By Jon Lopuch, Associate Editor 49ers Offseason Needs We continue our team-by-team look at offseason needs with the 49ers, who were in the middle of the NFC West race until the very end of the season. What can they do this spring to close the gap on the Seahawks and will their changes make anyone beyond Frank Gore fantasy relevant?
Areas of Need: The 49ers addressed their need for a quarterback in 2005 when they used the first pick on Alex Smith. That drafted also netted them a running back, the aforementioned Frank Gore, in the second round. San Fran gave Smith a playmaking target at tight end last season when Vernon Davis was selected with another early first-round pick. The one area (and it's a glaring area) on offense the Niners need to address is wide receiver because Antonio Bryant clearly isn't a No. 1 in this league and Arnaz Battle is often overwhelmed as the second receiver. Replacing Bryant, who will miss the first two regular season games in 2007 because of a suspension, with a true No.1 wideout should be the top priority, but adding some youth to the line and finding a way to move Battle out of the starting lineup should also rate highly on the team's wish list.
The 49ers defense allowed 412 points in 2006, good for dead last in the league. Obviously there is work to be done with this unit, especially at cornerback and on the line. They have only one cornerback worthy of a starting spot, Walt Harris, so look for them to target another starting-caliber player in free agency or the draft. The Niners are also in the midst of converting their defense to a 3-4 base and they won't be successful at that conversion until they acquire a nose tackle that can eat up two blockers on every play.
Help is on the Way? While there is not an elite receiver available in this year's free agent class, the 49ers will have some talented rookies to chose from with the 11th pick. Calvin Johnson will be off the board by the time San Francisco is on the clock, but they may have their choice of Ted Ginn Jr. or Dwayne Jarrett . The Niners could also use the first round to solve their need for a defensive tackle if they feel Louisville's Amobi Okoye, a 19-year-old who has been very impressive at the Senior Bowl, is the best value.
The 49ers could go big when the free agent market opens and address their cornerback woes by buying Asante Samuel or Nate Clements. Teaming one of those guys up with Harris would go a long way towards solving the team's secondary woes. However, they may opt to take a younger approach and address this need via the draft by targeting such players as Marcus McCauley or Aaron Ross in the second or third round if they tackle at a more pressing need in the opening stanza.
Wants and Needs: The 49ers used free agency to address two of their primary needs this offseason, opting for quality (Nate Clements, Michael Lewis) in the secondary and quantity (Ashley Lelie, Bryant Gilmore) at wide receiver. With the 2007 receiver class so deep, don't be surprised if the Niners opt to augment Lelie and Gilmore with a first-day pick at the position and quite possibly one of their four fourth-rounders to be spent on a pass-catcher as well. The secondary could still use some depth, though with Clements and Lewis signed on that's not quite as high a priority. Upgrading the linebacking corps is, however, as is a pass-rushing defensive end. It's conceivable that aside from a couple pass-catchers, the bulk of San Francisco's eight picks among the first 135 will be directed towards the defensive side of the ball.
Potential Selections: Because of the depth at wide receiver in this draft, it's more likely Nolan addresses defense with San Francisco's first pick. The club would love for Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis to be on the board for them at No. 11, and at present that looks like a distinct possibility. Fallback options include Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker or possibly Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch. Barring a late first-round run on wideouts there should be plenty for the Niners to choose from early in round two; USC's Steve Smith or Ohio State's Anthony Gonzalez could step in and play right away, but San Francisco may go for a bit more potential—and size—if South Carolina's Sidney Rice, USC's Dwayne Jarrett, or Tennessee's Robert Meachem remain on the board into round two. Expect one of those fourth-rounders to be earmarked for a receiver as well, with Fresno State's Paul Williams and Miami's Ryan Moore contenders. There's also a chance the Niners go after Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. with that first-round pick, getting both receiver help for Alex Smith and a quality return man as well. Outside of the receivers, expect San Francisco to heavily address defensive depth throughout Day One and into that pick-heavy fourth-round. A hybrid end/linebacker type like Florida's Jarvis Moss would fit well into Nolan's scheme, but he'd require a first-round pick. Georgia's Quentin Moses is a similar player whose stock has fallen to the point where the 49ers might be able to pick him up in round two. Also fitting that mode is Michigan's David Harris, who should be available a round or two later. Secondary depth could be found in the same range, with the Niners likely able to pick from amongst South Carolina's Fred Bennett, Clemson's C.J. Gaddis, and Georgia Tech's Kenny Scott.
as much as my excitement wants to pickup an offensive playmaker, I think the team would be better off picking up some defensive help. Nate really helps us out with our secondary woes, but we can't just leave him out there alone. If we can't rush the passer, it won't matter who's covering the receivers. They will eventually get open.
I like to stop the run more than anything on defense. It creates long passing situations for [a lot of] teams on 3rd downs and that alone will help Nate and the rest of the team. However, considering the Rams and the Cardinals I would have to say need of division will require a pass rusher. Whether its a DE, OLB, or DE/OLB hybrid I wanna attack the QB this year and not give the opposing team time to burn us on those long passes.