2011 NFL Offseason: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers (Last Year: 6-10) Buy Tickets

2011 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
HC Jim Harbaugh, DC Vic Fangio, WR Braylon Edwards, C Jonathan Goodwin, DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite, ILB Larry Grant, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Madieu Williams, SS Donte Whitner, K David Akers.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Aldon Smith, QB Colin Kaepernick, S/CB Chris Culliver, RB Kendall Hunter.
Offseason Losses:
HC Mike Singletary, DC Greg Manusky, QB Troy Smith, QB David Carr, C Eric Heitmann, C David Baas, NT Aubrayo Franklin, OLB Manny Lawson, DE/OLB Travis LaBoy, ILB Takeo Spikes, CB Nate Clements, K Joe Nedney.

2011 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
No matter how much San Francisco fans loathe him, boo him and chant for his successor, Alex Smith just won’t go away. Despite struggling with consistency, Smith has survived three head coaches and has drawn praise from the fourth. If he doesn’t play well this year, however, he’ll be finished.

Jim Harbaugh told the media that he really likes Smith, despite the fact that the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft has never completed better than 60.5 percent of his passes or maintained greater than a 6.9 YPA. But Harbaugh is a brilliant offensive mind, and if there’s anyone who can get the most out of Smith, it’s the former Stanford coach. And if not? Second-round pick Colin Kaepernick, who boasts a howitzer arm, could enter the starting lineup at some point this season.

There won’t be any excuses for Smith to fail from a personnel standpoint. With Michael Crabtree suffering through injuries and acting like a pompous douche, the 49ers inked Braylon Edwards to a 1-year contract that will probably be worth $1 million. Edwards has always frustrated teammates with his poor hands, but he’ll be extra focused this year to prove to everyone that he deserved a much larger deal in the free agent market.

The quartet of Edwards, Crabtree (if healthy), Vernon Davis and Frank Gore is the best collection of skill-position talent San Francisco has assembled since the Jerry Rice-Terrell Owens days in the late 90s. It’s hard to believe that Davis, after struggling for the first three years of his career, has 20 touchdowns in the past two seasons.

Gore, meanwhile, needs to stay healthy for a change. He missed five games last year, and always seems to be listed on the injury report. The 49ers spent a mid-round pick on Kendall Hunter to split the load with Anthony Dixon for when Gore gets hurt again, but the shortened offseason has hurt Hunter’s progression.

Excluding Smith, the offensive line is the biggest question mark on San Francisco’s offense. The unit as a whole surrendered 44 sacks last year, a quarter of which came from dreadful right tackle Anthony Davis, who was also guilty of 10 penalties. He’s slated to start again, which is bad news for whomever the quarterback is.

Continuity will help San Francisco’s front; four starters return, with the lone exception being center David Baas, who signed with the Giants. The 49ers brought in Jonathan Goodwin, a decent lineman, to take his place. Elsewhere, guards Mike Iupati and Chilo Rachal are both very good, while left tackle Joe Staley will look to play more than nine games in a season for the first time since 2008. Staley’s a solid blind-side protector, but he’s missed 14 games the past two years. As with Gore, Staley will need to stay healthy for San Francisco to make a playoff push.

2011 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
The 49ers are one of the teams really hurt by the lockout. Defensively, new coordinator Vic Fangio hasn’t had an entire offseason to implement his scheme, while his most skilled pass-rusher, rookie Aldon Smith, probably won’t be able to produce until the middle of the year at the earliest. Smith is being asked to transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 in such a short period of time; as if adjusting to the NFL as a rookie in this lockout situation wasn’t difficult enough.

With Manny Lawson gone, San Francisco’s rush linebackers will be Smith, Parys Haralson (4 sacks in 2010) and Ahmad Brooks (5 sacks). Defensive end Justin Smith is the team’s only proven pass-rusher, as he generated 8.5 sacks last year.

It’s safe to say that the 49ers will once again struggle to get to the quarterback, so it definitely wasn’t a good time for the team to lose its best defensive back. Nate Clements was a cap casualty, as he was due to make around $17 million in 2011. San Francisco had no choice but to sever ties with him, and it subsequently signed Carlos Rogers as a substitute. Rogers is a solid starter coming off an injury-plagued year, but is definitely a downgrade from Clements.

The rest of the secondary is pretty iffy. Starting corner Shawntae Spencer is really inconsistent, looking great one week and terrible the next. Strong safety Donte Whitner is decent against the run, but a sieve in coverage. That also applies to newly acquired free safety Madieu Williams, who will probably be a reserve in the wake of San Francisco re-signing mediocre talent Dashon Goldson on Aug. 8.

