All good points, but I still like the Chiefs. The Chiefs D is on the warpath right now. Justin Houston is a game-changer, and he'll have his way with the right side of Buffalo's O-line. Tyrod Taylor is going to get hurt. In a game that figures to be hard-hitting and relatively low-scoring, turnovers and penalties will be huge. That favors the Chiefs (Buffalo is arguably the most undisciplined squad in the NFL). I also like that the Chiefs are playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in about a month, while the Bills are on short rest.
QB Josh Johnson, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Brandon Lloyd, OT/G Jonathan Martin, CB Chris Cook, S Antone Bethea.
Early Draft Picks:
S/CB Jimmie Ward, RB Carlos Hyde, C Marcus Martin, ILB Chris Borland, OT/G Brandon Thomas, WR Bruce Ellington, CB/S Dontae Johnson, DE/OLB Aaron Lynch. 49ers Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Colt McCoy, RB Anthony Dixon, WR Mario Manningham, C Jonathan Goodwin, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Tarell Brown, S Donte Whitner.
2014 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
Colin Kaepernick took some heat in the first portion of this past season. He struggled for several weeks, and some began questioning San Francisco's decision to trade away Alex Smith. In reality though, Kaepernick was just struggling because he was missing his key weapons. Vernon Davis suffered an injury and wasn't close to 100 percent for a stretch. Michael Crabtree, meanwhile, didn't play until December, and was a bit rusty upon his return. Kaepernick, as a consequence, failed to complete 60 percent of his passes in six of his first 10 games of the season, which included an embarrassing 11-of-22, 91-yard, one-interception outing versus Carolina in early November.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Kaepernick was a completely different quarterback when all of his weapons were available. He torched most of his foes in December and then carried that into the playoffs, when he ran all over the opposition, even accumulating 130 rushing yards against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship. He was one tipped pass away from helping his team advance to the Super Bowl for the second-consecutive season.
The 49ers had to upgrade Kaepernick's supporting cast this spring, and they did just that, sending a 2015 draft pick to Buffalo for Stevie Johnson. The former Bill tends to get injured often, but he should be able to thrive as a tertiary receiver rather than a No. 1 target. San Francisco also signed Brandon Lloyd and spent a fourth-round choice on Bruce Ellington. Last year's fourth-rounder, Quinton Patton, figures to contribute more as well, while 2013 second-round tight end Vance McDonald will also be more of a factor. Thus, if Crabtree or Davis goes down again, Kaepernick should still be fine.
The front office also added some talent to the running back corps. With Marcus Lattimore not healing as quickly as expected, San Francisco used a second-round choice on Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. Frank Gore will still shoulder most of the workload this upcoming season, but the aging back just turned 31 and will be a free agent next spring. Hyde and Lattimore figure to split the carries in 2015 and beyond.
Meanwhile, the 49ers didn't have to do much work with their offensive line, which is one of the league's best. Four of the starters will be returning, with the lone exception being center Jonathan Goodwin, who was the weak unit in the group. The team spent a third-round choice on center Marcus Martin, who might be able to win the starting job right away from Daniel Kilgore. Whoever starts there will be flanked by Mike Iupati, one of the league's best guards, and the solid Alex Boone, though Boone is holding out for a new contract because he's grossly underpaid.
The tackles, meanwhile, will be starting for San Francisco for quite a while. Joe Staley and Anthony Davis are signed through 2018 and 2020, respectively. Staley played on a Pro Bowl level this past season.
2014 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
The 49ers have one of the top defensive units in the NFL, but even they had issues they had to address this offseason - particularly in the secondary, where they lost two of their top three cornerbacks, as well as a starting safety, to free agency.
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown both defected for Oakland, while Donte Whitner signed with the Browns. The 49ers were able to address the safety position by using their first-round pick on Jimmie Ward. The No. 30 overall choice was considered a bit high for Ward, but he's expected to back up second-year Eric Reid and the newly signed Antone Betha on early downs and then play the nickel role during obvious passing situations. Bethea, 30 in July, is a mediocre starter who is just seen as a short-term solution. Ward should be able to start come 2015 next to Reid, who was solid as a rookie last year.
