The San Francisco 49ers came up painfully short of their second straight Super Bowl appearance. The 49ers fell 17-23 to division rival Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco had the ball with a chance to score the game-winning touchdown. They drove the ball down to the Seattle 18, but Colin Kaepernick’s was intercepted by Malcolm Smith to end the game.
As disappointing as it may have been, the 49ers have solidified themselves as one of the elite teams in the NFL. San Francisco has now gone to three straight NFC Championship Games and are an impressive 36-11 in the regular season under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers have had some key players leave town during the offseason. The list of notable departures includes safety Donte Whitner, corners Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, wide out Mario Manningham, and backup quarterback Colt McCoy.
San Francisco made up for the loss of Whitner by going out and signing Antoine Bathea away from the Colts and helped ease the losses of Rogers and Brown with the addition of Chris Cook (Vikings). The 49ers also acquired offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and quarterback Blaine Gabbert in a couple of trades with the Dolphins and Jaguars. They also managed to re-sign veteran wide out Anquan Boldin and kicker Phil Dawson.
The focus for the 49ers now shifts to the upcoming draft, where they have plenty of ammunition. San Francisco has 11 picks in all, six of which come in the first three rounds (two in the 2nd and three in the 3rd). Here’s a look at the five positions I feel the 49ers need to target when they are on the clock this May.
Even though the 49ers were able to bring in Cook and re-sign the likes of Eric Wright and Perrish Cox to team, there’s a clear need for an upgrade at corner. Chris Culliver was expected to return from an ACL injury that cost him all of last season, but he was recently arrested on felony hit-and-run and weapon chargers that could lead to a suspension. One of the bright spots is Tramaine Brock, who really stepped up his game in 2013. San Francisco should have no problem addressing this need with one of their three picks in the opening two rounds.
Bringing back Boldin was a huge, who should form quite a combo on the outside with a healthy Michael Crabtree. Where the 49ers need the most help is in the form of a slot receiver and speedster who can stretch the field. There’s all kind of talent at the wide out position in this year’s draft, which should make it easy for San Francisco to add in some help. If Oregon State’s Brandon Cooks is available when the 49ers are up with 30th selection in the first round, I think he would be a perfect fit.
It’s looking unlikely that 2013 starting center Jonathan Goodwin will resign with the team. Goodwin, who has hinted at retiring, is well past his prime and arguably the weakest link on the offensive line. Depending on how strongly San Francisco feels about Daniel Kilgore, who is currently the next up on the depth chart, will determine just how big of a priority this is. Even if they like Kilgore, it would make a lot of sense to add some insurance if things don’t work out.
This isn’t a pressing need, given that the 49ers have what many consider to the be the best linebacker corps in the league, but there’s reason to look at adding in some depth. NaVorro Bowman is coming off an ugly knee injury, both Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks are starting to get up there in age and Aldon Smith can’t be trusted to stay out of trouble. Given the amount of selections the 49ers have at their disposal, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to make sure this unit remains one of the elite in the league.
This is another position that San Francisco could probably go without using a pick on, but I think it’s one that deserves some attention. Justin Smith will be 35 in September and it’s only a matter of time before his body starts to let him down. There’s also concern with the health of Tank Carradine and his knee. Adding in a more prototypical 3-4 nose tackle is another possibility that the 49ers will likely consider.
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