Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports


49ers must make it a priority to invest in skill positions on offense

Al Sacco
Apr 20, 2017 at 7:48 AM2


The last San Francisco 49ers quarterback to make a Pro Bowl was Jeff Garcia following the 2001 season. In the years since, only two other teams (Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins) have failed to have a signal caller chosen for the honor. That's kind of hard to believe when you consider all the alternates and injury replacements who are routinely added to the roster on a regular basis. Even the Cleveland Browns got one random good year from Derek Anderson that earned him a selection in 2007. The wide receiver position has been just as dreadful, as no one on the 49ers has made it from that group since 2002 (Terrell Owens). In fact, San Francisco has only had a wideout break 1,000 yards three times since '02 (Michael Crabtree 2012, Anquan Boldin 2013-14), which looks even worse when you consider 25 players eclipsed that number in 2016 alone. In these cases the numbers don't lie, as offense is a challenge for the 49ers, and has been for some time.

Despite the struggles, optimism is high these days as new head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the most innovative and bright offensive minds in the game. If anyone can turn this trend around it's him, but he does need, you know, players. On the surface, San Francisco did a nice job this offseason upgrading pieces that will throw, catch, and run with the ball, but it's unlikely that any of them are more than just place holders and role players.

Let's start at receiver where Pierre Garcon has had some prolific seasons, but at 31-years-old he's more of a short-term bandage as opposed to a long-term fix. Shanahan will find ways to get Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson involved, but neither has a track record of being overly productive. Both have played four seasons in the league, and they've combined for 1,711 career receiving yards. It's tough to count on guys to be prolific when they've averaged a little over 200 yards per year. Even Jeremy Kerley, San Francisco's leading receiver in 2016, has only broken 667 yards once in his career, and that was five years ago with the New York Jets. Beyond those mentioned, it's difficult to project anything out of the likes of Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter or Aaron Burbridge, because none of them have accomplished anything in the NFL.

The quarterback situation appears to be in a holding pattern, as the roster right now consists of journeymen Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. While Hoyer is a better fit for Shanahan's system than, say, Colin Kaepernick would be, it's debatable as to whether or not he's much of an overall upgrade. Hoyer has shown flashes and played relatively well under Shanahan in Cleveland in 2014, but he's a fringe starter in the league and the 49ers will be his fourth team in four years. If he's starter material, why doesn't anyone keep him around?

If you want to branch out into running back and tight end, you'll find just as many question marks. The recent history there isn't as glaring with Frank Gore and Vernon Davis providing stability, but the future is cloudy. Carlos Hyde has promise, but he's in the last year of his deal and needs a productive and healthy season to have any chance of returning. Beyond Hyde, the only back signed past 2017 is Mike Davis, and he's far from a lock to make the team. Vance McDonald headlines the tight end group, but even with a new contract, it's hard to rely on someone whose career numbers (64/866/7) would have been an average season for someone like Davis just a handful of years ago. One plus here is the addition of Kyle Juszczyk, as the former Baltimore Ravens fullback will be used in a more all-purpose role in San Francisco, and could replace much of the production needed at tight end.

So with really no cornerstone pieces of which to speak at any offensive skill positions, you have to wonder if Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will make that a priority in the 2017 draft, or wait until next year to address the situation. While the 49ers do own the second overall pick, there don't appear to be any offensive weapons worthy of taking that high. You could argue that if they feel Leonard Fournette of LSU is the best player they should select him, but in a draft that's deep with ball carriers, I'm not sure that's the smartest move. If San Francisco is able to trade down, then someone like Stanford's Christian McCaffrey could be on the table as a backfield option, or maybe one of the top receivers on the board would make sense.

Even if the 49ers wait to address offense until day two, there are still plenty of options later in the draft who could step in and eventually develop into cornerstone pieces. ECU's Zay Jones, Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp and USC's Juju Smith-Schuster are all examples of possible impact receivers who could be had after the first round, and there are even rumors of Western Michigan's Corey Davis slipping into the second round. As far as the backfield goes, Alvin Kamara of Tennessee or Kareem Hunt of Toledo would be nice fits in Shanahan's offense, and should be there in the middle rounds. The situation doesn't look as optimistic at quarterback however, as there appear to be more questions than answers. The best route might be to take a chance on a developmental guy later, and hope a guru like Shanahan can work his magic. Maybe someone like Nathan Peterman of Pittsburgh or Miami's Brad Kaaya would be worth a shot.

Despite the glaring need, even if Lynch and company do wait a year to address the skill positions and concentrate of defense now, it's understandable. Why? Well the Niner's depleted roster is not an overnight fix, and with six-year contracts, both Lynch and Shanahan understand they have time to rebuild. The braintrust may feel the offensive talent coming out next year is superior, and it's best to wait and get the right guys rather than force it. Fans should be confident though, that unlike its predecessor, the new regime understands the importance of skill players, and will make the right decisions in adding them to the roster in time.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013 and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast presented by 49ers Webzone. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49
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.


2 Comments

  • Charles
    We need LeonardFournette
    Apr 20, 2017 at 4:03 PM
    2
  • Blah blah blah
    Duh. Seems simple to me. Trade back with Washington. Get Cousins and another second rounder. Draft McCaffery at 17. Take the best WR available at 34. Getting Cousins is not only the safest bet short term. It's also the best bet long term. Gives you more time to find QB plus a chance to win now. That simple trade just stacked your offense. #2 is just not that great to have this year. Our offense has been neglected enough for too long.
    Apr 20, 2017 at 9:26 AM
    1

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