The cornerback position remains unsolved, however. Tramaine Brock played well enough during the early stages of 2013 to warrant a 4-year, $16 million extension. However, he struggled down the stretch a bit and will now be asked to cover the top receivers with Rogers and Brown gone. The legally troubled Chris Culliver, who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL, is expected to start across from Brock.
Speaking of legal issues, Aldon Smith has been charged with three felony weapons charges and a DUI this offseason. He's definitely facing a suspension, though it's unclear how long that'll be. It's a shame for the 49ers, given how tremendous of a pass-rusher Smith is. Since Smith is, by far, San Francisco's best edge player when it comes to getting to the quarterback, the team will need 2013 third-rounder Corey Lemonier to step up. Lemonier didn't play much as a rookie, but he showed some pass-rushing ability. While Smith is out, he'll start across from Ahmad Brooks, who notched 8.5 sacks and defended the run well this past season.
The 49ers also have their other Smith to get to the quarterback. Justin Smith registered 6.5 sacks in 2013, but he'll turn 35 in September. He could regress, in which case, the team will need 2013 second-rounder Tank Carradine to contribute. In the meantime, Smith will continue to start alongside Ray McDonald, a tremendous five-technique, and Glenn Dorsey, who transitioned into the nose tackle role extremely well.
Dorsey stuffed the run well and gave ample opportunities to San Francisco's two Pro Bowl linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Willis missed a few games early in 2013, but both he and Bowman performed on an All-Pro level during the latter stages of the season. There's no reason to believe Willis will have any sort of dropoff this upcoming campaign, but Bowman is coming off ACL and MCL surgery and probably won't be available until November.
2014 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
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, 8-2 in 2011, 7-1-1 in 2012 and 6-2 last season. San Francisco is especially potent in home night games against East Coast teams, thanks to Circadian rhythms. That gave the 49ers a huge advantage over the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs last January.
The 49ers lost Ted Ginn the previous offseason, so there was bound to be a decline in the return game. They did OK overall, edging out their opponents by a bit.
Phil Dawson had a great season as San Francisco's new kicker. He hit 32-of-36 attempts, including 4-of-6 from 50-plus. He was awarded with a 2-year contract this spring.
One of the league's top punters, Andy Lee had the fourth-highest net average (41.7) and managed to place a decent amount of attempts inside the 20.
The 49ers have to battle three tough NFC West foes twice each, as well as the Broncos, Saints and Bears, but they'll be able to beat up on the NFC East teams at least.
2014 San Francisco 49ers Rookies:
Go here for the 49ers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2014 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2014 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: Given some of the off-the-field issues the Seahawks have dealt with this offseason, the 49ers have to be considered the favorites to win the Super Bowl. They've had some turmoil of their own - Aldon Smith's legal issues and the bogus Jim Harbaugh story from February - but they'll be hungrier than their arch rival.
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The 49ers have so many picks that they almost have to move up. It'll be too costly to get Mike Evans, but they can get either Justin Gilbert or Odell Beckham without having to worry about surrendering too many selections because they have so many. Outside of obtaining a top-15 talent, San Francisco needs to address the receiver, cornerback and safety positions. Getting another pass-rusher as insurance for Aldon Smith would be smart as well.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The 49ers were discussing the possibility of moving up for Odell Beckham, but ultimately decided against it. They realized that they'd have to give up too many resources to do so. I'm fine with that sentiment as long as their trading partner was asking for a 2015 first-rounder. That would have been too much. San Francisco should have pulled the trigger for a pair of twos.
At any rate, the 49ers took a whopping 12 players, and of course, some of them will be redshirted in typical San Francisco fashion. Brandon Thomas, perceived to be a potential first-round tackle prior to a torn ACL, was a solid choice at the end of the third round. Receiver Bruce Ellington is raw, but he'll have time to learn behind the three wideouts ahead of him on the depth chart. Fullback Trey Millard, a fourth-round talent before his own torn ACL, could start in the future.
