As we edge closer to the end of the 2016 NFL season, we see which teams require a rebuild, and which teams can be legitimate contenders. There are always teams in the middle, but they are not focused on as much as the ones on the ends of the spectrum. Here we can focus on any team that isn’t a top-tier Super Bowl favorite this year. After writing about the Browns, the Bills, the Bears, and the Jets, the San Francisco 49ers are in the spotlight today.This year was supposed to be a much-improved one, with Chip Kelly bringing a new offense to the Bay and Colin Kaepernick looking to be rejuvenated in an option-based scheme like the one that helped him thrive earlier in his career. Most recently, the 49ers suffered losses to a legitimate contender in the Falcons, but also two horrendous teams in the Jets and Bears. Changes can be made, and here are some that they should really consider when looking towards the 2017 season and beyond
Coaching and Front Office: Blow it up
One thing has been abundantly clear in 49ers’ general manager Trent Baalke’s time with the team: he struggles to identify talent. Since the 2011 draft, 23 players drafted by the 49ers are making meaningful contributions to the team. That’s 23 out of a possible 61 drafted players, or 37.7% of draftees. That is an abysmal number. Baalke has also not provided much talent in terms of free agents, with the biggest name arguably being wideout Torrey Smith, who has underwhelmed since leaving Baltimore’s pass interference-based offense. It is time for San Fran to move on from Baalke and look elsewhere. Some names being talked about for GM positions in 2017 are Chiefs’ director of football operations Chris Ballard, Raiders’ director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales, and Ravens’ assistant GM Eric DeCosta. Another issue with the team is the coaching staff as a whole, which must be completely rebuilt. This would likely be done if head coach Chip Kelly is fired, which should happen. Kelly’s offense was innovative in his first year in the pros, but it has been figured out and countered with ease in 2016. The team should move on from Kelly and look towards a defensive-minded coach, such as Patriots’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia or even Texans’ linebacker coach Mike Vrabel, who has been talked about recently.
Offense: Problems aplenty
Contrary to popular belief, the main source of the problems with the 49ers’ offense does not come from quarterback play. While Colin Kaepernick isn’t at the same level he used to be, and could easily be replaced by a more exciting rookie QB early in 2017, the surrounding talent has seriously diminished in his time with the team. At his best, he had a receiving trio of Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, and Michael Crabtree, with running back Frank Gore and a strong offensive line in front of him. In 2016, his leading receivers are Jeremy Kerley, Quinton Patton, and Vance McDonald, with running back Carlos Hyde collecting 950 yards through Week 15. His offensive line, which once consisted of Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis, now has Staley, Zane Beadles, and Daniel Kilgore, and also harbored renowned tuba player Jordan Devey for over a season. This is the main problem that led to the diminishing of San Francisco’s offense, and a complete overhaul needs to be done to recreate what was once a potent team with multiple threats. Some free agents to look at from other teams include wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Pierre Garcon, tackles Andrew Whitworth and Sebastian Vollmer, guard TJ Lang, and running backs Eddie Lacy and Darren McFadden.
Defense: Decent starting blocks
The 49ers have invested in Oregon 3-4 defensive ends with their first pick of each of the past drafts, and have two very good starters in Arik Armstead (2015) and DeForest Buckner (2016). They also have three good, not great, defensive backs in Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, and Rashard Robinson. This is about the extent of their young building blocks. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks is nearing retirement, while fellow ‘backers Nick Bellore, Gerald Hodges, and Michael Wilhoite have underwhelmed. Outside linebackers Eli Harold and Aaron Lynch have flashed promise, but cannot be relied on consistently. One possibility for San Francisco could be to move to a 4-3 defense if they remove defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. While this may be optimal, it remained to be seen whether or not Buckner could move inside to the 3-technique position instead of his natural 5-technique spot. He has immense length, and at times that can be an issue on the inside. It remains to be seen what they will do with this coaching staff, but it is clear that there are problems that must be addressed in a few main areas. Some free agents that should be considered are defensive tackle Dontari Poe, linebackers Malcolm Smith and Lawrence Timmons, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and safeties Duron Harmon and TJ McDonald.
2017 Free Agents of Note: K Phil Dawson, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Jeremy Kerley, WR Quinton Patton, ILB Nick Bellore
Positions of Need: WR, OG, OT, C, RB, ILB, DE/EDGE, K, CB, QB, TE
2017 NFL Draft*:
Note: In an ideal scenario for the 49ers, they trade back a couple picks, and look to choose a perimeter WR threat and collect picks to use later on. This scenario does not account for that.
Round 1, Pick 2: ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Round 2, Pick 2: OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
Round 3, Pick 2: WR Zay Jones, East Carolina
Round 4, Pick 2: OG Jake Eldrenkamp, Washington
Round 5, Pick 2: QB Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
Round 6, Pick 2: RB De’Veon Smith, Michigan
Round 6, Pick 19 (from DEN): EDGE Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
Round 7, Pick 1 (from CLE): C Deyshawn Bond, Cincinnati
Round 7, Pick 2: CB Jalen Myrick, Minnesota
*Compensatory picks not counted at this time