Approaching 49ers rebuild: What's on deck for Shanahan, Lynch

February 15, 2017

Justin Smith doesn't believe this 49ers roster will be in tact for much longer. The retired All-Pro defensive lineman spent 14 years tossing bodies in the league, playing for two organizations and earning respectable contracts, so it's safe to assume he's got a grip on the business side.

 

It's hard to argue with Smith, too, just by looking at the bare bones roster new coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have to work with. Very few long-term pieces are in the building.

 

Considering the circumstances, here's a list of 49ers the new staff being may be high on or will at least want to retain as they reshape the roster, followed by a rundown of each position group and realistic options available:

 

1. NaVorro Bowman, LB

2. Arik Armstead, DL

3. DeForest Buckner, DL

4. Jimmie Ward, DB

5. Rashard Robinson, CB

6. Carlos Hyde, RB

7. Ronald Blair, LB/DL

8. Joshua Garnett, OG

9. Jaquiski Tartt, DB

10. Torrey Smith, WR

11. Bradley Pinion, P

 

Maybe nine to 11 of a possible 53 players will be around for the long haul, with most of which residing on the defensive side of the ball. I don't think anyone else can really be considered safe. Needless to say, there's work to be done.

 

LINEBACKER:

Bowman, after a second season-ending and career-threatening injury, may not have much upon his return. At the very least, the 49ers need to prepare for life after 53, perhaps by considering Haason Reddick (Temple) or Reuben Foster (Alabama) early in the 2017 draft. 

 

Tank Carradine is also out, and questions surround Aaron Lynch, who was suspended last season and returned to the field out of shape. Along with Ahmad Brooks getting up in age, this leaves the 49ers extremely vulnerable at outside linebacker as they switch to a 4-3 base under new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

 

Linebackers and EDGE are a top priorities this offseason. 

 

DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD:

 

Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are not long-term solutions at safety. 

 

Reid hasn't been a marquee performer at his position since his now seemingly flash-in-the-pan rookie year, while Bethea is in the twilight years of his career.

 

The 49ers could move fast and be efficient by moving on from both, while sliding Jimmie Ward - who was originally drafted as a safety out of NIU - and Jaquiski Tartt to deep part of the field full-time.

 

It moves the narrative forward on a struggling backend, and gives Ward and Tartt a chance to finally settle in as starters and prove their worth.

 

Moreover, with Robinson's breakout as a rookie, the 49ers appear to have a No. 1 CB. San Francisco could stand to find another in the draft, and in my opinion would be better off selecting someone more natural and proven in coverage than Ward, who is a bit of a hit-first tweener that hasn't made a great impact outside yet. 

 

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Back-to-back first-round picks Armstead and Buckner have an opportunity to emerge as a strong interior tandem as the unit switches to a 4-3. The two are a towering, powerful duo that may excel at pushing the pocket, creating a 7-foot-plus wall with height and arm length to limit throws to the middle of the field, while also forcing runs outside.

 

But, again, the team desperately requires players on the outside, a need that should be addressed in the draft (Reddick of Temple, Takkarist McKinley of UCLA, Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, Derek Barnett of Tennessee, Tim Williams of Alabama, are all options, and more). 

 

Quinton Dial, while a solid fill-in, should indeed go back to being a rotational player. He may shine brighter when his snap count is lower and he's switching around the line, challenging different O-lineman and finding soft spots.

 

The same can be said for Ronald Blair, who I expect to have a very versatile role in the coming years. But in a backup-capacity nonetheless.

 

The Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams era is also over. 

 

Unfortunately potential runs at Kansas City clogger Dontari Poe and Carolina bully Kawann Short make no sense with the team now turning away from the 3-4 defense. Even Ravens run stuffer Brandon Williams would not be worth his high sticker price seeing as how the Niners have their interior defensive linemen.

 

Again, EDGE is the need here, and it's likely addressed in the draft.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE:

It may be a little hard to see how raw 6-foot-8, 355-pound tackle Trent Brown fits in with Shanahan's zone scheme. The 23-year-old is a monster of a man, though, and with Joe Staley on the back end of his career, a switch from right to left tackle could be in the works.

 

Brown can settle in and grow as a strong backside anchor.

 

Moreover, it's impossible to determine how the new staff will handle Staley, who turns 33 years old in August. He's certainly a pro's pro worth retaining - and he still has the athleticism and technique to get the job done - but 3-5 more years of service isn't realistic and thus a parting may be considered sooner than later.

 

To finish the OL, the 49ers could improve at center, guard and may need a new tackle to groom. Free-agent to-be T.J. Lang of the Packers might be worth considering. He fits what Shanahan wants to do scheme-wise and would add much-needed pedigree to a line in flux. 

 

WIDE RECEIVER: 

 

Torrey Smith is on our keeper list. And he may believe last season was a fluke:

To be frank, Shanahan doesn't have a lot of offensive assets, and Smith counts as one, at least for now. The one-time Super Bowl winner and field-stretching veteran should be there in a starting role in 2017.

 

Quinton Patton, Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater are all free agents, and quite honestly, none of them demonstrated anything on the field that would warrant a new deal. The 49ers are better off reloading.

 

Eric Rogers, while gifted, remains an unknown. 

 

Baalke draftees Bruce Ellington and DeAndre Smelter did not make the keeper list, but that's simply because, if anything, they get incomplete grades. Both possess upside, but have been unable to stay healthy thus far. Neither can really be counted on.

 

I'll have more to come on both (Ellington could play the Taylor Gabriel role for Shanahan).

 

With this gaggle of intriguing but undependable bodies, coupled with three key departures, the 49ers could feasibly draft two receivers in the top four or five rounds, even if they land a big name in free agency.

 

TIGHT END: 

 

Vance McDonald was extended five years before the end of the league year, and before Trent Baalke's dismissal. Odd as it may be, it looks like he'll be around for now. That said, he improved significantly in 2016 after a rough start to his career, marred by ugly, untimely drops. 

 

McDonald remains a solid in-line blocker. And with his hands improving this past season, we also got a look at his run-after-catch ability, which was impressive. To me, McDonald will always come up short of being a natural receiver, which is why I don't place high value on him, but he's earned the right to play.

 

Tight end, however, is a position the 49ers can improve.

 

And the answer may be on the roster already in former Oklahoma weapon Blake Bell, who stands tall at 6-foot-6, 252 pounds. It wouldn't surprise me if he took a leap in his third year and his performance caused him to overthrow McDonald as TE1 in Shanahan's regime.

 

The 49ers may also consider Evan Engram of Ole Miss, Jordan Leggett of Clemson and Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech as move options in the draft.  

 

RUNNING BACK:

 

 

It's Hyde and nobody else. 

 

The hard-charging, quick-cutting back from Ohio State has the potential to be a top-5 to -7 back in the NFL, but injuries have kept him from establishing himself as such so far. Hyde's luck could turn in the coming years under Shanahan, and with a new strength and conditioning coach, but the 49ers have to explore options in free agency and the draft. 

 

Early-to-mid round prospects Marlon Mack (South Florida), Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State) and Kareem Hunt (Toledo) are complementary types that could offer a different dynamic while also shouldering a solid workload in Year 1 if Hyde's pesky injury issues continue.

 

Adding in that the 49ers also lost last year's late-round choice Kelvin Taylor to Seattle, Lynch and Shanahan may dip into both free agency and the draft when it comes to stocking up behind Hyde. 

 

QUARTERBACK: 

 

The way I see quarterback panning out this year was discussed in this piece. Take a gander.  

 

 

Hero image courtesy 49ers Studios

 

 

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