San Francisco 49ers (Last Year: 5-11)

2008 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB J.T. O’Sullivan, RB DeShaun Foster, WR Bryant Johnson, WR Isaac Bruce, OT Barry Sims, OT Joe Toledo, G Jeb Terry, DE Justin Smith, ILB Takeo Spikes, ILB Dontarrious Thomas, KR Allen Rossum.
Draft Picks:
WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, C Cody Wallace, DE/OLB Larry Grant, DT Kentwan Balmer, CB/FS Reggie Smith.
Offseason Losses:
QB Trent Dilfer, RB Maurice Hicks, WR Darrell Jackson, WR Bryan Gilmore, OT Kwame Harris, G Justin Smiley, G Larry Allen, DE Marques Douglas, DT Bryant Young, DT Joe Cohen, ILB Brandon Moore, ILB Derek Smith, KR Beer Man Lewis.

2008 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
Alex Smith has fooled us all. After a horrific rookie campaign in which he completed just 50.9 percent of his passes, fumbled 11 times, and tossed 11 picks to just one touchdown, Smith was solid in his sophomore season. Smith’s completion percentage rose to 58.1; he managed to throw as many scores (16) as interceptions; and he fumbled 10 times (this time in 16 starts). Smith nearly led the improving 49ers to an NFC West championship. I was confident in Smith’s progression and predicted San Francisco to finish with a 9-7 record.

Oops. For some reason, Smith completely regressed in 2007. In seven starts, Smith completed just 48.7 percent of his throws, heaved only two touchdowns (four picks) and fumbled six times. He suffered a shoulder injury and got into a shouting match with Mike Nolan.

It’s easy to blame Smith’s struggles on his mechanical flaws. He has tiny hands, which means he’ll always be a fumbling machine. In fact, if Smith lasted the entire 2007 campaign, he may have broken Daunte Culpepper’s single-season fumbling record (23). Smith, will be learning his fourth offense in as many years, which would be hard on any signal caller.

That said, it would be ignorant to just blame Smith for San Francisco’s 5-11 record. The offensive line was terrible, as it surrendered 55 sacks to the four guys who lined up at quarterback in 2007. Joe Staley and Eric Heitmann are the guys who showed the least bit of consistency last season. Staley, a first-round rookie, was incredible at right tackle and will move to left tackle this year. Meanwhile, left guard Adam Snyder is very mediocre; right guard David Baas is coming off chest surgery and may not be ready for Kickoff Sunday; and right tackle Jonas Jennings is so terrible he may not even make the roster. Rookie guard Chilo Rachal is expected to push for a starting role, but seeing as how he’s a first-year lineman, there’s no telling what to expect.

Another reason for Smith’s ineptness was the worst receiving corps in the NFL. It was so bad, running back Frank Gore led the team in receptions with 53. Darrell Jackson was way too inconsistent, injury-prone and unreliable, and was consequently cut. The other starter, Arnaz Battle, has seasonal highs of 59 catches, 686 yards and five touchdowns in his five-year career. Meanwhile, tight end Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, once again had a bland season and has yet to establish himself as a dominant player in this league.

In an effort to improve their wide outs, San Francisco signed Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce via the free-agent market. I’m not a big fan of either of these moves. Granted, Johnson never had an opportunity to start a lot of games in Arizona, but when either Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin suffered an injury, Johnson never stepped up. As for Bruce, the former St. Louis Ram should fit comfortably in Mike Martz’s system. That said, Bruce turns 36 in November. He saw his production drop from 1,098 yards in 2006 to 733 yards in 2007.

Fortunately, there is some hope on the horizon. Gore is one of the better running backs in the NFL and seems primed for another solid year. He’ll be running behind Staley, who has the potential to become an elite left tackle in this league. The addition of Martz as the team’s offensive coordinator could pay dividends to everyone, with the exception of Alex Smith’s organs. As he proved in St. Louis and Detroit, Martz knows how to put points on the board, albeit at the behest of his quarterback’s safety.

