I have made a habit of looking at the roster at different points in the year in an attempt to gain perspective on direction, needs, or development. This seems like a good time since the biggest wave of Free Agency seems to have broken. There will surely be more additions, but this will be a position by position breakdown of how the team stands and what areas need to be addressed. I will break every position down by my perceived locks for the roster followed by the competition currently on the team. I will then try to assess the needs of each position based on my own analysis. I would love to hear your input if you manage to read through the entire post.
Offense (25 Players):
QBs (3 players):
Locks - Alex Smith, Josh Johnson, Colin Kaepernick
Competition - Scott Tolzien
Assessment - No perceived need. Alex has been brought back to continue his growth. Johnson has been brought in to push him and add experience to the back-up position. I still believe Kaepernick is slated to be the future of the position. Johnson's arrival is simply more competition and more knowledge of Harbaugh's system. There is a chance that Johnson might see some action in set plays if Roman and Harbaugh decide to get creative.
Draft - No need to waste a pick unless they get GREAT value.
WRs (5 Players):
Locks - Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams
Competition - Dontavia Bogan, John Matthews, Joe Hastings
Assessment - Going into Free Agency this was the biggest area of need. The thought process was that the team would add a few veterans and still draft a WR high. That may have changed. Many of you will argue that Williams is not a lock, but if you forget about the muffed punts he was a guy that improved quite a bit throughout the season. It will take a special talent dropping in the first round or a surprise late round guy to unseat him. It could happen but it isn't nearly as likely to happen as we once thought. The first four guys on the list are locked in and I am very happy that Ginn is back to be the return man.
Draft - The team will most likely bring in a guy somewhere to push the competition but it isn't likely to be a high pick.
TEs (3-4 Players):
Locks - Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker
Competition - Nate Byham, Konrad Reuland
Assessment - This is a position of strength with Davis, Walker's potential, and Byham's return. Fans are still calling for the team to draft Fleener and I don't blame them. His skill set is better than anyone on this roster not named Davis and that is essential in this offense. Delanie had an outstanding first half of the season but disappeared late. The broken jaw added to it, but Walker hadn't done much for about a month before the injury. Even if the team lands a guy like Fleener, Walker is most likely to make the team since he adds Special Team value and can be electric when he is targeted. Byham presents an interesting possibility. He is a bruiser in the run game and is deceptively quick in the passing game, but he is coming off of a big injury. Reuland seems to be on the outside looking in unless he makes a big jump from last year.
Draft - This position is the epitome of the team's draft potential. There is no NEED here, but there may be a talent that is WANTED. If they have a shot at Fleener in the first round the team would be stupid not to take it but the position would still be good if they don't end up picking someone up.
RBs (4-5 Players):
Locks - Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Bruce Miller, Rock Cartwright
Competition - Anthony Dixon
Assessment - This is an interesting position. Gore is the entrenched start, Miller proved he can make the transition to fullback, Hunter offers an explosive alternative, and Cartwright was brought in to be the special team ace. That, plus Gore's age, would seem to spell the end for fan favorite Dixon. Dixon has proven to be a stud on special teams, but has not been able to prove himself as a RB. The team would be smart to look for a future replacement for Gore sometime in the first three rounds. Hunter doesn't seem to have the size to be the every down back and Cartwright's days of rushing the ball are behind him.
Draft - Definite need for a big back to mentor under Gore. The team might also want to bring in a back-up for Miller but good fullbacks can often be found in the UDFA pool.
OL (9 Players):
Locks - Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Anthony Davis, Alex Boone, Daniel Kilgore
Competition - Mike Person, Derek Hall, Kenny Wiggins, Garrett Chisolm, Chase Beeler
Assessment - The most immediate need for this team is at RG. Kilgore was impressive in limited action in the preseason and the team thought enough of him to trade up to get him. Still, the team can't rely on him to be the only option. I fully expect Baalke to bring in a vet before training camp but the team will also look to strengthen the interior through the draft. Kilgore and Beeler will also get work as back-up options at center, but the team might target a center at #30 to take over for Goodwin one day. With only six guys as "locks" the team will need three more guys to step up. Hall has a good shot to be the fourth tackle unless Person proves he has the feet to play on the outside.
Draft - The team will almost definitely grab an interior guy in the first three rounds, hopefully a guy with the potential to play Center. They might target a tackle later to push Hall, Person and Boone.
