions. Age: 31. Signed with 49ers (1 year)
Will James was burnt often in 2009, but part of that was because the Lions couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback.
David Carr, QB, Giants. Age: 31. Signed with 49ers (2 years, $6.25 million)
Poor David Carr has been sacked so many times in his career that he sees pass-rushers coming at him in his sleep. Carr is a reliable backup, but he's damaged goods and cannot be a starter.
Karl Paymah (RFA), CB, Vikings. Age: 27. -- Signed with 49ers (1 year)
San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 13): No cap.
Aubrayo Franklin, NT, 49ers. Age: 30. Franchised by 49ers
Aubrayo Franklin had a great year - something that pretty much came out of nowhere. Was he playing for a big signing bonus? Caveat emptor.
Ahmad Brooks (RFA), DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 26. Re-signed with 49ers (2 years)
A ton of potential here - the athletic Ahmad Brooks had five sacks in the final five games of the season.
David Baas, G, 49ers. Age: 28. Re-signed with 49ers (1 year)
David Baas started all 16 games in 2009, but he really needs to be upgraded.
Tony Pashos, OT, 49ers. Age: 30. Signed with Browns (3 years, $10.3 million)
Can't be a starter anymore, but has experience and should serve as a solid backup.
Marcus Hudson (RFA), CB, 49ers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Panthers
Arnaz Battle, WR, 49ers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Steelers (3 years)
Thomas Clayton, RB, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Patriots
Divisional Rival History: Arizona Cardinals: The 49ers get up for these games; they've taken four of the past six in this rivalry. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks and 49ers split the season series the last two years. Before that, San Francisco had won four of six. St. Louis Rams: San Francisco has claimed eight of the previous 10 battles in this NFC West rivalry. The 49ers crushed the Rams in two 2009 meetings by the combined score of 63-6.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)