2015 NFL Offseason: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers (Last Year: 8-8)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Reggie Bush, WR Torrey Smith, G/OT Erik Pears, DE/DT Darnell Dockett, OLB Dan Skuta, ILB Philip Wheeler, CB Shareece Wright.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/DT Arik Armstead, S Jaquiski Tartt, DE/OLB Eli Harold, TE Blake Bell, RB Mike Davis, WR DeAndre Smelter, P Bradley Pinion. 49ers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Frank Gore, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Stevie Johnson, OT Anthony Davis, G Mike Iupati, DE/DT Justin Smith, DE/DT Ray McDonald, ILB Patrick Willis, ILB Chris Borland, CB Perrish Cox, CB Chris Culliver, P Andy Lee.

2015 San Francisco 49ers Offense:
It’s safe to say that the 49ers are going to struggle on this side of the ball. There are multiple reasons for this, but none are greater than the departure of Jim Harbaugh. The Michigan-bound coach was ushered out of town because he wasn’t a “yes man” for Trent Baalke; in fact, Baalke spent nearly a year undermining Harbaugh, prompting San Francisco’s struggles in 2014. The very act will get Baalke fired at some point in the near future.

Colin Kaepernick struggled a bit this past season, seeing his touchdown-to-interception ratio move from 21:8 to 19:10, and his YPA drop from 7.7 to 7.0. This is only a taste of what’s to come, as Harbaugh was a quarterback guru who got the most out of both Kaepernick and Alex Smith. Without Harbaugh, Kaepernick will regress, much like Matt Cassel did when he was separated from Charlie Weis in Kansas City a few years ago. It’s foolish to believe that losing a top-three NFL head coach won’t have its consequences.

Another reason for the impending ineptitude of San Francisco’s offense is the departure of guard Mike Iupati, who signed with the Cardinals. Iupati was the team’s top run-blocking lineman, so his absence will hurt the rushing attack. It was already evident that the running game wouldn’t be as efficient, as Frank Gore left for Indianapolis. Carlos Hyde will take over as the full-time back. Despite his age – he just turned 32 – Gore outgained Hyde in terms of yards per carry (4.3 to 4.0), and it’s unclear if Hyde can handle a full workload. The 49ers signed Reggie Bush to handle the pass-catching duties, but Bush is a has-been who flamed out in Detroit. Bush was ineffective for the most part, and he was even benched on numerous occasions because he made too many mental errors.

Kaepernick won’t have much help from his receiving corps either. The hobbled Michael Crabtree is gone, and the 49ers signed Torrey Smith as a replacement. This may seem like a quality move on the surface, but there’s enough history of wideouts leaving strong organizations for dysfunctional teams for any logical thinker to be pessimistic. Smith has never been a consistent player – he was second in the NFL in terms of drops last year – and pairing him with an up-and-down quarterback who lost his mentor doesn’t seem like a good idea. Kaepernick will continue to lean on Anquan Boldin, but there’s no telling how much longer Boldin, 35 in October, will be effective. The same can be said for aging tight end Vernon Davis, who had just 26 catches in 2014.

Getting back to the offensive line, the interior is very sketchy right now. Iupati’s defection will push 2014 third-rounder Brandon Thomas into the starting lineup. It’s unclear if Thomas will perform well because he has never played a snap on the professional level. Joe Looney is the other option, but he was dreadful in brief action last season. Thomas will start next to center Marcus Martin, who was chosen in the same exact frame in 2014. Martin started eight games as a rookie and was dreadful in every single one. Right guard Alex Boone is the only player saving the interior line from being a true abomination.

San Francisco was much better shape at the tackle position until early June when right tackle Anthony Davis retired for a “year or two.” An inept blocker like Erik Pears may start in his place, though there’s a chance sixth-round rookie Ian Silberman could win the job. On a positive note, Joe Staley is one of the best left tackles in the business, and at 31 (on Aug. 30), he should be highly productive for at least 2-3 more seasons. It’s worth noting, however, that Staley is already questioning the new coaching staff’s decision to move to a zone-blocking scheme, something he is not comfortable with.

