This is a time of change for the 49ers, with a new coaching staff and numerous decisions to make about their own unrestricted free agents.
Some have written that the team is due to plummet in the post-Jim Harbaugh era. One recent analysis gave the 49ers a grade of D+ for its selection of Jim Tomsula to replace Harbaugh. Another, ESPN NFL columnist John Clayton, also has trouble believing the Niners can be as good under Tomsula as they were under Harbaugh, now at Michigan. In assessing winners and losers in the team-coaching merry-go-round, he put the 49ers at the top of the losers column.
“Harbaugh had perhaps the best coaching staff in football during his tenure and it led to plenty of success before this year’s decline,” he wrote. “Can Tomsula duplicate that success by the Bay? We’ll see.”
Yet even with all the questions hovering over the 49ers, the team still has potential to win in 2015.
In his assessment of team needs and roster rankings for NBC’s Rotoworld this week, analyst Evan Silva ranked San Francisco with the 10th-best roster in the NFL. Any team with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, some good offensive linemen such as Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, receiver Anquan Boldin, running back Carlos Hyde and linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Chris Borland and Aldon Smith can’t be discounted.
But, he noted, it’s a roster with many question marks. Silva says the four biggest roster needs for the team are:
Wide receiver: With Michael Crabtree likely to sign with another team, a deep-threat receiver is needed to stretch the field for Kaepernick.
Cornerback: So many questions. Tramaine Brock and last year’s top pick, Jimmie Ward, are returning from injury-plagued seasons and Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox can leave in free agency.
Left guard: If the 49ers re-sign Mike Iupati, they’re fine. But if he departs as a free agent, Brandon Thomas – who missed his entire rookie season – and center/guard Marcus Martin might be the best candidates to replace him.
Tight end: Vernon Davis has been very good for a long time, but he’s coming off his worst season and Vance McDonald has yet to break out as a legitimate target for Kaepernick. It may be time to bring in new talent at the position.