NFL Draft Advent Calendar-Door #29: The Niners

 We’re deep into the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar!  This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.

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Door #29-The Niners

Niners

2012 finish: 11-4-1; lost Super Bowl

TOTAL PICKS: 14

ROUND 1

31

ROUND 2

2 (34) (from Chiefs)

31 (61)

ROUND 3

12 (74) (from Panthers)

31 (93)

ROUND 4

31 (128)

34 (131) (compensatory selection)

ROUND 5

24 (157) (from Colts)

31 (164)

ROUND 6

12 (180) (from Dolphins)

ROUND 7

21 (227) (from Bengals)

31 (237)

40 (246) (compensatory selection)

46 (252) (compensatory selection)

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh is famously fond of asking his team, “who has it better than us?” to which they reply in unison: “Nobody!”  (It’s actually taken from Harbaugh’s father, Jack, a former coach.)

Well, Harbaugh and his players are pretty much on the ball.  (Although there’s more to this team’s prospects for 2013 than meets the eye, which I’ll get to.)

With the possible exception of their NFC West rival, the Seahawks, no NFL team has it as good as the Niners these days.  Sure, it fell short on Super Sunday, but this team is stacked – and built for the long haul.  San Francisco was even able to calmly trade away their old starting QB, Alex Smith, to the Chiefs for a second-round draft choice this year, and another selection next year.  That’s because Colin Kaepernick took the league by storm after winning the starting job and taking his team to the Super Bowl.

GM Trent Baalke and Harbaugh have wasted no time making their aggressive and successful skills at roster building known.  Both men came to the Niners just two years ago, and have already turned a once-stalled franchise into a virtual powerhouse during these times of parity.  This offseason hasn’t been any different.  The front office is loaded with draft picks – even after trading a sixth-rounder for Baltimore WR Anquan Boldin.  That move is brimming with intrigue – a trade between brothers (John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens), Boldin in the latter stage of his career but still looking great at times, like when he bested the Niners secondary for 6 catches, 104 yards and a TD in the Super Bowl.  What’s more, Kaepernick’s learning curve benefits from the addition of the savvy and dependable Boldin.  The inequity of the trade – the Ravens knew they wouldn’t get much in exchange for QB Joe Flacco’s security blanket because it was too obvious that they had to move Boldin during a contract impasse – comes off as an example of the rich getting richer.  Another sign that San Fran likes its overall situation: They were happy to take a gamble on a 1-year contract for CB Nnamdi Asomugha, worth up to $3 million.  (Not the smartest move in my opinion, having watched the one-time All-Pro get burned more often than food in Hell’s Kitchen last season, but I’m no Baalke.)

But the NFC Champions haven’t survived this offseason unscathed in terms of player departures.  In fact, by my estimate, the Niners have a bigger adjustment facing them in the upcoming season than most pundits have indicated.   Not all of these players are marquee names by any means, but they all played important, unsung roles on a team that likes to take advantage of roster depth at most of these positions: 

Key Departed Niners During 2013 Offseason

Player Position New Team
Dashon Goldson S Buccaneers
Delanie Walker TE Titans
Randy Moss WR None
Ricky Jean Francois DT Colts
Isaac Sopoaga DT Philadelphia
Ted Ginn WR/PR Carolina

(I didn’t list Smith because I don’t consider a guy who was never going to see the field barring injury as “key”.)  Don’t underestimate the losses of Jean Francois and Sopoaga.  San Francisco’s All-World D-lineman Justin Smith turns 34 this year, he pushes his body to the limit on every play, and the team already had a taste of life without him when he sat out in some crucial late-season losses.  (Smith’s ailing arm is one of the underrated explanations for the Niners’ Super Bowl loss.)  And those came with the added depth of Jean Francois and Sopoaga at their disposal.  Walker was a Harbaugh favourite and should be missed, but with the array of hybridized formations San Francisco employs, several players can help compensate for that loss.  Goldson may have been a part of a defensive backs unit that got gouged in the playoffs – to the tune of, according to SI.com’s Peter King, a 109.5 opposing QB rating and 68.4 percent opposing completion rate.  Nonetheless, he leaves a gasping hole at safety that, frankly, can’t be filled with Craig Dahl (whom the Niners signed as a free agent from St. Louis).

With this and other things in mind, let’s consider the Niners’ possible draft strategies.

To me, there’s two ways San Fran can go with the 31st overall pick.  That is, if they keep that pick or not.  With an insane fourteen picks, who knows what sort of trades Baalke will make (that’s an unfair 26 total picks in this year’s draft held by the two Super Bowl teams from last season, the Niners and Ravens).  For instance, it has already been rumored that the Niners are looking to trade up into the early teens of Round 1.  Come to think of it, this team is so well put together right now, their needs so few, that they’ll still opt to address the same issues regardless of where they might trade up/down to.  I see the NFC Champs opting for either a wide receiver, or addressing the recently depleted depth in the defense.

One of the worst-kept secrets leading up to the draft is that Harbaugh has been a mainstay at most of the wide receiver workouts.  Boldin is a steal, but his contract is for just one year.  Their second round pick last year, WR A.J. Jenkins, showed up out of shape and sat out the first 12 weeks of the season, so he’s a question mark.  (Christ, how out of shape was he?)  Michael Crabtree developed instant chemistry with Kaepernick, but more downfield threats will only help to maximize the quarterback’s cannon of an arm – not to mention stretch the defense to breaking points against the read-option fake.  A lot of people like the Niners to take Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson – a young, gifted but raw wideout.  I’ve mentioned my opinions on the dark horse strength of Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins when TFQ opened the Rams’ door on the Draft Advent Calendar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Baalke opts for him instead of another prospect.

On defense, the team needs to add bodies to the safety position and D-line.  Ideally, Baalke would love to trade up in Round 1 and have a guy like Utah’s Star Lotuleiei or Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson fall into his lap.  Or, he could take Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) at safety around that spot in the draft as well.  If San Fran stands pat at 31, that’s where safeties like Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International), Matt Elam (Florida) are slated to fall.

It’s doubtful that either Baalke or Harbaugh will rest on their laurels in the draft room this coming weekend.  It’s not just their nature; this team needs to add some depth.  But to say the future looks bright for this team would be an understatement.

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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT.  WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR.  WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.

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