2015 San Francisco 49ers Defense:
It’s hard to say whether San Francisco’s offense or defense is in worse shape. Both units have lost key personnel, after all. But while the departures of Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore and Mike Iupati were expected, no one saw what was coming for the 49ers on the other side of the ball.

San Francisco lost a whopping six defensive starters this offseason, and all of them were extremely key pieces. The three that stick out are Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith because they all retired. Willis and Borland walking away was definitely unexpected. Willis turned 30 this offseason and had dealt with injuries that caused him to miss 10 games in 2014, but he still had 2-3 strong seasons left in the tank. Borland, meanwhile, was exceptional as a rookie, but decided to call it quits because he was afraid of the long-term effects of concussions despite the rapid advance of medical science. The only skilled inside linebacker left is NaVorro Bowman, who missed the entire 2014 campaign with a knee injury. Michael Wilhoite, who struggled last year, will have to start next to Bowman.

Smith, meanwhile, had hinted at retirement, so it wasn’t a complete shock that he hung up the cleats. However, Smith was still dominant last season, so he’ll definitely be missed, especially given that Ray McDonald is also gone. McDonald, who was arrested for his third domestic violence incident this spring, was an absolute force for the 49ers over the years. He might be a scumbag because of what he does off the field, but there’s no denying that the 49ers will be much worse without him.

With Smith and McDonald both gone, the projected starters at defensive end will be Arik Armstead and Darnell Dockett. This is troublesome, given that Armstead was considered a project entering the 2015 NFL Draft, while Dockett hadn’t played well for years in Arizona. The two will sandwich Glenn Dorsey, who was out all of 2014 with torn biceps. Dorsey is just a mediocre talent, but he might just be San Francisco’s best defensive lineman.

The other two starters who departed were cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver. The duo was solid in 2014, so some combination of Tramaine Brock, Shareece Wright, Chris Cook and Donate Johnson will have to fill those shoes. Brock and Johnson are probably the best bets even though the latter didn’t show much in his rookie campaign last year. Wright was an absolute embarrassment for San Diego this past season. Last year’s first-rounder Jimmie Ward, meanwhile, will continue to be the slot corner, though he struggled in that role as a rookie.

The corners will have to get help from both the safety group and the pass-rushers. Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea will reprise their roles as starters at the former position, though second-round rookie Jaquiski Tartt will push Reid for playing time. Bethea was exceptional in 2014, but Reid happened to be very inconsistent in coverage.

As for the pass-rushers, there are numerous concerns. Can the extremely talented Aldon Smith stay out of trouble? Will Ahmad Brooks bounce back from a horrid 2014 campaign? Will Corey Lemonier ever develop? Can 2014 fifth-rounder Aaron Lynch prove that he can become an every-down player? There are all sorts of questions here, and the disconcerting thing for the 49ers is that the outside linebackers might just be the top unit on San Francisco’s defense after the safety spot.

2015 San Francisco 49ers Schedule and Intangibles:
The 49ers had maintained a dominant homefield advantage from 2009 to 2013, owning a 32-10-1 record in that span. However, they were just 4-4 as hosts in 2014, failing to cover all but one posted spread.

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 a few winters ago.

The 49ers’ kickoff returns were about even last year, but they were outgained by a wide margin on punts. That needs to change, but will seemingly overwhelmed head coach Jim Tomsula be able to remedy that issue?

Phil Dawson turned 40 this offseason, but that didn’t stop him from drilling 6-of-9 attempts from 50-plus in 2014. He was 25-of-31 overall.

Punter Andy Lee was shipped away for a 2017 seventh-round pick. Fifth-round rookie Bradley Pinion will replace him.

The 49ers have a taxing schedule ahead of them; five of their initial seven opponents (Steelers, Cardinals, Packers, Ravens, Seahawks) all made the playoffs last year, and the two exceptions in that stretch (Vikings, Giants) are expected to be better in 2015. San Francisco’s slate gets easier after that, but the team could already be buried by that point.

