2012 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
Alex Smith made remarkable improvements last season, but he wouldn't have gotten anywhere close to the NFC Championship if it weren't for his prolific defense. The unit ranked first against the run (3.34 YPC), eighth versus the pass (6.8 YPA) and tied for fourth in sacks (50).
San Francisco's stop unit returns all 11 starters, including Patrick Willis, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL. Willis didn't even have a great season by his own standards because of a lingering hamstring injury, so it's scary to think that the 49ers could be even better if he's healthy in 2012. Willis will once again line up next to NaVorro Bowman, who came out of nowhere to lead the team in tackles (143). Bowman proved he was legitimate by performing on an All Pro-level even when Willis was out of the lineup.
Another candidate for top defensive player in the NFL is defensive end Justin Smith. The soon-to-be 33-year-old notched nine sacks, which is a remarkable number for any five-technique in a 3-4 formation. Smith could show signs of regression soon, so it's a good thing he plays across from another outstanding end in Ray McDonald, who also accumulated nine sacks if the three he obtained in the NFC Championship are included. Smith and McDonald sandwich Isaac Sopoaga, a quality run-stuffer.
The two ends aren't the only ones who can get to the quarterback. Rookie rush linebacker Aldon Smith registered a whopping 14 regular-season sacks despite the fact that he was making a scheme change, coming out of a 4-3 in Missouri. Smith wasn't even a full-time player in 2011 because of his deficiency in run defense, so imagine how high his sack total could be once he's on the field more often. Meanwhile, Ahmad Brooks, starting on the other side, generated seven sacks on his own. That's half of Smith's figure, but Brooks made up for it with outstanding run support. He was rewarded with a 6-year, $44.5 million extension this offseason.
If the 49ers have one weakness, it's in the secondary. Cornerback Carlos Rogers had a fantastic 2011 campaign, while Tarell Brown, starting across from him, was pretty solid. However, the safety position is the issue. Dashon Goldson is one of the most overrated players in the NFL. He was foolishly awarded a franchise tag despite his severe struggles in coverage. Of the safeties who played 800-plus snaps last season, he surrendered the eighth-highest completion percentage. He allowed four touchdowns (tied for fifth among safeties) despite the amazing front seven he had in front of him. He was tied for sixth in penalties among safeties. If he played behind a mediocre front seven, he would be exposed.
Two other areas of concern in the defensive backfield: like Goldson, strong safety Donte Whitner is fabulous in run support but is pretty weak when asked to cover. Cornerback depth is also a problem. The 49ers signed Perrish Cox, a talented but troubled corner who could easily poison the locker room.
2012 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
The 49ers could be in big trouble because of their schedule. They open at Lambeau, which is a sure loss (they are touchdown underdogs as of this writing). They'll likely put everything into that contest and will consequently be flat for their Sunday night matchup versus revenge-seeking Detroit the following week. After back-to-back road tilts, one of which is on the East Coast, the 49ers host the upstart Bills and Giants. That could very easily be a 3-3 or even 2-4 start. If things are going poorly, Randy Moss and Perrish Cox will undoubtedly cause trouble in the locker room. Suddenly, everyone will be asking, "What's wrong with San Francisco?" given the unbelievably high expectations they have going into this season. That will only cause more problems, as the Eagles discovered last year.
In the San Francisco 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, 5-3 in 2010 and 8-2 last year, though one of the losses came against the Giants in the NFC Championship.
One reason for that defeat? Kyle Williams, who botched two punt-return attempts. It's hard to blame Williams too much though because he was only on the field because Ted Ginn was unavailable. Ginn scored two special-teams touchdowns in 2011, while the 49ers didn't surrender any to their opponents.
David Akers turned 37 in December, but he proved that despite what Andy Reid thought, he still deserves a spot in the NFL. All Akers did was shatter kicking records, drilling 44-of-52 attempts, including 7-of-9 from 50-plus.
One of the league's top punters, Andy Lee maintained a sterling 50.9 average despite hitting 28-of-78 attempts inside the 20.
