The San Francisco 49ers enter this offseason as potentially the most complete team in the NFL. Last season’s NFC Champions, the Niners posted an 11-4-1 record, before running through the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons on their way to play in the franchise’s 6th Super Bowl. Despite a valiant comeback versus the Baltimore Ravens in that game, the 49ers fell short, losing their first Super Bowl in team history, 34-31. However, the 49ers left that game excited that their future lies in the hands and legs of 2nd year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and he’s shown that he can, and will, carry the load for San Francisco.
Kaepernick enters his first offseason as the starting quarterback, and while the expectations for him are high (as he’s only started 10 games in his career), the 49ers have done a magnificent job already this offseason to ensure that Kaepernick gets the help he needs in order to be more successful next season. Shortly after the Seattle Seahawks upgraded their receiving corps last week, the Niners counter-punched them with the acquisition of Super Bowl champion, Anquan Boldin.
Boldin, who the 49ers got from the Ravens for a mere 6th round draft choice, was definitely an important piece of the Ravens puzzle, leading the team in receptions (22) and yards (380) during the postseason. Now in San Fran, Boldin adds to a pass-catching group that includes breakout receiver Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, and tight end Vernon Davis. With those weapons, a steady dose of Frank Gore and LaMichael James coming out of the backfield, and Kaepernick’s explosive playmaking abilities, the 49ers offense is shaping up to be as good as its been since the days of Montana/Young and Rice. Probably better!
Defensively, the 49ers are just downright talented. With the self-acclaimed “Smith brothers” of Justin and Aldon Smith, (the latter of which had 19.5 sacks in 2012, which was 2nd in the NFL), on the ends of the defensive line and linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, San Francisco boasts arguably the most talented front-7 in the NFL. Recently adding tackle Glenn Dorsey, that front-7 just improved that much more. However, the loss of All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay hurts that secondary. Still, Chris Culliver and Donte Whitner are very talented, and the Niners went and added former Rams safety Craig Dahl to fill in for Goldson.
For San Francisco during the remainder of this offseason, things are pretty simple. Continuity with Kaepernick and the offense is essential. With Boldin coming in, as a consummate professional, that shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, he created the same chemistry with a younger, now richer, Joe Flacco, who also helped lead Baltimore to their Super Bowl win over San Francisco. But with weapons like Crabtree, Davis, Boldin, Gore, and a likely improved sophomore campaign from LaMichael James, Kaepernick should and, I expect, will thrive in 2013.
But the defense will be the difference in San Francisco. Last season they ranked 3rd in the NFL in yards allowed (294.4) and 2nd in points allowed (17.1) per game. The pass rush of the Smiths allowed the secondary some easy opportunities to make impact plays, while also making teams shy away from the pass. At that point, when teams ran, they didn’t get far, as Willis and Bowman, who combined for 269 tackles, led a rush defense that allowed 94 yards rushing per game, good for 4th in the league. That got them to the Super Bowl last season, and if the Niners can operate a more efficient offense, one can’t help but see them as a heavy favorite to get back to the big game next season.
Possible Free Agents:
RB Brandon Jacobs
WR Ted Ginn, Jr.
WR Randy Moss
T Leonard Davis
LB Tavares Gooden
LB Larry Grant
LB Clark Haggans
CB Tramaine Brock
FS Darcel McBath
K David Akers
1st Round — #31 — Eric Reid, FS, LSU — The 49ers are looking for secondary help after the departure of Goldson, who they drafted a few years ago. I know Reid may be a stretch, but with Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) and Matt Elam (Florida) projected to go mid-to-late first round, Reid could slip to the bottom, where I think he will slide in nicely in that safety spot. He’s a good playmaking safety, who has played in many big games in his collegiate career.