So we, admittedly, underestimated the commitment required for us both to preview all 32 NFL teams together in a little more than a month. It's tedious, thankless work. So from now on we're splitting the rest of the teams among the two of us to get done twice as quick (and with half the work). It is with that that we're proud to bring to you the 28th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco straight up sucked last year. I think we all know that. So, the question is: are they going to suck it up just as much this year? Alex Smith, the first round pick out of Utah two drafts ago, did not perform like the 49ers wished they would when they drafted him -- unless they wanted a QB who threw one touchdown and 11 interceptions. Smith's preseason has not shown the San Fran faithful much of a reason to hope. However, he is backed up by quarterback Trent Dilfer, whose veteran experience the 49ers might turn to if Smith faulters again this year.
The team traded off Brandon Lloyd for a draft pick to Washington. I don't think Lloyd will be missed. He was good, but people were making a bigger deal out of him than he deserved. Antonio Bryant, who the Niners signed from the Browns, is a good receiver. If Smith comes around or Dilfer takes over, Bryant will be a great target. However, second receiver Arnaz Battle, an unknown, has not put up good numbers in the past.
As a Maryland alumni, I hope to see tight end Vernon Davis to step up as the second target in San Francisco -- although the Rams fan in me doesn't want to see as much. He is a beast of a receiver and blocker and extremely strong, breaking all the weight lifting records at Maryland.
Frank Gore will be the sole back on the team, now that Kevan Barlow has been moved to the Jets. Gore had a decent season -- 603 yards and three touchdowns -- while sharing time with Barlow. We don't know how Gore will respond to being the one and only in San Fran. He'll probably have a decent year, but if the passing game doesn't come through, the running game won't flourish either. The offensive line is the same except for Larry Allen, who was acquired from Dallas.
Defensively, I don't see the improvement. They lost Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. They resigned Derek Smith, who had a mean 116 tackles last year and has been a beast for years running. He will do his part. Rookie Manny Lawson, who played defensive end alongside Mario Williams in NC State, will be filling a linebacker spot. NC State often has great ends and if Lawson can make the switch to outside linebacker, he'll be an asset.
San Francisco was dead last in passing defense -- as well as overall defense -- last year. Their defense pretty much remains the same back there except for former Redskin Walt Harris.
I don't think that San Fran has the tools to make a playoff run this year. If Smith continues to fail, their season can be ruined quickly. Dilfer could prolong the agony. Their defense will need some more improvement, although last year's numbers were probably worse than they should have been since the offense was never on the field. I don't think that the Niners will even be one of those teams that other teams will be scared to face. Perhaps Alex Smith will surprise us, but it's also possible he'll become a huge draft bust. Only another few years will tell that. They are in an easier division, one which Seattle will probably win easily, because of the unknowns that is the Cardinals and Rams. The easier division may lead to a year closer to .500, but they will still need a few more years to improve to a real NFL threat.