2013 Team Needs: San Francisco 49ers
PFF's Jeff Deeney analyzes how the 49ers could use free agency to turn their NFC Championship title into a Super Bowl crown.
2013 Team Needs: San Francisco 49ers
The past season saw the San Francisco 49ers capture their first George Halas Trophy in 18 years, and come agonizingly close to adding another trophy named for an NFL legend. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh made the gutsy move mid-season to hand the franchise’s hopes to second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and with a revamped offense and one of the stingiest defenses in the league, the Niners were one of the most complete outfits in football.
The 49ers boast one of the deepest teams in the league, but with several players departing they will still have some holes to fillin the offseason.
Here is a look at a few needs and possible solutions. Click here for a full list of all the 49ers’ free agents.
Michael Crabtree emerged as a bona fide No. 1 receiver in 2012. His numbers jumped after Kaepernick became the starting quarterback, and Crabtree finished the year with a 2.55 Yards per Route Run (YPRR) figure, which tied him with Calvin Johnson for third-best on the list. San Francisco quarterbacks had a 119.5 QB rating when throwing to Crabtree in 2012, which was tied for the fourth-best rating in the league.
After Crabtree, there are question marks going into 2013. Both Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams suffered torn ACLs late in 2012, and their status is still uncertain for the beginning of 2013. Randy Moss has hinted he would like to play another season, but it’s likely he will look for a different team where he can play a larger role in the offense. Ted Ginn Jr. is also a free agent and not likely to return. Meanwhile, rookie A.J. Jenkins dropped the only pass thrown to him in 2012.
Manningham had proven to be a solid starter opposite Crabtree, earning a +8.1 grade in 12 games. He caught 76.4% of passes thrown his way, while dropping only one all season. Williams averaged a little over 20 snaps a game before his season-ending injury in Week 12. His 1.43 YPRR in limited time is in the bottom half of that category.
The Free Agent Fix: Brandon Gibson
Brandon Gibson set a career mark with 691 receiving yards in 2012, while catching five touchdown passes, one more than he had his first four years in the league combined. Gibson earned a +6.6 grade in 2012, while catching 68.0% of the passes thrown to him. Sam Bradford racked up a 108.3 QB rating when targeting Gibson during the season.
Gibson would provide excellent depth to a wide receiving corps that may not be healthy at the beginning of 2013. He turns 26 in the offseason and should be entering his prime, and the durable Gibson has missed only three games in the past three seasons.
The 49ers went with either a nickel or dime package a little over 63% of the time in 2012. When they go with five or more defensive backs, the nose tackle is usually the first to sub out of the lineup. While defensive ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith played 982 and 840 snaps respectively, starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga saw the field on only 335 plays during the regular season.
Unfortunately, in those limited snaps Sopoaga’s play earned him a -12.0 overall grade, landing him 82nd on our list of 85 interior defensive linemen. Sopoaga was non-existent rushing the passer, generating only three QB disruptions in 129 rushes. He wasn’t much better against the run, as his -7.4 grade ranked 77th out of 85 tackles, and he tallied a mediocre 6.4 Run Stop Percentage.
The Free Agent Fix: Aubrayo Franklin
The 49ers would best be served to bring back one of the former members of their defense. Franklin’s return to San Francisco (he played for the 49ers from 2007-2010) would provide a solid, short-term solution at the nose tackle position, and easily shore up the only hole in their run defense. He earned a +6.8 grade against the run in 2012, and his 11.1 Run Stop Percentage ranked second among interior linemen.
With Kaepernick suddenly entrenched as the franchise quarterback, Alex Smith will be looking for a new home in 2013.
Smith has one year left on his contract at $7.5 million, with $1 million of that guaranteed. The other $6.5 million becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1. Suffice it to say that prior to that date he will be either traded for (most likely) a late-round pick or be released and able to choose his new team.
The only other QB on the roster is Scott Tolzien, who served as the third quarterback in 2011 and 2012 after being claimed from the San Diego Chargers. The 49ers will need to bring someone in to compete with Tolzien for the No. 2 job.
The Free Agent Fix: Jason Campbell
I am sure many 49er fans will cringe at first glance of Campbell’s name, as he struggled mightily to a -5.5 grade behind a porous offensive line in Chicago’s Week 11 game at Candlestick. Another game Campbell would also like to forget came in 2010 when, while leading the Raiders against the 0-5 49ers, he was held to 83 yards passing, registered a 10.7 QB rating, and threw two interceptions in a 17-9 loss.
That being said, Campbell was on his way to leading the Raiders to a 4-2 record when he went down for the season with a broken collarbone in Week 6 of the 2011 season. He had garnered a +4.0 grade on the year before getting injured, and had put up a respectable 84.2 QB rating and 7.1 yards per attempt. Campbell was sacked only 8.2% of the time he was pressured, which was the lowest percentage of any starting quarterback in 2011.
Campbell would fit the mold of a solid, veteran No. 2 quarterback, and would provide some insurance since the 49ers’ offense often sees Kaepernick running or scrambling with the ball in his hands.
A cheaper, more mobile option might be Josh Johnson, who narrowly lost the No. 3 job to Tolzien in the preseason, before ending up in Cleveland.
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