So, pass rush and pass defense are both shaky. What about the run defense? The 49ers excelled in this area last year, ranking second in terms of YPC allowed (3.4). However, losing nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin to the Saints will have huge ramifications. Replacement Isaac Sopoaga isn’t very good, and his shift to Franklin’s former position will force undersized Ray McDonald to play more at defensive end.

The bottom line is that San Francisco is going to have one of the worst stop units in the NFL. One of the lone bright spots, of course, is Patrick Willis, an All-Pro talent at inside linebacker. However, Willis has lost his running mate, Takeo Spikes, to San Diego via free agency. Unproven second-year Navorro Bowman, who has one career start, is penciled in next to Willis.

2011 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 and 5-3 in 2010.

Joe Nedney retired after San Francisco signed David Akers following the conclusion of the lockout. Akers turns 37 in December, but he can still get the job done; he was 32-of-38 in 2010, including 9-of-11 from 40-49.

One of the league’s top punters, Andy Lee maintained a 46.2 average despite hitting 34-of-91 attempts inside the 20.

The 49ers were pitiful on special teams in 2009, which is why they traded for Ted Ginn in the previous offseason. The move paid off; Ginn scored on a punt return, averaging 13.4 yards per attempt. He wasn’t very good on kickoffs, however, and the 49ers allowed a touchdown there themselves.

San Francisco has a pretty balanced schedule. On one hand, the team plays the NFC West in six games, and also gets the Bengals (road), Browns (home) and Redskins (road). Tougher games include the Cowboys (home), Eagles (home), Buccaneers (home), Lions (road), Giants (home), Ravens (road) and Steelers (home).

2011 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2011 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: As mentioned, the 49ers are in a hole because of the shortened offseason. There just hasn’t been enough time for Jim Harbaugh to install his new offense, for Alex Smith to learn Harbaugh’s system. for Smith and Braylon Edwards to gel, for Vic Fangio to take care of things on his end, for Aldon Smith to prepare for the 3-4, and for the defense’s five or six new starters to learn to play as a unit.

This is a transitional year for San Francisco. The 2012 campaign will be much more fruitful, but this 49er squad will go through its growing pains this season.

Projection: 4-12 (4th in NFC West)

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2011 NFL Season Previews

2011 NFL Draft Grades:

San Francisco had to come out of the 2011 NFL Draft with a potential franchise quarterback and an improved pass rush. They accomplished that with their top two picks.

The 49ers definitely appear to be headed in the right direction. I’m excited to see what someone of Colin Kaepernick’s ability and upside can do under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage. Kaepernick may not start in 2011, but that’s OK. He’s a project, and the 49ers aren’t ready to compete with the top teams in the NFL anyway.

San Francisco’s selections from Round 3 on were a mixed bag; I liked some, while others were pretty sketchy. But overall, the 49ers’ future is pretty bright.

Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: B

2011 NFL Draft Individual Grades:

7. Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
Over Robert Quinn and Prince Amukamara? Aldon Smith is a bit of a reach, but I think this is a good pick. Smith is a really good prospect and fills a huge need for the 49ers, who really needed to improve their pass rush this offseason. (Pick Grade: B)

36. Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
I thought the 49ers would go for Ricky Stanzi, but Colin Kaepernick is an intriguing player for Jim Harbaugh’s offense. He has immense upside, so the 49ers could be getting a potential franchise quarterback atop the second round. (Pick Grade: A)

80. Chris Culliver, S/CB, South Carolina
This is a slight reach; Chris Culliver was a Round 4-5 prospect by most services. Culliver fills a need in a poor secondary, but there were better defensive back prospects available. (Pick Grade: C)

115. Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
The 49ers are getting a steal in the middle of Round 4 in Kendall Hunter. Hunter, projected to go late 2, early 3, figures to be a solid complement for Frank Gore. This is also much-needed insurance if Gore gets hurt again. (Pick Grade: A)

163. Daniel Kilgore, G, Appalachian State
The 49ers address a non-need with a player no one had in their top 250. I don’t get this pick. (Pick Grade: F)

182. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC
San Francisco had to add some speed to its offense. Ronald Johnson is a Round 5-6 prospect, so he fits the range. (Pick Grade: B)

190. Colin Jones, S, TCU
Another safety? Colin Jones doesn’t fit the need and is a bit of a reach. I don’t get this pick. (Pick Grade: D)

211. Bruce Miller, DE/OLB, Central Florida
No surprise that the 49ers went after another pass-rusher. Bruce Miller is really good value in the seventh round. He could have easily been drafted two rounds earlier. (Pick Grade: A)

