Now that you’ve had a look at Arizona’s needs, we continue on in the NFC West with the division’s title holders, the San Francisco 49ers.
Fans and media alike say year after year that this year is going to be “the year” for the San Francisco 49ers. Well, 2011 did end up being “the year” for them, and what a year it was. Under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh and his staff, the 49ers took a quantum leap that landed them in the NFC Championship game. After getting further than they had since the ’97-’98 season, how do they make the next step and reach the Super Bowl?
We’ll take a look at three areas of concern that could help toward that goal.
Primary Need: Wide Receiver
There wasn’t a game in which the need for another explosive receiver to line up opposite Michael Crabtree was more evident than the NFC Championship. The 49ers thought they were getting their guy when they signed Braylon Edwards (-4.8) to an incentive-laden deal last August, but Edwards wasn’t able to stay on the field, as chronic injuries eventually led to his release. His disappointing grades in 2009 and 2010 should have led them to look elsewhere, even though he came at a bargain. Kyle Williams (-1.0) showed flashes when playing in the slot and filling in for the injury plagued group of receivers, but the consistency never proved to be there.
The free agent class of wide receivers this year proves to be plenty deep, so if the 49ers want to solidify that position its best to do it now with big time players like Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, and Marques Colston hitting the market. If San Francisco is looking to avoid overspending, they could get a real steal in Brandon Lloyd (+5.8) if he decides to not reunite with Josh McDaniels in New England. His experience and big play ability could make a second go around in San Francisco much smoother than the first.
Secondary Need: Guard
While San Francisco’s offensive line was seen by many as a reason for their success last season, it would be smart to argue the contrary. Sure, Mike Iupati (+10.4) had a really nice season at left guard, but outside of that there wasn’t one other starter on the offensive line who graded out positively. Adam Snyder took over the starting right guard position for Chilo Rachal in Week 4 and I still can’t figure out why. Rachal had three bad games to start the season and he may not be a huge upgrade, but at least he has shown some really good play at times; the same can’t be said for Snyder who was our 75th worst offensive guard out of 77.
With both Snyder and Rachal scheduled for free agency, it seems as if the 49ers will look outside the organization for their next guard. The market for an guards in free agency is pretty thin, unless they are willing to shell out a large chunk of change for Carl Nicks or Ben Grubbs. A guy who might be an ideal fit, however, is Chad Rinehart; Rinehart can play both guard positions and he plays both quite well. He is young and would keep Alex Smith upright, something every quarterback appreciates. Finishing in the Top 10 overall rankings for guards, with a grade +12.4, Rinehart would be a huge upgrade to the interior offensive line.
Tertiary Need: Cornerback
Picking up former first round draft pick Carlos Rogers last year in a shortened free agency period proved to be one of the best moves made by newly appointed general manager Trent Baalke. Rogers had his best season, since we started grading, in 2011 (+12.0) and it seemed as if the scenery change from Washington, and Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, was just what Rogers needed to jump start his career again. Opposite of Rogers was Tarell Brown (+6.1) who will remain the starter going forward as he is under contract through 2014; the 49ers may look to upgrade their Nickel package though, as Chris Culliver’s play was average.
While Rogers deal was only one year, it would be wise of the 49ers to lock him up long term. Some feel that it would be smart to let Rogers walk and implement Culliver as the full-time starter, but as I mentioned above that his play was average at best. Sure, he was a rookie last season and his ceiling seems high, but cornerbacks are a high priority in todays NFL, so why not re-up with Rogers? He is the best of the best on the market and having adding depth in the secondary can never hurt. The only real question that could come into play is the length of the contract with Rogers being 31 at the start of the 2012 season.