2012 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2012 San Francisco 49ers Analysis:
The 49ers are the best team in the NFC West, but that doesn't mean that they'll once again win the division. Expectations are very high coming of a near-victory in the NFC Championship, and that's never good. Just ask the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, or the 2010 Cincinnati Bengals, who were expected to set records with Terrell Owens joining Chad Ochocinco. Or simply look at what teams coming off a Super Bowl appearance have accomplished. They've all disappointed.
Most of the 49er players have only participated in two postseason contests. Now expected to compete for the Super Bowl, what's going to happen when the team is 0-2, and then either 2-4 or 3-3 (as previously discussed)? And what happens when troubled individuals like Randy Moss and Perrish Cox will be causing dissension in the locker room, presumably asking whether or not Alex Smith should be the quarterback?
The 49ers were a 10-6 or 11-5 team that overachieved last year and won 13 games. They'll swing the other way this upcoming season, probably winning eight or nine games.
This could be a rough sophomore campaign for Jim Harbaugh, but his team will likely bounce back in 2013 when expectations aren't as high.
8-8 (2nd in NFC West)
2012 Fantasy Football Rankings
More 2012 NFL Season Previews
*** 2012 NFL DRAFT GRADES, OFFSEASON NEEDS BELOW COMMENT BOARD ***
Divisional Rival History:
Arizona Cardinals: The 49ers get up for these games; they've taken six of the past eight in this rivalry.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks and 49ers split the season series the three years prior to 2011. San Francisco swept last year.
St. Louis Rams: San Francisco has claimed 11 of the previous 13 battles in this NFC West rivalry.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
- 2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)
- Detailed season preview
- Fantasy football projections
- Positional rankings
- Daily updates on free-agent signings
More 2011 NFL Offseason Pages:
DAL / NYG / PHI / WAS /
CHI / DET / GB / MIN /
ATL / CAR / NO / TB /
ARZ / SEA / SF / STL /
BUF / MIA / NE / NYJ /
BAL / CIN / CLE / PIT /
HOU / IND / JAX / TEN /
DEN / KC / OAK / SD /
2012 NFL Offseason Pages
2016 NFL Mock Draft - Feb. 11
NFL Free Agents
NFL Picks - Feb. 7
2017 NFL Mock Draft - Feb. 5
2016 NBA Mock Draft - Feb. 2
Fantasy Football Rankings - Jan. 15
2012 NFL Free Agent Rankings Coming Soon
2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:
Mario Manningham, WR, Giants. Age: 26.
Signed with 49ers (2 years)
Mario Manningham is a talented, young receiver who caught 60 balls for 944 yards in 2010. His stats were down this past season because of a nagging knee injury.
Josh Johnson, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 26.
Signed with 49ers (2 years)
Josh Johnson has some nice skills and the upside to potentially make some team believe that it can groom him into a starting quarterback.
Perrish Cox, CB, Broncos. Age: 25.
Signed with 49ers (2 years)
Perrish Cox is very talented, but has a long history of off-the-field issues. He was recently acquitted of sexual assault.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants. Age: 30.
Signed with 49ers (1 year)
Brandon Jacobs had some good games down the stretch, but he averaged 3.8 YPC for the year. He'll be 30 in July, and considering his running style and ineptness in the passing game, he could be close to done.
Randy Moss, WR, Titans. Age: 35.
Signed with 49ers (1 year)
Here's the list of teams interested in Randy Moss:
Matt Millen's Kielbasa Killers Fantasy Team
Moss is done. He couldn't separate from corners in 2010. He couldn't even get on the field for the Titans. He's a horrible guy to have in the locker room because he's a quitter. No general manager in his right mind will want to sign this bum.
- Rock Cartwright, RB, Raiders. Age: 32. -- Signed with 49ers (1 year)
2012 NFL Draft Grade: C+
Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft:
Carlos Rogers, CB, 49ers. Age: 31.
Signed with 49ers (4 years, $29.3 million)
Carlos Rogers had a fantastic season, picking off six passes and limiting receivers to a 52.6 completion percentage. Only his age (31 in July) is a concern.
