No one expected much from the 49ers in 2017, and for the first 11 games they didn’t get much. The team were 1-10, with only flashes of competency scattered through the season, but then Jimmy Garoppolo took to the field and lit up every defense he faced despite a poor surrounding cast.
With Garoppolo signed to the biggest contract in NFL history (for now) and the Shanahan-Lynch revolution starting to gather steam among talking heads, and with a whopping $78 million in cap space and nine draft picks (including a top ten selection) they have plenty of opportunities to add talent to their roster. So where should John Lynch focus his assets this offseason?
The 49ers secondary is poor, but the cornerback situation is particularly dire. They have five corners under contract right now, with K’Waun Williams being the best. “Who is that?” I hear you ask. Well, exactly. Williams played just over half the defensive snaps for the 49ers last season and was ok, but behind him is a whole heap of nothing.
This is going to be the place the 49ers make the most signings, and thanks to their defensive front they shouldn’t have to go all out to grab the best available. They will be able to pressure the quarterback so long as they can hold up for three seconds in coverage. Adding Malcolm Butler, Trumaine Johnson, and Denzel Ward isn’t necessary, but at least one of those guys would be nice. They need to bring depth in though, from free agency, the top, and the middle of the draft. If they can get numbers in the building for training camp they are bound to find some players.
The 49ers might have their passer and some competent targets, but the running game is in flux right now. Carlos Hyde is a free agent and looks to be heading elsewhere, meaning they need to find a new back who can be a part of Kyle Shanahan’s passing game as well, but they also need to start investing in the offensive line.
Joe Staley is the only holdover from the Jim Harbaugh era, but at 33 he isn’t going to be sustaining a high level play for much longer. Zane Beadles and Joshua Garnett are ok, but neither has cemented themselves as irreplaceable yet, and the right tackle spot is a real issue. They need to create a stable running game and bring in some offensive linemen that can run the zone schemes Shanahan loves while also protecting Garoppolo. It is no good paying a quarterback if you can’t protect him.
Look for them to take a serious run at someone like Andrew Norwell or Justin Pugh while also considering the likes of Quenton Nelson in the first round or even Alex Cappa later in the draft as a potential right tackle.
Reuben Foster is a good deal of legal trouble already, and given the allegations against him the 49ers might be keen to at least create a backup plan. Even if Foster is able to take to the field for every game next year, the 49ers could use some more help around him in the middle of the field. A veteran like Brian Cushing isn’t out of the question, but I suspect they will look for an athlete in the draft that can run with the modern NFL offenses.
Roquan Smith is the prototypical modern linebacker, but he may well be off the board by the time the 49ers get on the clock, leaving their options a little risky. Tremaine Edmunds is drawing comparisons to Anthony Barr, which is never a bad thing, so he could be an option as well, especially if he tests well at the Combine.
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