And speaking of quarterback, 49ers fans may not have to suffer through Smith’s turnover woes the entire year. If Smith continues to perform poorly, Mike Nolan won’t hesitate to insert Shaun Hill in the starting lineup. In two starts last year, Hill was 32-of-52 for 320 yards, four touchdowns, one pick and one fumble. Though he had limited playing time, Hill looked infinitely better than Smith. Hill may not have Smith’s physical tools, but he’s a more efficient quarterback who takes care of the football. Given that San Francisco’s 32nd-ranked offense had the third-worst turnover ratio in the league, Hill could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the team.

2008 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
Of course, it’s tough to have a good turnover ratio when your sack- and interception-deprived defense is 20th in points allowed, and 22nd against both ground and aerial attacks. It’s one thing if you’re a cheap team that doesn’t spend any money. But the 49ers dished out $80 million to Nate Clements in hopes of assembling an impenetrable secondary.

Clements definitely didn’t play poorly, as he was his usual Pro Bowl self. It was the other defensive backs who let San Francisco down. Walt Harris performed decently for his age (34 in August), but he really needs to be replaced soon. Strong safety Michael Lewis often struggled in coverage, while free safety Mark Roman was so sub par that he’s in danger of losing his job before the 2008 campaign ever begins.

At the same time, it’s difficult to blame a secondary when the front seven can’t get any pressure on the quarterback. The 49ers had just 31 sacks, the most coming from Bryant Young (six), who has retired. It really hurt that Manny Lawson played in only two games in the wake of tearing his ACL. Lawson will be able to play in September, and he’ll probably be 100 percent, but you just never know with those sort of injuries.

I was shocked San Francisco didn’t acquire a pass-rushing linebacker this offseason. How can they once again go into the year with Tully Banta-Cain starting across from Lawson? And what if Lawson misses action again? How are the 49ers going to get to the quarterback?

While no upgrades were made there, I was happy to see the team address its three-man defensive line. Justin Smith, formerly of the Bengals, will fit in nicely into San Francisco’s scheme. Smith, who had 23 sacks from 2004 to 2006, should be a nice replacement for Bryant Young. First-round rookie Kentwan Balmer will compete with Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin for the other two positions on the front.

The best player in San Francisco’s defense is Patrick Willis. Only a second-year pro, Willis completely dominated in 2007, registering 174 tackles and four sacks, easily winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Willis’ 174 tackles topped the NFL charts, with the second-most total coming in at 140. He’s already one of the top five linebackers in the league, and it’s really scary that as a 23-year-old, he can only improve.

Unfortunately, San Francisco has nothing next to Willis, as the guys vying for the other inside linebacker job are Brandon Moore, Dontarrious Thomas and Jeff Ulbrich, all of whom leave much to be desired.

The presence of Willis, Clements and a much-improved defensive line is encouraging, but the 49ers’ defense still has way too many holes to be considered one of the league’s 15 best.

2008 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
The 49ers went just 3-5 at Monster Park, or whatever that abomination is called nowadays. They obviously need to develop a stronger home-field advantage.

As Emmitt Smith would say, “The 49ers got blowed out early and oftenly.” Eight of their 11 losses were decided by double digits, meaning this team wasn’t really competitive and hasn’t shown signs of becoming a playoff contender.

Joe Nedney was just 1-of-3 from 50-plus in 2007, but he nailed every other kick he tried. As you can expect, Nedney didn’t get too many chances; San Francisco’s stale offense limited him to 19 attempts. As a reference, opponents tried 35 field goals against the 49ers.

Andy Lee is one of the best punters in the league. His average (47.3) was extremely impressive when you factor in that he nailed 42 punts inside the opponents’ 20. That’s simply amazing.

San Francisco failed to score a touchdown on special teams, yet surrendered two to opponents. Beer Man Lewis was a failure, as his 7.6 yards-per-return average was very pedestrian. The team signed Allen Rossum to handle kickoff and punt return duties, a move which is probably doomed to fail. Rossum took a kickoff to the house last season, but the Steelers cut him this spring because he turns 33 in October.

Outside of the Rams and possibly the Cardinals, San Francisco doesn’t really play too many beatable opponents this year. They could notch victories against the Lions (Week 3), Jets (Week 14), Dolphins (Week 15) and Redskins (Week 17). They don’t have much of a chance against the Seahawks, Saints, Patriots, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys – assuming none of those squads suffer a barrage of injuries.