Ahmad Brooks, DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 28.
Re-signed with 49ers (6 years, $44.5 million; $17.5 million guaranteed
Ahmad Brooks has developed into a potent pass-rusher. He had seven sacks in 2011, but could have had a few more, as he was unlucky in certain situations.
Alex Smith, QB, 49ers. Age: 28.
Re-signed with 49ers
Alex Smith threw for 3,150 yards, 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions in his first season under Jim Harbaugh. His two fourth-quarter drives against the Saints were a thing of beauty.
Braylon Edwards, WR, 49ers. Age: 29.
Braylon Edwards sucked this past year because he was battling injuries. He can be a starter again if he can get healthy.
Dashon Goldson, FS, 49ers. Age: 27.
Franchised by 49ers
There are a lot of posts about Dashon Goldson in the comment board below, so I'll address this ranking. Goldson stinks in coverage. That's why I initially put him at 1.5 stars, but you could argue two or 2.5 because of his ability against the run. Of the safeties who have played 800-plus snaps this year, he's surrendered the eighth-highest completion percentage. He allowed four touchdowns this year (tied for fifth among safeties) despite the amazing front seven he has in front of him. He's tied for sixth in penalties among safeties this year. If he played behind a mediocre front seven, he would be exposed. Those who just look at stats and Pro Bowl voting might think Goldson is great, but he's just a backup at best.
Larry Grant (RFA), ILB, 49ers. Age: 27.
Re-signed with 49ers (1 year, $1.26 million)
Larry Grant played terrifically in relief of an injured Patrick Willis down the stretch. He'll have to wait a year to get more playing time elsewhere, however.
Ted Ginn, WR/KR, 49ers. Age: 27.
Re-signed with 49ers (1 year)
Ted Ginn stinks as a receiver, but he's one of the top return specialists in the NFL.
Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers. Age: 27.
Signed with Redskins (5 years, $12 million; $7.5 million guaranteed)
Josh Morgan looked like he was on his way to having a solid year, catching 15 balls for 220 yards in five games, but he went on injured reserve with a broken leg.
- Adam Snyder, G, 49ers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Cardinals (5 years)
- Shawntae Spencer, CB, 49ers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Raiders
- Reggie Smith, S, 49ers. Age: 25. -- Signed with Panthers
- Tavares Gooden, ILB, 49ers. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with 49ers (1 year)
- Madieu Williams, FS, 49ers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Redskins
- Chilo Rachal, G, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
- C.J. Spillman (RFA), S, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with 49ers (3 years, $6 million)
- Blake Costanzo, ILB, 49ers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears (2 years, $2 million)
- Moran Norris, FB, 49ers. Age: 34. -- Signed with Texans
- Justin Peelle, TE, 49ers. Age: 33.
- Brett Swain, WR, 49ers. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with 49ers
San Francisco doesn't really have any pressing needs that it needs to address. It'll be best player available, early and often.
2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments:
So much for the best player available. The 49ers reached for A.J. Jenkins at No. 30. I don't know how highly every team rated Jenkins, but I know for a fact that the Jaguars rated him as a third-round prospect.
San Francisco didn't have very many good value picks overall. Trenton Robinson and Cam Johnson were steals, but both were late-round acquisitions. As for the early rounds, Joe Looney filled one of the few holes at No. 117, but LaMichael James seems rather redundant after the team drafted Kendall Hunter last year.
The 49ers didn't have a poor draft, by any means, but it should have been so much better. Their offseason as a whole has been rather questionable, so I guess this past weekend matched signing Randy Moss and Perrish Cox, and not being able to land Peyton Manning.
2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
30. A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois: C- Grade
This is bizarre. Did the 49ers know that Coby Fleener, Cordy Glenn and Stephen Hill were still on the board, or were they thrown off because the first round was going by so quickly? I don't get it. This is a huge reach. Here's where A.J. Jenkins ranked on the major big boards: 67, 76, 57, 73 and 70. Yeesh.
61. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: C Grade
Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs... where does LaMichael James fit in? James fits the range, but I feel like the 49ers could have used this selection more wisely. I mean, with James and Hunter, how many small running backs can you possibly have on your roster?
117. Joe Looney, G, Wake Forest: B Grade
Joe Looney had injury concerns entering the 2012 NFL Draft, and that's why I put him in the sixth round of my mock. He must have checked out well with the 49ers though. If he's healthy, this is a good pick. San Francisco lost Adam Snyder in free agency and needed to find a capable replacement.
165. Darius Fleming, DE/OLB, Notre Dame: C+ Grade
It's never a bad idea to add another pass-rusher, but Darius Fleming had just nine sacks in the past two years. I'm not crazy about this selection, but I don't hate it.
180. Trenton Robinson, S, Michigan State: A Grade
Trenton Robinson was ranked as high as No. 115 on a major big board, and he was No. 130 on the consensus chart. He provides great value in the sixth round, and he fills a need because the 49ers had to improve their safety depth.
199. Jason Slowey, C, Western Oregon: C Grade
The 49ers need a successor for Jonathan Goodwin, who is just a short-term solution at center. There were better prospects available at the position, however.
237. Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia: A+ Grade
Talk about a steal - Cam Johnson was No. 50 on Mike Mayock's big board. It's unbelievable that he fell to the middle of the seventh round. His work ethic is a concern, but still, he should have gone much earlier than this.
What Jim Harbaugh did was amazing. The 49ers are not some one-year wonder that will collapse into oblivion the following season. Their defense is amazing and will continue to carry them in a weak division. Now, if they can only get some consistency from the quarterback position...
Bears sign G Chilo Rachal
49ers re-sign ILB Larry Grant
Redskins sign S Madieu Williams
49ers sign WR Brett Swain
Panthers sign S Reggie Smith
49ers sign RB Brandon Jacobs
49ers sign QB Josh Johnson
49ers re-sign WR Ted Ginn
49ers re-sign QB Alex Smith
Raiders sign CB Shawntae Spencer
49ers sign WR Mario Manningham
49ers sign RB Rock Cartwright
49ers cut CB Shawntae Spencer
Cardinals sign G/OT Adam Snyder
49ers re-sign CB Carlos Rogers
Bears sign ILB Blake Costanzo
Redskins sign WR Josh Morgan
49ers re-sign ILB Tavares Gooden
49ers sign CB Perrish Cox
49ers sign WR Randy Moss
49ers franchise S Dashon Goldson
49ers re-sign DE/OLB Ahmad Brooks
49ers re-sign S C.J. Spillman
- Wide Receivers: Getting Braylon Edwards for only $1 million seemed like a great deal at the time, but he was a major bust. The 49ers need a receiver to go along with Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Josh Morgan. As you may have seen in the NFC Championship, San Francisco really needs to improve in this area. Signed Mario Manningham and Randy Moss; drafted A.J. Jenkins
- Right Guard or Right Tackle: The right side of San Francisco's offensive line is awful. Both right guard Adam Snyder, a free agent, and right tackle Anthony Davis stink. Davis is still young though, so he should probably get another year in the lineup. He could be moved to right guard though if San Francisco brings in someone like Mike Adams toward the end of the first round this April. Drafted Joe Looney
- Rush Linebacker: This is only a need if free agent Ahmad Brooks isn't re-signed. This will be moved atop this list if Brooks leaves. Re-signed Ahmad Brooks
- Quarterback: It's amazing what Jim Harbaugh has done with Alex Smith. Smith is a free agent, so expect the 49ers to bring him back. They may want to add someone else though like Josh Johnson. Re-signed Alex Smith; signed Josh Johnson
- Free Safety: Dashon Goldson is a big coverage liability in San Francisco's secondary (though he's great in run support). He needs to be replaced, but that could be difficult because of how poor this upcoming safety class is. Franchised Dashon Goldson; drafted Trenton Robinson
- Cornerback: The severity of this need depends on whether the 49ers re-sign Carlos Rogers, who had a terrific 2011 campaign. If Rogers is retained, only depth will be required here. Signed Carlos Rogers and Perrish Cox
- Defensive End Depth: The 49ers are pretty thin behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
San Francisco 49ers (Last Year: 13-3)
2012 NFL Season Preview:
QB Josh Johnson, RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, WR Randy Moss, CB Perrish Cox.
