The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the San Francisco 49ers team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
After the San Francisco 49ers failed to make the playoffs in the 2014-2015 season, the organization and former head coach Jim Harbaugh parted ways. San Francisco promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to their head coaching vacancy in January of 2015, returning him to a position he held for one game in 2007, after the firing of then-coach Mike Singletary. During his introductory press conference, Tomsula was asked if the 49ers would win the Super Bowl. The new head coach responded with, “I’m not going to write a check. I’d much rather show you.”
Things did not go according to plan.
San Francisco lost a number of players before the season began, leaving them scurrying to find replacements. Linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired unexpectedly, as did offensive tackle Anthony Davis. The retirement of defensive end Justin Smith was perhaps more expected, but this left the team needing to fill some big holes before the season. Making things more difficult was the fact that the Davis and Smith retirements came after the draft.
San Francisco opened their season on Monday night with a surprising victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but it was downhill from there. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled, looking lost at times, and was replaced later in the year by free agent signee Blaine Gabbert. The 49ers limped to a 5-11 season, and Tomsula was fired after the season finale. Ten days later, the organization announced the hiring of Chip Kelly, formerly the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kaepernick’s struggles in 2015 led him to the bench by season’s end, replaced by former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round selection Blaine Gabbert. While the backup showed some flashes of solid play during his action last season, perhaps neither signal-caller is the long-term solution at this position. With Chip Kelly bringing his offensive scheme to the organization, the new head coach might look to draft a quarterback he can groom within his system.
The departure of Davis was a shock that sent reverberations around the football world, but also impacted the on-the-field product for the organization. Left tackle Joe Staley remains an upper-level talent on the OL, but there are holes in this unit. Should Davis return, as he indicated he is interested in returning to football, it would allow the team to slot him in at right tackle. But help is needed for this group.
This is another position in a state of flux at the moment. San Francisco signed Torrey Smith as a free agent prior to the 2015 season, giving the former Baltimore Raven a five-year, $40 million dollar deal. Smith caught 33 passes for 663 yards and four touchdowns, hardly the production that the organization was hoping to receive from the veteran. Anquan Boldin recently turned 35 and is currently a free agent. The team hopes to get last year’s fourth-round selection DeAndre Smelter back after losing a year to a knee injury, but, given the question marks with this group, a rookie or two would be a much-needed addition.
Second-year player Arik Armstead hopes to shed the “bust” label after a rookie season where he tallied only two sacks and 19 tackles, hardly the numbers 49ers fans expected from the first-round pick in 2015. Nose tackle Ian Williams showed he could dominate in the interior, and was re-signed in March. But given the lack of production from Armstead and the injury to Glenn Dorsey, another defensive end, the 49ers would be wise to get some help for their defensive front via free agency or the draft.
Tramine Brock looks to have one CB slot locked down, but the organization needs to find themselves another solid option at the cornerback position. Kenneth Ackers, Dontae Johnson, and Marcus Cromartie all saw time opposite Brock in 2015, with Ackers grabbing a team-high three interceptions (tied with Brock). Going forward, though, finding a more permanent fixture at the other CB slot would be a smart decision for San Francisco.
The retirement of Willis hurt the linebacking corp, but, with NaVorro Bowman on the inside, the 49ers still enjoy one of the more talented ILBs in the game today. Gerald Hodges saw time opposite Bowman on the inside of the San Francisco 3-4 scheme, with Shayne Skov also pushing for significant playing time. On the outside, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch are more than serviceable. Adding some talent to this group to bolster the back half of this position late in the draft would be a smart move.
Set, For Better Or Worse
Carlos Hyde looks to be the starting running back in San Francisco, and was off to a solid start in 2015 before a foot injury shelved him for the rest of the season. He was replaced by a committee of Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis, and long-term project Jarryd Hayne. It remains to be seen who emerges as the #2 back behind Hyde for Chip Kelly. Also lurking in the wings is Reggie Bush, who might find himself in an increased role in the new offense.
This might be the strongest position group on the roster. Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid are a formidable duo at the back half of the secondary, and Jaquiski Tartt, a second-round selection in 2015, brings a versatile skill-set to the secondary. Tartt, out of Sanford University, saw significant time for the 49ers after Bethea suffered an injury, making multiple starts. The rookie also saw the field in a number of different personnel packages and often lined up as a linebacker in a number of nickel schemes.