2008 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2008 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: The 49ers have a few superstars on their team (Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Nate Clements, etc.) but they have way too many holes, including receiver, offensive line and safety.

Perhaps the deepest hole, if you will, is Alex Smith. There’s a chance Smith could improve with Mike Martz’s help, but that would require a miracle. If Smith continues his freefall toward unemployment, and can’t recover from shoulder surgery and a fourth new offense in as many years, San Francisco may have trouble matching last year’s win total.

Projection: 4-12 (Tied 3rd in NFC West)

2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:

Shaun Hill: If Alex Smith struggles, Shaun Hill will be San Francisco’s new quarterback. Hill will also benefit from Mike Martz’s system – if he even plays. I like Hill as a late value pick. Like Kurt Warner in Arizona, if he gets the nod, he has the potential to put up solid numbers.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,300 passing yards. 13 passing TDs. 50 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 204.

Alex Smith: Alex Smith threw for 914 yards and two touchdowns in seven starts last year. There’s a chance his numbers could explode under Mike Martz. Then again, there’s also a chance Smith will be benched by October. I wouldn’t recommend drafting him.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,700 passing yards. 8 passing TDs. 125 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 151.

Frank Gore: It’s a shame Frank Gore is stuck in an offense with no quarterback. Opposing defenses often put eight men in the box, limiting Gore’s ability to find running lanes behind a mediocre offensive line. With Mike Martz in town, Gore’s carries will go down, though his reception totals (61 in 2006; 53 in 2007) will soar.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,075 rushing yards. 600 receiving yards. 12 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 239.

Vernon Davis: Vernon Davis hasn’t really done anything great in the NFL just yet, as he registered 52 receptions, 509 yards and four touchdowns last year. However, Mike Martz could turn Davis into a statistical machine. Davis is Martz’s first extremely athletically gifted receiving tight end, so it should be interesting to see how he’s used.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 700 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 100.

Bryant Johnson: Bryant Johnson never did anything spectacular in Arizona, even when either Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin was injured. If his best season was 40 receptions, 740 yards and four touchdowns, how can he be expected to put up monstrous numbers in San Francisco?
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 725 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 96.

Arnaz Battle: Arnaz Battle finished with 50 receptions, 600 yards and five touchdowns, but he didn’t get many looks toward the end of the season. In the final four weeks of the 2007 campaign, Battle managed only seven catches, 55 yards and one score. Martz loves using three-, four- and five-receiver formations on offense, so even though Battle is going from No. 1 to No. 3 wide out, he’ll be able to keep his production up to its current level.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 89.

Isaac Bruce: Isaac Bruce came to the right place… Turning 36 in November, Bruce didn’t have many options, but playing for Mike Martz in a familiar system will serve him well during the twilight of his career. Bruce is the best receiver on this roster, so he’ll get plenty of looks in Martz’s scheme.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 750 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 87.

Joe Nedney: Joe Nedney is a solid kicker, but he attempted only 19 kicks and 22 extra points in 2007 because San Francisco’s offense sucked. He’ll have more chances this season with Mike Martz calling the shots, but don’t expect anything great.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 20-25 FG (1-2 50+). 27 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 93.

San Francisco Defense: Not enough sacks and turnovers. No reason to look here.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Bottom 10 Defense.

2008 NFL Draft Grade:

Good Moves: San Francisco’s first three selections were flawless. I wasn’t sure if Kentwan Balmer would make it to 29, but the 49ers didn’t waste much time once they saw he was on the board. He’s a major upgrade for a very weak defensive front … Chilo Rachal was the second-rated guard in the draft (Branden Albert), so getting him at No. 39 was a decent move … Reggie Smith, once a top-20 prospect, was quite a bargain in the third round. He’ll provide secondary depth that San Francisco lacked in 2007 … The 49ers addressed their need for a center with Cody Wallace. I thought there were better centers available, but I’m not going to argue the pick.

Bad Moves: I have no problem with anyone the 49ers drafted, but I’m concerned that they didn’t acquire a pass-rushing linebacker or a receiver until the sixth round. They also failed to draft an offensive tackle.

