SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS / 2013 TEAM NEEDS
Jim Harbaugh’s bold move to go with QB Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith halfway through last season added an explosive dimension to the offense. The Niners can still pound it with RB Frank Gore, but they can also threaten opponents deep with WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis. This group will benefit from a full offseason with Kaepernick as the starter.
TOP 3 OFFENSIVE NEEDS
WR — Although Crabtree finally blossomed into a legitimate No. 1, the rest of this group underwhelmed. Mario Manningham has a long road back after tearing his ACL and PCL in Week 17. Randy Moss was a virtual nonfactor who is unlikely to return. First-rounder A.J. Jenkins failed to catch a pass as a rookie.
QB — Kaepernick is the present and future, which allowed the Niners to deal Smith to the Chiefs this offseason. A heavyweight Super Bowl contender like the Niners likely will want a better contingency plan behind the dynamic Kaepernick than Scott Tolzien, who has yet to attempt a regular-season pass.
TE — The highly versatile Delanie Walker could depart in free agency, creating a vacancy behind Davis. The club likes 2012 undrafted free agent Garrett Celek, but he is more of an in-line blocker. Surrounding Kaepernick with as many pass catchers as possible is the name of the game, and coordinator Greg Roman would love another jack-of-all-trades like Walker if he does move on.
Few teams in the league have the type of talent and physicality of Vic Fangio’s group. The NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense a season ago, the Niners have major star power at all three levels, including the league’s best linebacking corps. The group could benefit from a second consistent pass-rush source outside of LB Aldon Smith, however.
TOP 3 DEFENSIVE NEEDS
DT — Justin Smith can still overwhelm blockers as both a rusher and run stuffer, but chinks in the armor began to appear for the first time when a torn triceps cost him two games. Ricky Jean-Francois was very good in Smith’s absence, but he and fellow DT Isaac Sopoaga are both set to test the free-agent market.
OLB — Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are ultra productive. The depth of this group could use a youth infusion, though. Clark Haggans is a free agent who is on the wrong side of 30, and Cam Johnson is an unknown at this point. Fangio’s scheme can never have too many outside ’backers that can generate consistent edge pressure.
S — Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner comprise perhaps the best safety tandem in the league. Goldson is another free agent, however, who could receive significant interest on the market, and Whitner is entering the final year of his deal. The club likes 26-year-old C.J. Spillman, though he has just one career start in his five seasons.
2012 DRAFT REWIND
1st round (30): WR A.J. Jenkins / Illinois (GP/GS: 3/0)
2nd round (61): RB LaMichael James / Oregon (GP/GS: 4/0)
4th round (117): OG-C Joe Looney / Wake Forest (GP/GS: 0/0)
5th round (165): OLB Darius Fleming / Notre Dame (GP/GS: 0/0)
6th round (180): FS Trent Robinson / Michigan State (GP/GS: 3/0)
6th round (199): C Jason Slowey / Western Oregon (GP/GS: 0/0)
7th round (237) DE Cam Johnson / Virginia (GP/GS: 2/0)
SUMMARY: Outside of James’ late contributions, this rookie class didn’t offer much during the run to the Super Bowl.