Yet again the San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl aspirations fell short this year. Two years ago, they were minutes away from winning the NFC Championship game verse the New York Giants and last season they were seconds away on winning the Lombardi Trophy against the Baltimore Ravens. Those were two tough losses for the franchise and the cherry on top came when the 49ers fell short against arch nemesis and division rival, the Seattle Seahawks.
I am not quite sure what burns most out of these three, but my guess would be the Super Bowl loss, even though the last thing San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh wanted was to lose to the Seahawks. Heck, that is the last thing Niner Nation wanted. But the one thing the 49ers must do is look ahead and move forward.
The outlook for next season is promising. Most teams would crumble after three devastating losses to end their respective seasons, but one does not have to worry about that with this ball club. With that said, there are quite a few glaring holes that the 49ers need to address.
It begins with the NFL Draft and Free Agency.
The 49ers will have a league high 12 picks in this year’s draft and not that many roster spots to fill. Look for them to trade some of those picks to draft some young talented players. Ones who can immediately make an impact and not have to wait their turn as some have in the past.
General manager Trent Baalke will have to do his due diligence and draft a playmaker at wide receiver. It is not a secret that quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled early on this season when receiver Michael Crabtree was rehabbing his way back to the starting lineup. Yes, the unsung hero was receiver Anquan Boldin this year and he must be re-signed. But as we all witnessed, Crabtree and Boldin are simply not enough to get over the hump.
Both are very similar with their style of play. The duo is big and physical and both have the ability to be “ball hawks.” According to Jim Harbaugh, one has the best hands he has ever seen and the other has hands as good as anyone.
Wrap your head around that one for a moment.
The 49ers need a big physical wide receiver who can not only stretch the field and demand a double team, but someone who can be a big target in the red zone. Wide receiver Mike Evans comes to mind. Listed at 6’5, 225 pounds, Evans is a physical specimen that the 49ers need desperately for their passing attack. He has the frame to box out defenders and the speed to get behind corners on the outside. Many experts are comparing him to wide out Vincent Jackson.
If drafted he will have the luxury of learning from Boldin and eventually take his spot once he rides into the sunset. It is the perfect scenario for Evans. Can you imagine what defenses would have to do when the 49ers play three WR sets? First, they would have to gear away from the two TE set they love, but that discussion is for another day.
The 49ers will have to trade up to draft Evans, most think he will go in the top 20.
The other glaring hole the 49ers have is their secondary. Cornerback Carlos Rogers is getting up there in age and has shown signs of slowing down. Next season Rogers will be earning a base salary of $6.25m and that will most likely change. The 49ers will either release Rogers or have him restructure. I think it will be the former.
Cornerback Tarell Brown is also trying to negotiate a contract extension. For now, cornerbacks Chris Culliver (coming off of an ACL injury), Eric Wright, Tramaine Brock and safety Eric Reid are leading the secondary for the 2014 campaign. Safety Donte Whitner is also unsure if he will return. If there is any weakness for Vic Fangio’s defense, it is the secondary.
The 49ers have arguably the best front seven in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks are not too far behind. However, it is the “Legion of Boom” that gets one’s attention. Seattle’s secondary is the best anyone has seen in recent years. They play a lot of press man coverage and force opposing quarterbacks to throw into tight windows. The press on the outside allows their front seven to put pressure on the quarterback, forcing him to make tough quick decisions — which ultimately equates to a monstrous defense.
The 49ers must mimic this blueprint and improve their pass defense. Or else it may so happen that they never get over the hump. I am confident Harbaugh and Baalke will fix this issue.
Running back Frank Gore is not getting any younger. It will be interesting to see how running back Marcus Lattimore fits into the scheme of things in 2014. The 49ers are a run first team and they cannot lose their identity. If Latttimore is not ready to take on a full load, look for the 49ers to draft their next “work horse” in the later rounds.
The most important positions the 49ers must address within free agency or the draft are wide receiver, cornerback, safety and running back. Adding some quality depth to their offensive and defensive lines is also necessary, but that can be done in the later rounds. It has been the skilled positions which have cost the 49ers the last three seasons. If only the “Megatrons” were easy to find – right?
There is one in Cleveland that may come close. Perhaps the 49ers pull the trigger this time around. Who knows?
Only time will tell.
Shakeel Khan is an NFC Analyst for Real Sports Entertainment Network (RSEN) and team writer for the San Francisco 49ers at Pro Football Central (PFC).