As for the picks who will help the 49ers win now, Jimmie Ward was a bit of a reach at No. 30; we know of a safety-needy team that wasn't even going to consider him in the second round. On a positive note, I loved many of San Francisco's selections, including Chris Borland, Thomas, Ellington and Dontae Johnson. I graded Carlos Hyde poorly, but after thinking about it, he did provide some decent value at the end of the second round.
Overall, the 49ers had a solid draft. I would have done some things differently, but I don't have too many complaints.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
30. Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois: C+ Grade
Jimmie Ward will apparently be used as a nickel corner, so this pick makes a bit more sense, given that the safety position is filled. Still though, that doesn't change the fact that Ward is a bit of a reach; everyone we've spoken to had him in the second round. I'm also wondering why the 49ers didn't move up. What are they going to do with all of their picks?
57. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State: C Grade
Note to NFL teams: Stop taking running backs so early! They are a dime a dozen, and there is a much better class of backs coming in 2015 (go here for my 2015 NFL Mock Draft). I don't like this pick very much. The 49ers have Frank Gore now and Marcus Lattimore for the future, so where does Carlos Hyde fit in? Hyde is at least the consensus No. 1 back in this class, but this just seems like another wasted second-day choice used on a runner for San Francisco.
70. Marcus Martin, C, USC: A Grade
Finally, a San Francisco pick that I really like. Marcus Martin was discussed as a potential late first-round pick. I had him in the second, but the fact still remains that this provides good value. Center is a big need with Jonathan Goodwin gone, so Martin should be able to step in right away and start.
77. Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin: A Grade
It's odd to see the 49ers select a defender with short arms, but maybe they just saw great value with him at this spot. Chris Borland is a very good football player, but lacks the athleticism. That's why he was projected to go in the second round. Picking him there would have been fine, but San Francisco is getting a bit of a steal with him here.
100. Brandon Thomas, OT/G, Clemson: A Grade
The 49ers love to redshirt and stash players. They did so with Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore last year, and they're doing the same thing with Brandon Thomas in this draft. Thomas would have been a late-first, early-second-round prospect had he not torn his ACL a few months ago. He'll be ready to go in 2015, and he should serve as a solid starting lineman at some point over the next couple of seasons. With extra selections, why not?
106. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina: A Grade
Bruce Ellington could have easily gone in the second round, and no one would have had an issue with it. The 49ers are stealing him in the fourth round. Ellington is still raw, but he doesn't have to play anytime soon with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson all ahead of him. But Ellington can sit and learn for a year or two before becoming a big contributor.
129. Dontae Johnson, CB/S, N.C. State: B+ Grade
It's no surprise that the 49ers are picking another defensive back, given that the area is their biggest weakness. Dontae Johnson is a big, athletic defensive back who has tons of potential to turn into a solid starter if coached well. This is a pretty decent pick, as Johnson could have gone a bit earlier.
150. Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB, South Florida: C Grade
There are major character concerns with Aaron Lynch that I can't get into, and I know that one team wasn't even going to consider signing him as an undrafted free agent. I don't like this pick, but I wouldn't say it's terrible. Lynch is talented, but the 49ers could have probably obtained him later.
170. Keith Reaser, CB, Florida Atlantic: C- Grade
The 49ers have done a great job of picking value players thus far, but that does not apply to this pick. Keith Reaser had no buzz as a draftable prospect, so it's worth wondering if San Francisco could have chosen him in the seventh round or picked him up as a UDFA.
180. Kenneth Acker, CB, SMU: C Grade
What is up with the 49ers making these fifth- and sixth-round cornerback reaches? I'm not surprised they're drafting cornerbacks at this juncture, but these are players they could sign as UDFAs.
243. Kaleb Ramsey, DE/DT, Boston College: B Grade
Kaleb Ramsey will provide depth at five-technique for the 49ers if he makes the roster. He provides good range in Round 7, so this is a solid choice.
245. Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma: A Grade
I like this pick a lot. The 49ers still use a fullback, and Trey Millard could be a starter in the future. He would have been a fourth-round pick if he didn't tear his ACL. He'll be stashed in 2014 and used the following year.
The 49ers appeared as though they were suffering through some Super Bowl hangover when they began the season with a 1-2 start, which included a blowout loss to the Colts at home. They rebounded, however, and finished strong once they got most of their players back from injury. They ultimately lost in the NFC Championship, but they'll be back in 2014.
Saints sign C Jonathan Goodwin
49ers sign QB Josh Johnson
49ers sign WR Brandon Lloyd
Redskins sign QB Colt McCoy
Raiders sign CB Carlos Rogers
Giants sign WR Mario Manningham
49ers sign CB Chris Cook
Bills sign RB Anthony Dixon
Raiders sign CB Tarell Brown
49ers acquire OT Jonathan Martin from Dolphins for conditional pick
49ers sign S Antoine Bethea
49ers acquire QB Blaine Gabbert from Jaguars for 6th-round pick
Browns sign S Donte Whitner
49ers re-sign K Phil Dawson
49ers cut CB Carlos Rogers
49ers tender DE Demarcus Dobbs
Cornerback: The 49ers must address the secondary. Carlos Rogers could be released as a cap casualty, as he's struggled in the 2013. Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock can start next year, but San Francisco needs to add more corners. A first-round pick could even be used on the position. Signed Chris Cook
Safety: While Carlos Rogers might be cut, the 49ers will want to retain Donte Whitner, whose contract expires in March. If Whitner leaves, San Francisco will have to spend a Round 2-3 choice on someone new to start next to Eric Reid. Signed Antoine Bethea
Wide Receiver: Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham will both be hitting the market in March, so the 49ers must either re-sign Boldin or find a new No. 2 receiver. Even if one is retained, a slot receiver is needed. Re-signed Anquan Boldin
Center: Jonathan Goodwin, who turned 35 in December, told the media that retirement has crossed his mind. He's definitely the weak link up front at this stage of his career.
Outside Linebacker: Aldon Smith was tremendous in his return from rehab, but what if he gets into trouble again? The 49ers will need a backup plan just in case Smith gets suspended. A second-day choice could be used on this position.
Defensive End: Depending on how healthy Tank Carradine's knee is, San Francisco may want to use a mid-round selection on help for the defensive line. Justin Smith, 35 in September, won't be around much longer.
Kicker: Phil Dawson cured San Francisco's kicking woes, but he'll be a free agent in March. Re-signed Phil Dawson
Backup Quarterback: Colt McCoy is a free agent, so San Francisco will need to do something about the No. 2 quarterback position. Signed Josh Johnson; traded for Blaine Gabbert
Anquan Boldin will be 34 in October, but he just continues to make clutch plays in big games. He's still an outstanding No. 2 possession receiver.
Phil Dawson, K, 49ers. Age: 39. Re-signed with 49ers (2 years)
Despite his age, Phil Dawson remains one of the league's top kickers. He went 32-of-36 in 2013, including 4-of-6 from 50-plus. Over the past three years, he's 18-of-21 from beyond that distance.
Carlos Rogers, CB, 49ers. Age: 33. Signed with Raiders
Carlos Rogers had a stellar campaign in 2011, but has regressed in each of the past two seasons. He can still pass for an OK No. 2 corner, but given that he'll turn 33 in July, he won't be a starting-caliber player for much longer.
Jonathan Goodwin, C, 49ers. Age: 35. Signed with Saints
Jonathan Goodwin has told reporters that retirement has crossed his mind, but that didn't stop him from playing well in 2013. Goodwin will be 36 in December.
Mario Manningham, WR, 49ers. Age: 28. Signed with Giants (1 year)
Mario Manningham has essentially lost two seasons because he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Perhaps he'll remain on the field going forward, but he's a risky signing.
Eric Wright, CB, 49ers. Age: 29.
Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bills
Colt McCoy, QB, 49ers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Redskins
Demarcus Dobbs (RFA), DE, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Tendered by 49ers