With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the 49ers are now in “contend now” mode with the solid development of starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, as well as the advancement of one of the best defensive cores in all of football.
With very few legitimate “needs” in mind, what does the team need to address to get back to the promised land?
In this piece, I’ll go over three of the key positions that I believe the 49ers should address. These positions aren’t necessarily true weaknesses, as the team played well in every aspect, however, these are positions I think the 49ers could use an upgrade at.
Let’s start off with one of the more controversial positions of the team. Although Kyle Shanahan’s offense hasn’t required a top-end wide receiver, a lack of one can definitely hinder an offense’s production.
Since drafting Terrell Owens in 1996, the #49ers have been snake bitten when it comes to drafting WRs. Since 1997, only 3 WRs drafted by SF have gained more than 2,000 yards with the team.
Obviously, Michael Crabtree is one (4,327 yards). Can you name the other two?
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) February 25, 2020
Aside from Emmanuel Sanders being an impending free agent, the rest of the WR room has been limited due to injury. There is much speculation as to whether Jalen Hurd can play football again, as his back injury may be worse than people expect.
John Lynch said Jalen Hurd (back) did not join the team at the SB in Miami because Hurd was leery of what a long plane flight would do to his back. Lynch said Hurd has not quite been cleared medically but that that should happen in April.
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) February 25, 2020
Furthermore, Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor were also both placed on IR during the season and it seems clear that the team has durability issues at the position.
Although the front office speaks highly of the group, there are still questions surrounding the group of men and if they can return 100%. This draft has been noted as one of the deepest WR classes in years, do the 49ers risk spending another valuable pick to a position that appears to be boom or bust, or can they address the position via free agency?
The offensive line has done a good job with run blocking throughout the season, as even with the injuries to Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey for multiple weeks, as well as the loss of Weston Richburg for the season, the group’s depth has been superb.
Nevertheless, one area of concern for the unit has been pass blocking. Staley (77.0) and McGlinchey (70.5) have a strong pass blocking grade via PFF, with Laken Tomlinson just behind them at a 69.3. Weston Richburg also graded out at a solid 75.1. As for right guard Mike Person, his grade was a lowly 60.3. Needless to say, Person is a serviceable lineman who at this point may be better as a solid backup. It’s hard to blame one position for failing, however, Person’s play in comparison to the rest of the offensive line is definitely concerning.
With a thin free agency crop at the guard position, as well as a thin group of guards in the draft, the 49ers may look to address guard position with Daniel Brunskill. In his limited time, Brunskill graded out with an 80.9 pass-blocking grade, while playing right tackle and right guard. The options are few and far between, however, this position may simply come down to who Shanahan think’s is the best fit in the moment.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Jimmie Ward is a free agent this season, and his play when healthy has been up there with some of the best safeties in the league.
Jimmie Ward trying to go to the Super Bowl AND headline Wrestlemaniapic.twitter.com/X6hCb4axTd
— PFF (@PFF) January 20, 2020
Per PFF, Ward finished with an 84.2 grade, top-5 in the NFL at the free safety position. The 49ers however are somewhat in a salary cap bind with two major key players, Arik Armstead and Ward, needing an extension.
Putting on my GM cap, I would prioritize the defensive line. However, Ward’s play should not be overlooked. If he does decide to test FA, the 49ers are in play with the 31st pick to make a play at safeties such as Xavier McKinney, Grant Delpit, and Ashtyn Davis. It would be a gut-punch to lose Ward, but adding another young safety who can have the ceiling that Ward currently has would be vital to keeping the defense as strong as it was last season.
Meanwhile, in free agency, guys such as Tre Boston, Tony Jefferson, HaHa Clinton-Dix, and Anthony Harris could all be viable options to address the safety position, even with the tight salary cap.
Overall, the 49ers’ needs are more nit-picking than true needs. Even with these spots in mind, the team is nonetheless in a great position to make another deep playoff run, as many deem the team was a year ahead of schedule for their rebuild,