Grade give on 4/28/08: A-

2008 NFL Draft Picks:

29. Kentwan Balmer, NT, North Carolina
The 49ers added a force to their defensive line by drafting the best player available. Great move. I had Balmer going 26th, so getting him at 29 is a solid move, especially considering all the stupidity that went down on Saturday. (Pick Grade: A)

39. Chilo Rachal, G, USC
I’m not Chilo Rachal’s biggest fan, but I definitely can’t argue the pick. The 49ers needed offensive line help and they took the highest-ranked blocker on the board. Looks like this team is headed in the right direction. (Pick Grade: A)

75. Reggie Smith, CB/FS, Oklahoma
I would have went Carl Nicks, but Reggie Smith is definitely fine at 75. He’ll assist a secondary that needs a bit of help. (Pick Grade: A)

107. Cody Wallace, C, Texas A&M
Meh, there are better centers available, but it’s OK if the 49ers like Cody Wallace. It’s a position of need, so I’m not going to argue this pick. (Pick Grade: B)

174. Josh Morgan, WR, Virginia Tech
Josh Morgan fills a need, and he’s in the sixth-round range, but there are better receivers available. (Pick Grade: B)

214. Larry Grant, DE/OLB, Ohio State
I think the 49ers waited way too long to acquire a pass-rushing linebacker. (Pick Grade: B)

Season Summary:
The 49ers were the trendy pick to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, their quarterback looked into hand modeling after he got hurt; Darrell Jackson dropped way too many balls; the offensive line couldn’t pass protect; and the defense could neither get to the quarterback nor stop the run. Oh, and let’s not forget that Alex Smith was confused about learning three different offenses every year.

Offseason Moves:
  • 49ers cut DT Joe Cohen
  • 49ers cut QB Kyle Wright
  • 49ers sign ILB Takeo Spikes
  • 49ers cut ILB Brandon Moore
  • 49ers announce retirement of QB Trent Dilfer
  • 49ers sign OT Barry Sims
  • 49ers sign DE LaJuan Ramsey
  • 49ers sign OT Joe Toledo
  • 49ers cut WR C.J. Brewer
  • 49ers re-sign TE Billy Bajema
  • 49ers sign G Jeb Terry
  • 49ers re-sign CB Donald Strickland
  • 49ers cut WR Darrell Jackson
  • 49ers sign WR Bryant Johnson
  • 49ers cut QB Trent Dilfer
  • 49ers sign DE Justin Smith
  • 49ers sign WR Isaac Bruce
  • 49ers sign RB DeShaun Foster
  • 49ers sign ILB Dontarrious Thomas
  • 49ers sign QB J.T. O’Sullivan
  • 49ers sign KR Allen Rossum
  • 49ers re-sign OLB Roderick Green
  • 49ers re-sign NT Isaac Sopoaga
  • 49ers cut ILB Derek Smith

    Offseason Needs:
    1. Two Wide Receivers: The 49ers undoubtedly have the worst group of receivers in the NFL. Arnaz Battle led the corps with 50 receptions and 600 yards. Darrell Jackson disappointed, catching just 46 balls for 497 yards. San Francisco should draft someone like Early Doucet or Mario Manningham atop the second round, and sign D.J. Hackett or Bernard Berrian via free agency. Signed Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce; drafted Josh Morgan

    2. Right Tackle: With Joe Staley moving to left tackle and Jonas Jennings likely hitting the streets, the 49ers need to look into acquiring a talented lineman who can play right tackle and decrease the team’s sack total. The line permitted 55 sacks in 2007, which is simply unacceptable. Signed Barry Sims and Joe Toledo

    3. Outside Linebacker: A team running a 3-4 that produced 31 sacks in a season obviously needs an upgrade at the edge-rushing linebacker position. I still have no idea why the 49ers signed Tully Banta-Cain last year; he was a huge disappointment across from Manny Lawson. Quentin Groves could be an option with one of San Francisco’s first two selections if the team can’t land Lance Briggs. Drafted Larry Grant

    4. Defensive End: San Francisco must find a solid 3-4 defensive end in the wake of Bryant Young’s retirement. Chris Canty would be a great signing if the Cowboys don’t retain him. If not, perhaps Kentwan Balmer at the end of Round 1. Signed Justin Smith and LaJuan Ramsey