2015 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.

2015 San Francisco 49ers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 San Francisco 49ers Analysis: It’s hard to believe that the 49ers were in the NFC Championship about 18 months ago. Things change quickly in the NFL, and now San Francisco is one of the worst teams in the league. With Jim Harbaugh and a swarm of talented players all gone, the 49ers will be lucky to win five games in 2015.

Projection: 4-12 (TBA in NFC West)

NFL Draft Team Grade: D Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The 49ers have had a disastrous offseason, losing players left and right because of free agency and retirement. They have so many holes on their roster that they basically have to select the best player available at every juncture.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: So much for taking the best player available. The 49ers selected a second-round prospect in the middle of the first, a fringe Day 2 talent early on Friday, a punter in the fifth round and an undraftable player in the sixth.

I can’t imagine how frustrated and upset logical 49er fans must be right now. Fifteen months ago, San Francisco was in Super Bowl contention, thanks to a loaded roster and a top-three NFL head coach. Trent Baalke has ruined everything, exiling Jim Harbaugh, chasing away skilled veterans into retirement and free agency, and failing to find proper replacements for his departed talents. The 49ers are going to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2015, and this draft class barely did anything to help.

There’s one thing saving the 49ers from a dreaded Millen grade. That would be Eli Harold, who was a steal in the third round. Discussed as a late-first-round possibility, Harold could eventually start at outside linebacker. However, he may not see much action this season because of what the team already has at the position.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

17. Arik Armstead, DE/DT, Oregon: C Grade
Blegh. The 49ers’ regression continues. I had Arik Armstead going to the 49ers in my 2015 NFL Mock Draft, but only because I heard that they liked him. I had Armstead slotted in the top half of the second round on numerous updates for a reason. He’s a highly athletic player, but he’s extremely raw, and definitely shouldn’t be a first-round pick based on production. He has tremendous upside and could develop into a strong starter, so I won’t give the 49ers a “D” or a “Millen,” but this does not project as a quality choice.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

46. Jaquiski Tartt, S, Samford: D Grade
I made a disgusting-looking face when I saw this pick. I wish you could’ve seen it. That’s pretty much the same face I’ve made for every single decision the 49ers have made in the past year. Their franchise is a disaster, and so is this pick. Jaquiski Tartt is a third-round prospect at best and could’ve easily been chosen in the fourth frame. This pick doesn’t make much sense. San Francisco could’ve taken a safety of equal talent later.

79. Eli Harold, DE/OLB, Virginia: A+ Grade
I’ve bashed the 49ers’ draft thus far, but I have to say that I love this pick. I had Eli Harold going to the Patriots at the end of the first round, though I believed the right spot for him was the second frame. Harold won’t contribute right away, but with Aldon Smith bound to be off the team soon, Harold could emerge as a starter in the near future.

117. Blake Bell, TE, Oklahoma: C+ Grade
The 49ers were expected to find another tight end in the 2015 NFL Draft with Vernon Davis on his way out soon. I think San Francisco probably should’ve gone after a real tight end – and not a former quarterback – but Bell will be able to be functional on 2-point conversion attempts.

126. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: C Grade
If Mike Davis was lazy and put on weight in college, what’s going to happen now that he’s cashing NFL paychecks? Davis has second-round talent, so if he gets his act together, he could be a solid player for the 49ers. However, there’s a reason he dropped to the fourth frame.

132. DeAndre Smelter, WR, Georgia Tech: C- Grade
The 49ers spent like five seconds making this selection. Perhaps they should’ve taken their time because this is not a good pick. DeAndre Smelter was not on some boards because of his torn ACL. He consequently couldn’t work out. Considering that he’s still learning how to play football – he used to be a baseball player – it may be difficult for Smelter to develop if he’s not ready for OTAs.

165. Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson: C Grade
Rich Eisen says that punters are people. They should not, however, be fifth-round prospects. The 49ers have way too many holes to take a position that they could easily address in the UDFA market. Bradley Pinion is very good at what he does, but San Francisco should have gone in a different direction.