Early Draft Picks:
WR A.J. Jenkins, RB LaMichael James, G Joe Looney, DE/OLB Darius Fleming, S Trenton Robinson.
WR Josh Morgan, G Adam Snyder, G Chilo Rachal, CB Shawntae Spencer, S Reggie Smith, S Madieu Williams.
2012 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
Jim Harbaugh deserved Coach of the Year honors, not for leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship, but for the work he did with Alex Smith. Prior to 2011, Niner fans were calling for Smith's head. He was nauseatingly inconsistent, but wouldn't go away, no matter how much he struggled. Harbaugh saw something in Smith and transformed him into a capable quarterback. Smith consequently had career-best numbers in completion percentage (61.4), passing yards (3,150), YPA (7.1) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (17:5).
Despite all of this, Smith's ineptness reared its ugly head in the NFC Championship. While Smith was fantastic in two fourth-quarter comeback attempts in the previous round versus New Orleans, he was equally dreadful versus the Giants. He completed just 12-of-26 passes and failed to convert a single third down until the very end of the game. He deserved some of the blame, while his receiving corps was equally responsible; save for Vernon Davis, no one could get open. Not even Michael Crabtree, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Given how woeful Smith's wideouts were, it's understandable why the front office put so much focus on the position this offseason. San Francisco signed both Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, and followed that up by using the No. 30 overall selection on A.J. Jenkins. Unfortunately, none of these moves are expected to pan out. Manningham is not a legitimate No. 1 wideout. He drew scant interest on the market because most front-office personnel recognized that it was Eli Manning who transformed Manningham into a big stat-producer. Manningham on his own is a receiver who drops easy passes and runs sloppy routes. He was worth acquiring because he didn't cost much, but if the 49ers think they're getting a legitimate No. 1 wideout, they are terribly mistaken.
Having said that, Manningham is easily the best of the trio of receivers San Francisco obtained this offseason. Jenkins, considered a big reach, reported to rookie minicamp out of shape. Harbaugh even confirmed that he was disappointed in the Illinois product. Moss, on the other hand, has been terrific in practice, which is hardly a surprise. He's always looked great in practice, but save for his early days in Minnesota and one season in New England, he has worsened every team he's ever been with because of his lethargy and nonchalance. He quits when he wants to and poisons the locker room. There's a reason he moves around from city to city like a nomad. He looks great on film and in practice, but it doesn't show during actual games unless he wants it to. Oh, and he's also 35, so he's now a one-trick pony who can no longer do his trick anymore.
Speaking of aging superstars, Frank Gore once again struggled to stay healthy. The 29-year-old back carried the ball 14 or fewer times in five of his final 10 contests (including the playoffs) because of nagging injuries. The 49ers signed Brandon Jacobs and drafted LaMichael James as insurance. Those two, along with the second-year Kendall Hunter, should be able to complement each other well when Gore goes down with another malady.
The offensive line is a concern. The unit surrendered 51 sacks in 2011, which was third-most in the NFL. Right guard Adam Snyder signed with the Cardinals, and he'll be replaced by former undrafted free agent Alex Boone, who has never started a game in his professional career. Boone will have his hands full because he'll be playing next to right tackle Anthony Davis, a complete sieve who was guilty of 10 sacks and eight penalties last season.
The other side of the front is better, though it could be by default. Left tackle Joe Staley is OK; he was responsible for seven sacks in 2011, though all but one came prior to Week 11. Left guard Mike Iupati is the top lineman in the unit. He surrendered four sacks last season, but was a force as a run-blocker. Center Jonathan Goodwin is a mediocre talent and could show signs of regression because he'll be 34 in December.