    5. Nose Tackle: Another upgraded needed on the defensive line is a must if the 49ers ever want to make the playoffs again. Drafted Kentwan Balmer

    6. Guard: Larry Allen may retire and Justin Smiley will be hitting the free-agent market. An upgrade at tackle is another improvement San Francisco must make up front. Drafted Chilo Rachal; signed Qasim Mitchell and Jeb Terry

    7. Center: Not the biggest need in the world, but Eric Heitmann can be upgraded. Drafted Cody Wallace

    8. Return Specialist: Neither Maurice Hicks nor Beer Man Lewis is a threat to take it the distance. Given their scoring woes, the 49ers need someone who can. Signed Allen Rossum

    9. Cornerback: San Francisco’s expensive secondary could be in need of an upgrade soon; Walt Harris turns 34 in August. Luckily, this draft is deep at corner. Drafted Reggie Smith

    San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap (As of Feb. 22): $30.91 million
    1. Brandon Moore, ILB. Age: 29.
      Brandon Moore is a solid player but didn’t really fit into Mike Nolan’s system.

    2. Shaun Hill, QB. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with 49ers (3 years, $6 million)
      Shaun Hill played extremely well in his three starts last year, compiling five touchdowns to just one pick. Makes you wonder why Mike Nolan stuck with Trent “Five Turnover” Dilfer for so long.

    3. Marques Douglas, DE. Age: 31.
      Signed with Buccaneers (4 years)

      A solid end for the 3-4, but the 49ers can do better.

    4. Justin Smiley, G. Age: 26.
      Signed with Dolphins (5 years, $25 million)

      One of the younger interior linemen available, but coming off a season-ending injury (anterior tear of right labrum).

    5. Darrell Jackson, WR. Age: 29.
      Signed with Broncos (1 year)

      Darrell Jackson’s production suffered in 2007 for a multitude of reasons, particularly tons of dropped balls and poor quarterback play. Jackson is a solid third option.

    6. Isaac Spopaga, NT. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with 49ers

      Isaac Sopoaga is solid as a reserve nose tackle and provides decent depth up front for a team running the 3-4, but he shouldn’t be a starter.

    7. Derek Smith, ILB. Age: 33.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years)

      Like Randall Godfrey, Derek Smith is a mere backup at this point.

    8. Kwame Harris, OT. Age: 26. – Signed with Raiders (3 years, $16 million)
    9. Maurice Hicks, RB/KR. Age: 30. Signed with Vikings
    10. Billy Bajema (RFA), TE. Age: 25. – Re-signed with 49ers (1 year, $927,000)
    11. Bryan Gilmore, WR. Age: 30. – Signed with Seahawks
    12. Jeb Terry, G. Age: 27.
    13. Beer Man Lewis, PR. Age: 36.
    14. B.J. Tucker, CB. Age: 27.
    15. Joe Cohen, 49ers. Age: 24.
    16. C.J. Brewer, WR. Age: 26.
    17. Kyle Wright, QB. Age: 23.
    18. Trent Dilfer, QB. Age: 36. – Announced retirement

    Divisional Rival History:
    Arizona Cardinals: After years of getting swept by the Cardinals, 49ers fans were happy to see their team return the favor.
    Seattle Seahawks: Think the Seahawks were tired of hearing that they were inferior than the 49ers? The latter swept the former in 2005 and 2006, but Seattle returned the favor last year.
    St. Louis Rams: San Francisco has claimed four of the previous six battles between these two squads. Each game has been decided by seven points or less.

    Features to be Posted This Offseason:
    1. Detailed season preview
    2. Fantasy football projections
    3. Positional rankings
    4. Daily updates on free-agent signings

    More 2008 NFL Offseason Pages:

    DAL / NYG / PHI / WAS
    CHI / DET / GB / MIN
    ATL / CAR / NO / TB
    ARZ / SF / SEA / STL

    BUF / MIA / NE / NYJ
    BAL / CIN / CLE / PIT
    HOU /IND / JAX / TEN
    DEN / KC / OAK / SD
    Playoffs & Regular Season Results

    Back to the 2008 NFL Offseason Page

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