190. Ian Silberman, G, Boston College: D Grade
Another poor pick from the 49ers, but the general manager doesn’t care because he has a coach telling him how great he is. Ian Silberman was not a draftable prospect. He was not in my top 400.

244. Trenton Brown, OT, Florida: B Grade
Trenton Brown is 6-foot-9 and weighed in at 376 pounds at the Senior Bowl. He has great potential, but has never developed because of work-ethic issues. He probably won’t amount to anything, but he’s worth a gamble at this point.

254. Rory Anderson, TE, South Carolina: C+ Grade
Rory Anderson had some nice moments at South Carolina, but was unproductive for the most part. He had dual triceps tears this past season. It’ll be a surprise if he makes the 49ers’ roster.

Season Summary:
The 49ers were doomed before the season even began. The front office spread rumors to tabloid Internet sites about Jim Harbaugh and undermined him every step of the way. Meanwhile, injuries were rampant throughout the roster. The 49ers ultimately finished just 8-8 and went on to fire Harbaugh, which reeked of Jerry Jones’ move to dismiss Jimmy Johnson about 20 years ago. San Francisco, consequently, is set to decline.

Offseason Moves:
  • 49ers sign LB Philip Wheeler
  • Raiders sign WR Michael Crabtree
  • 49ers sign ILB Nick Bellore
  • Bengals sign QB Josh Johnson
  • Bears sign DE/DT Ray McDonald
  • Chargers sign WR Stevie Johnson
  • 49ers announce retirement of ILB Chris Borland
  • 49ers re-sign CB Chris Cook
  • 49ers sign CB Shareece Wright
  • Titans sign CB Perrish Cox
  • 49ers sign G/OT Erik Pears
  • 49ers sign RB Reggie Bush
  • Redskins sign CB Chris Culliver
  • 49ers re-sign QB Blaine Gabbert
  • 49ers sign WR Torrey Smith
  • Cardinals sign G Mike Iupati
  • Colts sign RB Frank Gore
  • 49ers sign OLB Dan Skuta
  • 49ers cut WR Stevie Johnson
  • 49ers re-sign TE Garrett Celek
  • 49ers sign WR Jerome Simpson
  • 49ers sign DE/DT Darnell Dockett

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Wide Receivers: The disappointing Michael Crabtree is a free agent, while Anquan Boldin won’t be productive for much longer. The 49ers may use the No. 15 pick on a receiver, and they could double up a couple of rounds later. Signed Torrey Smith and Jerome Simpson

    2. Two Inside Linebackers: Patrick Willis, retired. Chris Borland, retired. The 49ers, once deep at inside linebacker, are now desperate for help at the position. Signed Philip Wheeler

    3. Defensive End: Justin Smith, 36 in September, has considered retirement. Ray McDonald, meanwhile, was released after a number of off-the-field incidents. The 49ers have Tank Carradine ready to step in, but they need another five-technique. Signed Darnell Dockett

    4. Guard: Unless Mike Iupati is retained before hitting the market in March, San Francisco will need to find a new guard. Perhaps it will on the second day of the draft. Signed Erik Pears

    5. Tight End: Vernon Davis won’t be around in San Francisco much longer. Former second-round pick Vance McDonald has not shown anything. A second-day choice could be used on a tight end.

    6. Cornerback Depth: The 49ers have a couple of cornerbacks heading for free agency in March. They’ll likely use a mid-round selection for depth purposes. Signed Shareece Wright; re-signed Chris Cook

    7. Rush Linebacker: San Francisco should consider adding an edge rusher for depth purposes. Aldon Smith is unstable and could get into trouble again.

    8. Backup Quarterback: I don’t know why the 49ers thought they had to trade a draft pick for Blaine Gabbert. I wouldn’t have given up skinless fried chicken from KFC for him. A better backup quarterback is needed.