239. Michael Person, OT/G, Montana State
This is a much better value selection than the other pick that was spent on an offensive lineman. (Pick Grade: B)

250. Curtis Holcomb, CB, Florida A&M
Curtis Holcomb was not on my radar at all. I can’t find one place where he’s in the top 500. (Pick Grade: C)


Season Summary:
Wasn’t this team supposed to win the NFC West, or something? Mike Singletary, once regarded as a possible Coach of the Year candidate, was fired before the season even finished. The two Smith quarterbacks will both be gone. The 49ers haven’t been to the playoffs since January 2003, but that looks like it may change soon with Jim Harbaugh on the sideline.

Offseason Moves:
  • 49ers re-sign FS Dashon Goldson
  • 49ers sign WR Braylon Edwards
  • 49ers sign SS Donte Whitner
  • 49ers sign CB Carlos Rogers
  • 49ers sign C Jonathan Goodwin
  • 49ers sign ILB Blake Costanzo
  • Saints sign NT Aubrayo Franklin
  • Bengals sign OLB Manny Lawson
  • 49ers sign FS Madieu Williams
  • 49ers sign DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite
  • Giants sign QB David Carr
  • Bengals sign CB Nate Clements
  • 49ers sign ILB Larry Grant
  • Chargers sign DE/OLB Travis LaBoy
  • 49ers announce retirement of K Joe Nedney
  • 49ers cut C Eric Heitmann
  • 49ers sign K David Akers
  • 49ers cut K Joe Nedney
  • 49ers cut CB Nate Clements
  • 49ers re-sign DE/DT Ray McDonald
  • 49ers cut QB David Carr
  • 49ers re-sign G/C Tony Wragge
  • Giants sign C/G David Baas
  • 49ers re-sign QB Alex Smith
  • Chargers sign ILB Takeo Spikes
  • 49ers sign NT Ian Williams

    Offseason Needs:
    1. Quarterback: San Francisco’s No. 1 priority is finding a franchise quarterback. The team has numerous options: Draft someone like Blaine Gabbert at No. 7; trade its second-round pick for Kevin Kolb; sign a veteran like Donovan McNabb; or wait a year for either Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley. Re-signed Alex Smith; drafted Colin Kaepernick

    2. Defensive End: The platoon of Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald can be upgraded. If Marcell Dareus is available at No. 7, the 49ers won’t hesitate unless they have their eye on a specific quarterback. Re-signed Ray McDonald

    3. Rush Linebacker: San Francisco lacks a reliable pass-rusher in its linebacking corps, though Ahmad Brooks has potential. Someone like Jeremy Beal or Justin Houston could be an option in Round 2. Drafted Aldon Smith; signed Antwan Applewhite

    4. Cornerback: Nate Clements is due $7.25 million in 2011 and $9 million in 2012. For a 31-year-old declining corner, that’s a bit pricey. Meanwhile, Shawntae Spencer is very inconsistent. The 49ers need a solution at corner, and they’ll definitely consider Prince Amukamara at No. 7 overall. Traded for Carlos Rogers; drafted Chris Culliver

    5. Center: The 49ers lost David Baas in free agency, so they currently have no center. Signed Jonathan Goodwin

    6. Free Safety: Coming off an injury-ridden down year, Dashon Goldson is a free agent. Bringing him back and having him start in 2011 wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the 49ers can do better at the position. Re-signed Dashon Goldson; signed Madieu Williams

    7. Wide Receiver: The 49ers need to find a better slot receiver than Ted Ginn. Let Ginn return punts and kickoffs; he has no business playing on offense. Signed Braylon Edwards; drafted Ronald Johnson

    8. Backup Tackle: San Francisco needs a better fallback option than Barry Sims if Joe Staley gets hurt again.

    2011 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. David Akers, K, Eagles. Age: 36.
      Signed with 49ers (3 years)

      Eagles fans need to get over David Akers’ two playoff misses. He’s still one of the top kickers in the NFL. His field goal percentages the past three years: 82.5, 86.5, 84.2.

    2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Jets. Age: 28.
      Signed with 49ers (1 year, $3.5 million)

      Braylon Edwards has been pretty good with drops this year, but will that remain the case once he signs a big contract?

    3. Carlos Rogers, CB, Redskins. Age: 30.
      Signed with 49ers (1 year)

      Carlos Rogers didn’t play well this season because of a myriad of injuries. If healthy, he’s still a solid starting cornerback.

