Monday, February 25, 2013

49ers 2013 Offseason Projections - Defense

The 49ers head into the 2013 offseason as NFC Champions and only a few key areas as question marks.  This is part 2 of 2, and today will be taking a position by position review of how the roster looks currently and how it may change before opening day on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line

Ricky Jean Francois (FA)

Tony Jerod-Eddie
Ray McDonald
Justin Smith
Isaac Sopoaga (FA)
Ian Williams
Will Tukuafu
Demarus Dobbs

The defensive line has garnered a lot of attention this offseason, and rightfully so.  When Justin Smith went down against New England in week 15 49er fans received their first glimpse of life post Smith and it wasn't pretty.  In the first 6 quarters after the injury the 49ers defense gave up a combined 70 points, and Aldon Smith who had been on pace to set the NFL sack record went without one through the remainder of the season.

A couple of things to keep in mind when reviewing the performance of the defensive line last season and what the team may do moving forward.  For starters, this group sustained a good deal of injuries throughout the season losing Smith for a couple of weeks before he returned while still nursing an injured triceps.  The group also lost Will Tukuafu and Demarcus Dobbs, both young rotational players to the IR limiting the depth.

With the exception of Smith and Sopoaga this is a very young group, the next longest tenured player being McDonald who just completed his fifth season in San Francisco.  Many experts are stating that this is a very good, deep draft for defensive linemen and that could help this group get even younger.

While the 49ers play a base 3-4, they spent a total of approximately 37% of the 2013 season in this personnel grouping.  In addition, when they go into their sub packages the Nose Tackle is replaced and their 3-4 defensive ends move inside to what would be the tackle spots in a 4-3. This is important to note when looking at the type of player(s) the team needs to add.  As difficult as it may be, they need to find another Justin Smith, a guy who can dominate inside and out, and help occupy offensive linemen to free up Aldon Smith.

There are a couple of guys who may fit the bill in the draft, Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins and Georgia's John Jenkins.  Both come from the physical conferences that GM Trent Baalke likes to scout so heavily, and while they are both listed at over 300 pounds have shown the versatility to be effective both inside and out.  Another possibility, and is the guy I had them selecting first in my original mock draft, Alex Okafor.  While he is a bit undersized he showed the ability to play well both inside and out during his time at Texas.  As for a potential free agent signing, I would suggest Adam Carriker from Washington.  The former first round pick has dealt with a number of injuries during his time with the Redskins, and some reports have him as a possible cap casualty.  If the 49ers can bring him in on a cap friendly deal it may be worth the risk.

I haven't spent much time on the Nose Tackle spot, and for good reason.  I don't see the team putting a large emphasis on going after a guy early in the draft who will only be on the field for a little more than 1/3 of the snaps.  I expect that the team will move on from Sopoaga, instead bringing back Ricky Jena Francois with a very cap friendly agreement.  In addition the team seams to be very high on Ian Williams.  Williams is a guy who has hung around on the 53 man roster the last two seasons despite only being active for 1 or 2 games in 2012.  The fact that they think enough of him to use a roster spot to not expose him to the waiver wire and practice squad seems to indicate their value in Williams.  If they decide do look in this direction in the draft I would be surprised if it happened before day 3.  My prediction here is Kwame Geathers from Georgia at the end of Rd 5.

Outside Linebacker

Aldon Smith

Ahmad Brooks
Parys Haralson
Clark Haggans (FA)
Darius Fleming
Cam Johnson

Smith and Brooks are set as starters for years to come.  Rookies Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson missed almost the entire 2012 season, and veteran Parys Haralson did miss the entire season and may be a salary cap casualty as the team looks to trim payroll and his salary of close $3million makes him an expensive backup.  That being said, bringing Haralson back and utilizing him primarily in the 3-4 set may help Aldon Smith stay fresh, as he appeared to wear down as the season progressed.

If the team does decide to part ways with Haralson, 1 name to keep an eye on in free agency would be Calvin Pace.  He could be a cheaper veteran alternative.

Inside Linebacker

Patrick Willis

NaVorro Bowman
Larry Grant (FA)
Tavares Gooden (FA)

The starters are set at the inside linebacker position, but with both of the backups being unrestricted free agents and special teams stalwarts over the last two seasons this is an area of need that many are not paying much attention to.  A couple of names to pay attention during the draft may be Bruce Taylor from Virginia Tech, and Vince Williams from Florida St.  Both could be immediate contributors on special teams while developing into good backups to Willis and Bowman.  A couple of names to look out for in free agency might be Larry Foote and EJ Henderson.


Tramine Brock (RFA)

Tarell Brown
Perrish Cox
Chris Culliver
Carlos Rogers

With only Brock being unsigned for 2013 this group appears to be fairly set, however with Rogers getting older it may be a good time to look to the future and draft a corner for the future.  Another possible change could be moving Chris Culliver back to his college position at safety should the team be unable to re-sign Dashon Goldson.

A couple of corner to look for in the draft would be Jamar Taylor from Boise St, and Tyrann Mathieu from LSU.  Both would be able to help with covering the slot, and Mathieu could be an immediate contributor on special teams returning punts.

On the free agency front, I would look for possibly Kyle Arrington or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.


Dashon Goldson (FA)

Donte Whitner
CJ Spillman
Darcel McBath
Trenton Robinson
Michael Thomas (PS)

Goldson and Whitner were both selected for the Pro Bowl in 2012.  One of the big decisions to be made by the front office will be how to handle Goldson.  Do they decide to give him the franchise tag for the second year in a row?  Do they give him the long term contract he desires at a reported $8 million per year?  General Manager Trent Baalke may have given an indication of where they are leaning this past week when he said they just can't afford to pay everyone.  

Should they let Goldson walk, there are a couple of areas they can turn.  Jairus Byrd and LaRon Landry are both viable free agent options.  They could look to the draft, where I think Bacarri Rambo from Georgia would fit nicely.  The other alternative is the aforementioned transition from corner to safety for Chris Culliver.

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