As the 2012 season finally came to a bittersweet end, the San Francisco 49ers can now focus on improving an all ready loaded roster. With an abundance of Pro-Bowl talent, where do the Niners begin? Do they target a true-shut down corner or add depth to an aging defensive line? Do they draft the best player available or sign a proven pass-rusher via free-agency? All these questions will certainly be answered, as the draft comes to fruition. However, our jobs as bloggers, is to provide our readers with an insight, on who we think, the 49ers will target, based on the limited information we know today. So without further ado, I have compiled a list of the Niner’s top priorities, heading into the 2013 season, and the possible players they may be targeting.
1. Cornerback- With CB Carlos Rogers having arguably his worst season of his NFL career, the 49ers should be concerned. Rogers a Pro Bowler in 2011, was often beat on intermediate crossing routes in 2012, proving his age (31) is catching up with him. Backup CB Chris Culliver although a solid number three, is by no means a true-shut down corner. So where will the 49ers get this cornerback help from?
The draft does not offer a true-shutdown corner, as this is a weak draft class for corners, so free-agency is the only other viable option. And the guy the 49ers should target is Philadelphia Eagles CB Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie.
One of my favorite players, coming out of college, “DRC” can provide the 49ers with a physical presence no other cornerback on the current roster can match. He is big, tall, fast, and physical, the perfect H-W-S (height-weight-speed) specimen. In his five year career, he has racked up 84 passes defensed, a statistic just as note worthy as interceptions in my opinion. He has fluid hips coming in and out of his breaks and has the speed to stop the deep ball, evidenced by his (4.33) 40 yard dash. A player familiar with the NFC West having played with the Arizona Cardinals, DRC would be a perfect compliment to CB Tarell Brown, while providing depth to a once vulnerable secondary.
2. Nose Tackle/Defensive Tackle- With NT Isaac Sopoaga and NT/DE Ricky Jean-Francois becoming unrestricted free-agents, it will be interesting to see how Harbaalke (Jim Harbaugh & Trent Baalke) handles the situation. If they are unable to retain them, there are alternatives on the market, such as NT Alan Branch (Seahawks), DE Richard Seymour (Raiders), DT Randy Starks (Dolphins), and NT Casey Hampton (Steelers). All of those players would provide depth to a needed position, with the possibility of even upgrading it, if we were to sign Seymour or Hampton. Those two players are both nearing the end of their careers, and one would think, they would love to go out with a bang, by adding one more Super Bowl ring to their trophy rooms. However, if none of those players are available or affordable, the next best option is the NFL Draft.
Unlike the cornerback class, this year’s defensive line draft class, is by far the deepest group. Many young prospects are considered first-round talents, as I have 13 players worthy of being a top 32 pick. With the Niners picking 31st in the first-round, they should be able to get a young stud. Some players that may be available include, NT Johnathan Jenkins (Georgia), NT Kawaan Short (Purdue), or DT/NT Shariff Floyd (Florida). All those player would provide youth and depth along the defensive front.
3. Wide Receiver- WR Randy Moss was by far the 49ers biggest deep-threat this year, however he is all but gone, making this position an achilles heel once again. The Niners already have a true number one, with Pro Bowler in waiting, WR Michael Crabtree, but with no complimentary number two, it makes this position a high priority. Sure, the Niners have WR Mario Manningham and WR Kyle Williams but they are no where near a reliable deep-threat.
So with a huge need in the receiving corps, who should the Niners target? My answer may intrigue you. With the wide receivers being a highly-paid position, it would be wise for them to get the best bang for their buck, and select a player with special-teams return ability. Narrowing my selections to WR Johnny Knox (Chicago Bears) or WR Josh Cribbs (Cleveland Browns). Both those players would add a deep-threat element that defenses would need to account for, while providing a bonus in the return game, making WR Ted Ginn Jr., expendable.
4. Outside Linebacker- This position is a huge need considering OLB Aldon Smith accounted for more than 51% of the sack production with 19.5. The 49ers as a team, account for 38 sacks, which is not good enough in today’s NFL. Leaving, the question where are the sacks going to come from? The answer lies directly across the other sideline, in Super Bowl XLVII, DE/OLB Paul Kruger. It remains unclear, whether Kruger is a high priority, as the Ravens have other free-agents to address, most notably QB Joe Flacco, who will now command top dollar after winning Super Bowl MVP. A blessing in disguise for the 49ers. However, if Kruger is somehow retained by the reinging Super Bowl champs, the draft will provide a nice alternative.
The 49ers have a couple “tweeners” to target, in OLB Alec Ogletree (Georgia) and DE/OLB Alex Okafor (Texas). Both players command respect on passing downs as they’re both athletically gifted and deceptively fast. Their ability to get up field and make plays in the backfield would be a huge plus for this 49ers front seven, especially against teams running the no-huddle.
5. Guard- The 49ers already have All-Pro LG Mike Iupati, but the right side is very vulnerable. Although RG Alex Boone was a rock this year, I would be hard pressed to believe, you would know who is backup is. G Leonard Davis is all but gone and this year’s offensive line draft class is extremely weak, making free-agency the best available option.
However, the only player worth targeting is G Brian Waters (New England Patriots). Waters, one of the best guards in the league, would provide a huge upgrade to Boone, while providing some much needed leadership. His ability to anchor a line is invaluable, making him a hot commodity despite his age, turning 36 this February. If the 49ers want to win another ring, they will need to add proven veterans like Waters, who will most likely come at a discounted price in return for a Super Bowl run.