The San Francisco 49ers are in an interesting spot. They’re just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and have made it to the NFC title game in three out of the last four years. They have a new head coach and suffered a drop off in 2014, but they still appear to be built well from the ground up on both sides of the ball. It’s not crazy at all to think the Niners could be right back in the thick of the NFC playoff chase, but there’s also no denying some very visible flaws this roster holds. Let’s break down their key weak spots on offense and defense as they gear up for April’s NFL Draft:
Offensive Needs: OG, WR, TE
Mike Iupati is one of the best, most complete offensive guards in the entire league and he’s heading into free agency. If the Niners can retain him their o-line is mostly fine, but that may prove to be easier said than done. If he gets loose and signs elsewhere, this will be a huge need. Luckily it can be covered in the draft, where a stout guard like Cameron Erving should be available in the first round. Arie Kouandjio is a solid prospect that could be had in the second or third round, as well.
Michael Crabtree is a goner in free agency, Stevie Johnson is regressing and Anquan Boldin is ancient. The 49ers badly need some talented young options at receiver, so spending an early pick on a promising prospect may be advised. Guys like Jaelen Strong or Sammie Coates are worthy considerations in round one, while Dorial Green-Beckham would be a fun splash pick. Nelson Agholor could be a solid target for round two.
Vernon Davis either dropped off remarkably last year or the Niners phased him out of the offense – or both. Either way, he’s 30 and probably done with San Francisco, while Vance McDonald hasn’t done jack to suggest he can be the guy. The tight end crop isn’t necessarily deep, but SF could find a solid, balanced guy like Nick O’Leary as late as the third or fourth round if they’re lucky. Devin Funchess might be a fun project to try in the second or third round, too.
Defensive Needs: OLB, CB
San Francisco still has a very good defense and they just brought in Darnell Dockett to help shore up their defensive line. That makes landing a stud outside linebacker to ignite the pass rush the top priority. Let’s face it, Ahmad Brooks isn’t sticking around due to an inconsistent role and Aldon Smith is a freaking headcase and can’t be trusted. The Niners need some stability on the outside or at the worst another body to add to the rotation. The top edge rushers will be gone within the first 10 picks, but someone like Eli Harold might make sense in round two if he can fall that far.
The other area of need is the secondary, where the 49ers mostly just need to add some depth. They don’t even necessarily need to land some top level prospects here, but one way or another they’ll want to add a couple of bodies to increase competition and round out their depth.
The biggest thing to watch is going to be cuts out of San Francisco, as they’re projected to be roughly $6 million over the cap and will need to be smart with what they do. Depending on who they release to help save some cash, their needs could change drastically as we get closer to the draft. It’s entirely possible the Niners as we’ve grown to know them are headed for a sharp decline, but they still have power in the trenches on both sides of the ball. If they can add an impact offensive player, stop the bleeding at guard and add a more reliable pass rusher, they still have a shot at being a legit playoff contender.