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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


6 positions the 49ers still need to upgrade

Marc Adams
Mar 16, 2024 at 10:26 AM--



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It's been a busy offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. And yet the offseason is just getting started. There are still several weeks of free agency left, plus the NFL Draft in late April. So there is plenty of time for the team to improve.

The 49ers upgraded their defensive line this week, adding a couple of starters, like Leonard Floyd (edge) and Maliek Collins (defensive tackle), as well as a couple of backups to that group. So what are some of the areas in which the 49ers need to strengthen the roster? Let's take a look at six positions the 49ers could still use an upgrade:

Center


While it seems the 49ers coaches like starting center Jake Brendel, an upgrade at this position would be a welcomed sight. It's not that Brendel has been bad. He's been good and has most certainly been reliable, starting 34 of 34 regular season games with the 49ers. But the 49ers need to do better at this position.

The biggest issues with the interior of the offensive line seem to come in the biggest moments of the biggest games. The 49ers could stand to be a little stronger at center, especially in those big moments. There are times when Brendel simply can hold back the stronger defensive tackles. And when you get into those obvious passing downs, or obvious rushing downs, you need your interior to hold up. That's not Brendel's strength.

It's looking less and less likely that an upgrade will be made at center for this coming season, especially since offensive line coach, Chris Forrester, is a big fan of Brendel.

Right Tackle


Colton McKivitz wasn't bad in his first season as a starting right tackle. But he wasn't that good either. He was, essentially, a lower-priced Mike McGlinchey. McKivitz is currently slated to be the starting right tackle for 2024.

The 49ers will almost certainly not upgrade this position in free agency, but perhaps they can in the draft. And while a rookie tackle may not win the starting job over McKivitz right out of the gate, maybe he could by season's end. The best-case scenario would be to find an upgrade over McKivitz who can ultimately replace Trent Williams when he retires. But that may be too much to ask, especially with the 49ers picking at 31 in this year's draft.

But if the 49ers decided to trade up and grab a good tackle, they might be able to have that best-case scenario happen. That would sure make the fanbase happy.

Safety


Talanoa Hufanga was an All-Pro in 2022. He's a dynamic, young player. Ji'Ayir Brown is heading into his second NFL season. He jumps off the screen when you watch him, and he made some big plays, including an interception in the Super Bowl. But there are three reasons the 49ers may need to upgrade this position.

  1. Hufanga is coming off an ACL tear, and no one knows when he'll return, and what he will look like when he returns. Some players take longer than others to return to their pre-injury level of play. Some never get back to that level.
  2. The 49ers are looking at safeties in free agency, including some starters like Justin Simmons. Is that because they're concerned about Hufanga's recovery?
  3. Brown didn't play much as a rookie. Could this be another reason the 49ers would want to upgrade at safety?

In addition to looking at some NFL safeties, the 49ers have met with some college safeties in preparation for the draft, so it's possible they could draft another one.

Linebacker


Another injury that will impact 2024 is the Achilles injury that Dre Greenlaw suffered in the Super Bowl. These injuries are hard to come back from, and they are hard to predict when a player might return. Having spoken with or heard from three different orthopedic surgeons, I still don't know when Greenlaw might return. I've heard he has a chance to return by week one. I've been told it may be November. I've also read he may miss the entire season. One orthopedist even told me some NFL linebackers never return from Achilles tears.

So the 49ers need to upgrade over what they currently have at this position, just in case Greenlaw can't return in time to help in 2024. The 49ers addressed the position this week, signing former Green Bay Packers LB De'Vondre Campbell, but he only played in 11 games last season, due to multiple injuries. Campbell is an eight-year veteran who has been healthy most of his career but has missed a combined 10 games in the past two seasons.

However, in 2021, Campbell was named First-Team All-Pro. If the 49ers get that version of Campbell, they will have upgraded this position until Greenlaw returns. If not, then this could still be a position of need, especially if second-year players Dee Winters and Jalen Graham don't step up.

Corner


Last year, the 49ers signed Isaiah Oliver to play nickel corner. That did not work out. Oliver was a mess, and couldn't cover quicker slot receivers. So the 49ers ended up moving Deommodore Lenoir inside and bringing in Ambry Thomas to play on the outside. But Thomas was up and down, mostly down. In the Super Bowl, Thomas was benched for Logan Ryan, a safety who had only been with the team a matter of weeks.

The coaches like Darrell Luter, Jr., but his rookie season was mostly lost to injury. He will have the chance to compete for a starting spot at outside corner, along with recently signed CB Isaac Yiadom, who started eight games for the New Orleans Saints in 2023. The six-year pro has been with six different teams and is now headed to his seventh. But he played well last season and could be the upgrade the 49ers need.

Expect the 49ers to draft a corner or two in April.

Tight end


Last April, the 49ers drafted two tight ends, Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis. Latu missed the entire season, and Willis barely played. The 49ers also lost Charlie Woerner to the Atlanta Falcons. So the 49ers need a number two tight end.

The 49ers would love to have more than just a blocking tight end to pair with star George Kittle. They'd like to have a dual threat, who, like Kittle, can block and be a threat in the passing game. Can Latu or Willis be that guy? Or will they need to go outside of the organization, through free agency or the draft, to find their guy?

The 49ers have made a lot of progress in the early days of free agency. But they still have a long way to go in upgrading the roster. Fortunately, there's still plenty of offseason.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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