A couple of weeks ago I was looking at the San Francisco 49ers’ position groups and seeing which players should keep the team and which ones to release. Going through this process has shown that there are some position groups that have much greater needs than others.
Here I’m going to rank the off-season needs of the 49ers from largest to smallest. As I work through this, you will find that there are some areas that need new talent that you did not expect, or that you have already felt like the team has to go through a series of upgrades and nothing is going to get you to surprise. In any case, your ranking may look different than mine. If so, please share your thoughts with us.
Fred Warner is one of the best linebackers in the NFL and, along with Dre Greenlaw, the best linebacker tandem in the league. Azeez Al-Shaair, a vacant free agent from the Florida Atlantic, has emerged as the third linebacker, nearly doubling his performance in each statistical category in 2020 from his rookie season. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has continued to evolve into an NFL linebacker after strong security in Arizona.
10) Defensive tackle
Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens and Kentavius Street give the 49ers a heavy rotation in the middle of the 49ers defense line. Taking advantage of the 14th draft 2020 election for this position, San Francisco picked Javon Kinlaw, who proved a strong run defender during his rookie campaign. If he can add a few moves to his pass rush repertoire, he could become an inner force.
Givens is a little too small, listed at 6’1 ”and 285, but his speed and leverage allow him to be internally disruptive. Last season, Givens had five tackles for the loss, the second most common defensive tackle among the 49ers.
9) Narrow end
George Kittle is one of the best bottlenecks in the game. Behind Kittle are the 49ers Charlie Woerner, who scored a draft pick for the former Georgia Bulldog in the sixth round. Woerner was mostly used in blocking situations at the start of the season, but saw his role evolve as the season progressed and eventually be put in a role similar to Kyle Juszczyk. Ross Dwelley is a restricted free agent who has shown great promise and should be among the lower-cost free agents bringing the 49ers back for 2021.
However, do not rule out an addition to this group. Last off-season, the 49ers showed an interest in Austin Hooper during the free agency before settling on Jordan Reed. With Kyle Juszczyk likely to move on, there could be two more sets with tight ends in the future of the 49ers.
San Francisco plays with Jimmie Ward, and with the wage cap situation tight, it’s likely that Tarvarius Moore will be his partner in the back of the 49ers Secondary. Marcell Harris is a restricted free agent who could likely be brought back at a bargain price and has improved throughout his time on the team as well.
7) Wide receiver
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk deliver a nice 2-1 strike for the 49ers offensive, but once you get those two behind you the closet is pretty empty. Richie James has shown the ability to play games when he gets the chance, but for some reason Kyle Shanahan doesn’t call his number often.
Behind these three is River Cracraft and a number of other journeymen. Travis Benjamin, who dropped out of 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns, is a veteran option the team could take, and its cap is a little over $ 1 million.
6) Run back
Despite other needs, the 49ers should try to add a rewind for depth. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are both very good defenders but cannot count on them to play a full 16-game schedule. JaMycal Hasty and Austin Walter will also be at training camp with the team, but there isn’t the type of back you want to play on a down-in-down-out basis either.
A rookie with the ability to be a three-down defender would help solidify the position for 2021 and beyond, as Wilson is only signed for 2021.
5) Defensive ending
Nick Bosa is expected to be back after a knee injury that kept him off for up to five quarters in 2020 and Arik Armstead will start at the other final defensive position.
This group is at the top of the list as at least one pass rusher needs to be added. While Armstead does a good job in the base defense in the end, he tries to throw the passerby off the edge. Adding a free hand or draft defensive end would allow Armstead to move into where he is much more effective. This was seen in full in 2019, and it showed towards the end of last season when Dion Jordan and Jordan Willis got more playing time.
The 49ers were noncommittal with Jimmy Garoppolo as starting quarterback, which means his days in San Francisco may be numbered. Does that mean he won’t be the center of attention when the 49ers open the season in September? No, but what it does mean is that the 49ers will have to spend resources on the position this off-season.
Adding a quarterback through the design is a necessity. The 49ers haven’t invested in the future of the position since Garoppolo was acquired in mid-2017. Yes, they added Josh Johnson and Josh Rosen in 2020 but that was out of necessity, the former being added after Garoppolo’s injury and the latter joining the team after Nick Mullens was injured in week 15.
3) Inside offensive line
The only constant in this group in 2020 was Laken Tomlinson on the left. The veteran has played almost every snap over the past season.
With Weston Richburg unable to recover from a knee injury in late 2019, the 49ers had a revolving door in the middle in early 2020 before opting for Daniel Brunskill in the second half of the season. Brunskill did an admirable job, but he’s more of a tackle or guard than a center.
The instability in the middle position also affected the right guard point. At the start of the season, Brunskill was expected to be the starter, but as he jumped back and forth between center and guard during training camp and the first half of the season, the pitch could never be consolidated.
The 49ers spent a fifth round with Colton McKivitz in 2020. The rookie started three times on the right and will fight for the starting place in 2021.
There are a few names in the free agent market that could pique San Francisco’s interest: Alex Mack and Corey Linsley would both be strong additions to the center, and Austin Blythe would be for his versatility to play both center and center. guard also a good choice.
2) Offensive tackle
With Trent Williams going to be a free choice and Mike McGlinchey struggling with pass protection throughout 2020, the 49ers will have to try to create an attack by draft or free action. Even if they are confident that Justin Skule can take the left attacking position, it would be wise to get someone who can be cared for to replace McGlinchey once his contract expires after the 2021 season – one year option would change given the level of play , which we saw from the first selection of the first round, turn out to be too expensive.
This one is a breeze. The 49ers currently have no cornerbacks starting a game for them under contract for 2021. To make matters worse, all starters except Emmanuel Moseley will be unrestricted free agents as of 2020, which means the 49ers will have to outbid other teams for their services.
Look for the 49ers to add at least one cornerback by free agency and another by the early part of the design.