Defense (25 Players):
DL (6-7 Players):
Locks - Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois, Will Tukuafu
Competition - DeMarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams
Assessment - This is the strength of the team. Smith, Sopoaga, and McDonald were other-worldly last year and RJF was a solid back-up. I debated putting Tukuafu on the lock list, but the team, specifically Tomsula, seems to love him. His injury was unfortunate but he seems poised to have a nice bounce back this year. He has nice size and a nose for the ball. After RJF and Tukuafu, the team is thin. Dobbs showed flashes during the preseason but needs more bulk to hold his ground. Williams is a pure NT and could be valuable if he learned his position last year. Sopoaga is the only other pure NT on the team and he will need some breaks.
Draft - I really want to see the team bring in another guy for depth. This unit, with the exception of Tukuafu, was very healthy last year. They need depth badly.
ILBs (4 Players):
Locks - Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant*
Competition - Michael Wilhoite (?)
Assessment - This is a studly group, but that may change. Willis and Bowman are the obvious starters. Grant is a very capable back-up but he is a RFA and another team might decide to sign him away. If that happens the team has no back-up here besides Gooden who was a special team only player last year. The "competition" is a guy I've never even heard of so the team would be wise to grab a guy in the middle rounds to compete. The last thing this team needs is an injury here to put a hole in this defense.
Draft - Unless a vet becomes available with 3-4 ILB experience, they need to bring in a guy here. I would say a 4th or 5th round guy would be fine. If Grant is signed away that needs becomes more imminent.
OLBs (4 Players):
Locks - Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson
Competition - N/A
Assessment - Very strong but very thin. Aldon looks to take the next step and push Parys to the bench. Many called for him to be released but that would be foolish right now. Haralson is very stout against the run and has a great motor. That is ideal for a back-up. The issue is that the team has no depth. Aldon and Brooks are signed long term and will be the bookends for some time but they need insurance on the bench. If there are injuries the team doesn't want to have to go to the street to find a replacement for such an integral position.
Draft - The team will definitely have to bring in a few bodies. It would be a perfect time to bring in some raw late round talent to develop for the future. I would like to see at least two rookies brought in from the 4th round through UDFA.
Safeties (4-5 Players):
Locks - Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, C.J. Spillman
Competition - Colin Jones, Mark LeGree, Cory Nelms
Assessment - The starters are strong and entrenched. Spillman has moved up the depth chart and has the potential to see some time on defense instead of being just a special team player. After those three the water gets murky. Colin Jones proved to be a stud special teamer but offers little to no value on defense. LeGree is extremely talented but raw. He projects to have a higher ceiling than the other competition but who knows how he will develop. Nelms is CB with the potential to play FS. He has blazing speed and could be a nice ballhawking centerfielder. Last year Fangio kept 6 safeties on the roster to start the season but that was mainly because of the question marks surrounding Goldson's health and Whitner's effectiveness. With the depth available at CB I would be suprised if they kept more than 4 this year.
Draft - If a big time FS talent drops in the early rounds the team would have to take a long look. They will probably add someone in the later rounds if not.
CBs (5-6 Players):
Locks - Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver
Competition - Perrish Cox, Tramaine Brock, Curtis Holcomb, Cory Nelms
Assessment - The team's top three CBs have proven themselves to be locks. Cox and Brock are in good shape to round out this group but Cox has to show he can brush off the lost year and Brock has to show he has the speed to keep up with outside receivers. I wouldn't sleep on Holcomb either. The team was high on him last year noting that he was a 4 year captain in college which is unheard of normally. He just needs to show he has recovered from his preseason injury. Nelms will compete here as well. He has the speed but needs the technique.
Draft - This is really not a position of need right now. The top three guys are very solid and the next 2-3 guys have high ceilings. I imagine a few bodies will be brought in to compete but there is no need to spend a high draft pick on this position.
Summary: If you read this far I appreciate your patronage. Here is a summation of needs ranked by my priority:
RB - The team would be wise to find a guy early to start grooming to replace Gore.
OG/C - Right Guard is the biggest hole on the team and Goodwin's replacement needs to be identified sooner rather than later.
DL - Justin Smith isn't getting any younger and the drop off to the second string might be the biggest of any unit.
OLB - Great starters but zero depth.
TE - The depth and talent on the team is good right now but another playmaker to go with Davis would be huge. Can Walker be that guy?
ILB - This becomes a need if Grant leaves.
WR (Return Specialist?) - Ginn's return makes this a lower priority but more options would always be a good thing.
FS - Spillman has little experience as the back-up.
Any feedback would be most appreciated! I hope you enjoyed it!
[ Edited by Karma on Mar 23, 2012 at 9:30 PM ]