    9. Running Back Depth: Frank Gore is a free agent. San Francisco should find someone better behind Carlos Hyde. Signed Reggie Bush

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens. Age: 26.
      Signed with 49ers (5 years, $40M; $22M guaranteed)

      Torrey Smith caught 11 touchdowns in 2014, but saw his yardage drop from 1,128 to 767. Smith was just a decoy in several games this year because of a lingering knee issue.

    2. Darnell Dockett, DE/DT, Cardinals. Age: 34.
      Signed with 49ers (2 years, $7.5 million)

      Darnell Dockett missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. The season before, Dockett was just sub par. He’ll be 34 in May, and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be anything close to the dominant player he once was. He can probably still be a strong backup, however.

    3. Reggie Bush, RB, Lions. Age: 30.
      Signed with 49ers

      Reggie Bush was a major disappointment in Detroit. He had a hot start in 2013, but was benched down the stretch because of his fumbles. He was even worse last year, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. Bush, 30 just prior to free agency, can still be a pass-catching weapon, but his days of carrying the ball 200-plus times per season are long gone.

    4. Philip Wheeler, OLB, Dolphins. Age: 30.
      Signed with 49ers

      Philip Wheeler is one of many busts the Dolphins have brought in via free agency over the past few seasons. They let him go after just two seasons into his 5-year, $26 million deal. Wheeler was decent in run support, but totally lost in coverage. He’s just a two-down linebacker at this point in his career.

    5. Erik Pears, G/OT, Bills. Age: 33. — Signed with 49ers
    6. Shareece Wright, CB, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with 49ers (1 year, $4 million)
    7. Nick Bellore, ILB/ST, Jets. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers

    San Francisco 49ers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Mike Iupati, G, 49ers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Cardinals (5 years, $40 million)

      Mike Iupati has never been great in pass protection, but he has been one of the league’s top run-blockers over the past several seasons.

    2. Chris Culliver, CB, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Redskins (4 years, $32 million)

      Chris Culliver missed all of 2013 with an ACL tear, but managed to play well this past season, surrendering a 50.7 completion percentage to opposing receivers.

    3. Perrish Cox, CB, 49ers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Titans (3 years, $15 million)

      Perrish Cox barely played from 2011 to 2013, as he was mired in off-the-field issues. He finally took the field for the majority of the snaps in 2014 and was successful, save for a poor stretch in the middle of the season. Cox is a starting-caliber cornerback, but I wouldn’t trust him to stay clean off the field.

    4. Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Raiders (1 year)

      Michael Crabtree had a disappointing season, as he never recovered from the Achilles tear he suffered in 2013. Perhaps he’ll regain some explosion next year, but that won’t fix his negative attitude.

    5. Frank Gore, RB, 49ers. Age: 32.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $12 million)

      Frank Gore just had his fourth-consecutive season of 1,100 rushing yards or more, and he averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2014. Unfortunately, he’ll turn 32 in May, so his days are numbered, especially considering that he now has close to 2,500 carries in his career.

    6. Michael Wilhoite (RFA), ILB, 49ers. Age: 28.
      Michael Wilhoite had to start all year because of all the injuries to the linebackers. He handled himself better than expected; he was pretty solid in coverage.

    7. Stevie Johnson, WR, 49ers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years)

      Stevie Johnson struggled in his new home this past season after being acquired from Buffalo for a fourth-round pick. However, that could have been because of the combination of Colin Kaepernick’s ineptitude and Jim Harbaugh’s indifference, thanks to his stupid front office undermining him. I could see Johnson bouncing back, but then again, he could be done, too.

    8. Dan Skuta, DE/OLB, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Jaguars
    9. Chris Cook, CB, 49ers. Age: 28. — Re-signed with 49ers (1 year)
    10. Josh Johnson, QB, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Bengals
    11. Brandon Lloyd, WR, 49ers. Age: 34.
    12. Garrett Celek, TE, 49ers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with 49ers
    13. Blaine Gabbert, QB, 49ers. Age: 25. — Re-signed with 49ers
    14. Kassim Osgood, WR/ST, 49ers. Age: 35.


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