    4. Jonathan Goodwin, C, Saints. Age: 32.
      Signed with 49ers (3 years, $10.9 million)

      A serviceable starting center, Jonathan Goodwin still has a couple of quality seasons left in the tank.

    5. Donte Whitner, SS, Bills. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers (3 years, $11.75 million)

      Donte Whitner plays well against the run, but tends to struggle in coverage – though he did improve slightly in that department as the 2010 season progressed.

    6. Madieu Williams, S, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Signed with 49ers (1 year)

      Madieu Williams is a liability in coverage. He’s experienced and could provide solid depth at defensive back, but he can’t be a starter anymore.

    7. Antwan Applewhite, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 25. — Signed with 49ers
    8. Ian Williams, NT, Notre Dame. Age: 21. — Signed with 49ers
    9. Larry Grant, OLB, Rams. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers
    10. Blake Costanzo (RFA), ILB, Browns. Age: 27. — Signed with 49ers (1 year)

    San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: No cap.
    1. Manny Lawson, OLB, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bengals (1 year, $3 million)

      Manny Lawson isn’t the greatest pass-rusher in the world, but he does so many other things very well. Moving on to a team with a 4-3 defense might be ideal for the former first-rounder.

    2. Aubrayo Franklin, NT, 49ers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Saints (1 year)

      Aubrayo Franklin is coming off great back-to-back years – but he’s never played this well when not in a contract season. As I wrote last year, caveat emptor.

    3. Nate Clements, CB, 49ers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Bengals

      Nate Clements is a cap casualty. He played very well last year, but at 31 years old, he could decline at any moment, which would make him a risky signing.

    4. Takeo Spikes, ILB, 49ers. Age: 34.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years)

      Takeo Spikes just enjoyed another great year with the 49ers. However, he turned 34 in December, so there could be a massive dropoff sometime soon.

    5. David Baas, G/C, 49ers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Giants

      David Baas should have been the team’s left guard this year. However, he was forced into playing center in the wake of Eric Heitmann’s season-long injury. This versatility can only help him in the open market.

    6. Dashon Goldson, FS, 49ers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with 49ers (1 year)

      Dashon Goldson really struggled at times in 2010, but that might be because he played through so many injuries. Coming off a down year, Goldson could be a bargain in free agency.

    7. Alex Smith, QB, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with 49ers (1 year, $5 million)

      Let’s use some GameCenter commentary for this: “reguardless Alex Is a GREAT Secondary I dont want him gone I just dont want him as a Starter.” Translation: Alex Smith would make for a good backup, but not a starter. That, or Alex Smith can play defensive back. You never know with these GameCenter people.

    8. Joe Nedney, K, 49ers. Age: 38.
      Announced retirement

      Joe Nedney has drilled 80 percent of his field goals each year since seemingly the beginning of time, but he also gets injured every season.

    9. Travis LaBoy, DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 30.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years)

      A situational pass-rusher, Travis LaBoy recorded five sacks in 13 full games this season.

    10. Brian Westbrook, RB, 49ers. Age: 31.
      It’s hard to believe that Brian Westbrook is only 31. He still has something left in the tank, but one more concussion could end his career.

    11. Ray McDonald, DE, 49ers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with 49ers (5 years, $20 million)

      Ray McDonald does a good job as San Francisco’s third-down specialist on the defensive line. However, the 49ers will ideally find an every-down player to supplant the platoon of McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga.

    12. Troy Smith, QB, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Troy Smith is a mediocre backup quarterback. He can make stuff happen on the ground, but his completion percentage (50.3%) was horrific this season.

    13. Demetric Evans, DE, 49ers. Age: 32.
    14. Barry Sims, OT, 49ers. Age: 36.
    15. Eric Heitmann, C, 49ers. Age: 31.
    16. William James-Peterson, CB, 49ers. Age: 32.
    17. Tony Wragge, G, 49ers. Age: 32. — Re-signed with 49ers (1 year)
    18. David Carr, QB, 49ers. Age: 32. — Signed with Giants

    2011 NFL Free Agent Rankings

    2011 NFL Free Agent Rankings Coming Soon

    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 past three years.
    St. Louis Rams: San Francisco has claimed nine of the previous 12 battles in this NFC West rivalry.

    Features to be Posted This Offseason:
    1. 2011 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well – Live on Draft Day!)
    2. Detailed season preview
    3. Fantasy football projections
    4. Positional rankings
    5. 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 /

    2011 NFL Offseason Pages

    Fantasy Football Rankings - May 23

    2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

    NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

    NFL Picks - Feb. 12