A few weeks back, I took a look at the San Francisco 49ers position groups, and went through which players the team should keep, and which ones they should release. Going through that process showed that there are a few position groups that have much bigger needs than others.
Here I will rank the 49ers offseason needs from greatest to least. As I go through this you will notice that there might be a few areas that need new talent that you didn’t expect, or maybe you already felt the team needed to make a number of upgrades and nothing will surprise you. Either way, your ranking may look different than mine, and if so, please share your thoughts.
Fred Warner is one of the top linebackers in the NFL, and along with Dre Greenlaw they make the best linebacker tandem in the league. Azeez Al-Shaair, an undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic, has proven himself as the third linebacker, nearly doubling his output in every statistical category in 2020 from his rookie season. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles has continued to develop into an NFL linebacker after playing strong safety at Arizona.
10) Defensive Tackle
Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, and Kentavius Street give the 49ers a strong rotation in the middle of the 49ers defensive line. San Francisco used the 14th pick in the 2020 draft on this position, selecting Javon Kinlaw, who proved himself as a strong run defender throughout his rookie campaign. If he can add a few moves to his pass rush repertoire, he could become a force inside.
Givens is a bit undersized, listed at 6’1” and 285, but his quickness and leverage allow him to be disruptive inside. Last season, Givens was able to record five tackles for loss, second most among the 49ers defensive tackles.
9) Tight End
George Kittle is among the best tight ends in the game. Behind Kittle the 49ers have Charlie Woerner, using a sixth-round draft pick on the former Georgia Bulldog. Woerner was used primarily in blocking situations early in the season, but saw his role evolve as the season progressed, eventually being used in a role similar to that of Kyle Juszczyk. Ross Dwelley is a restricted free agent who has shown promise when called upon, and should be among the lower-cost free agents the 49ers bring back for 2021.
Don’t rule out an addition to this group, though. Last offseason the 49ers showed interest in Austin Hooper during free agency before settling for Jordan Reed. With Kyle Juszczyk likely moving on, there may be more two tight end sets in the 49ers’ future.
San Francisco is set with Jimmie Ward, and with the salary cap situation being tight, it’s likely that Tarvarius Moore will be his partner in the back of the 49ers secondary. Marcell Harris is a restricted free agent who likely could be brought back on a low-cost deal, and has shown improvement throughout his time with the team as well.
7) Wide Receiver
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk provide a nice 1-2 punch for the 49ers offense, but once you get past those two the cupboard is pretty bare. Richie James has shown the ability to make plays when given the opportunity, but for whatever reason Kyle Shanahan doesn’t call his number often.
Behind these three is River Cracraft, and a bunch of other journeymen. Travis Benjamin, opted out of 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns, is a veteran option that could make the team and his cap number is just over $1 million.
6) Running Back
Despite needs elsewhere, the 49ers should look to add a running back for depth. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are both very good backs, but cannot be relied upon to play a full 16-game schedule. JaMycal Hasty and Austin Walter will also be with the team in training camp but neither are the type of back you’d want to play on a down in-down out basis.
A rookie with the ability to be a three-down back would help solidify the position for 2021 and beyond as Wilson is only signed for 2021.
5) Defensive End
Nick Bosa is expected to be back from a knee injury that kept him out for all but five quarters in 2020, and Arik Armstead will start at the other defensive end position.
This group is near the top of the list because they need to add at least one pass rusher. While Armstead does a good job at end in the base defense, he struggles rushing the passer from the edge. Adding a defensive end through free agency or the draft would allow Armstead to move inside where he is much more effective. This was on full display in 2019, and it showed toward the end of last season when Dion Jordan and Jordan Willis began to get more playing time.
The 49ers have been non-committal with Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback, meaning his days in San Francisco may be numbered. Does this mean he won’t be under center when the 49ers open the season in September? No, but what it does mean is that the 49ers need to spend resources on the position this offseason.
Adding a quarterback through the draft is a necessity. The 49ers haven’t invested in the future of the position since Garoppolo was acquired midway through 2017. Yes, they added Josh Johnson and Josh Rosen in 2020, but that was out of necessity, the former being added after Garoppolo was injured and the latter joining the team after Nick Mullens was injured in Week 15.
3) Interior Offensive Line
The only constant among this group in 2020 was Laken Tomlinson at left guard. The veteran played nearly every snap last season.
With Weston Richburg unable to recover from a knee injury suffered late in 2019, the 49ers had a revolving door at center throughout the early part of 2020 before settling on Daniel Brunskill over the second half of the season. Brunskill did an admirable job, but he’s more of a tackle or guard than center.
The instability at the center position impacted the right guard spot as well. Going into the season the expectation was that Brunskill would be the starter, but with him bouncing between center and guard throughout training camp and the first half of the season the spot never could be solidified.
The 49ers spent a fifth-round pick in 2020 on Colton McKivitz. The rookie made three starts at right guard and will be competing for the starting spot in 2021.
There are a few names on the free agent market who could draw interest from San Francisco: Alex Mack and Corey Linsley would both be strong additions at center, and Austin Blythe would be someone to watch as well due to his versatility to play both center and guard.
2) Offensive Tackle
With Trent Williams set to hit free agency, and Mike McGlinchey struggling in pass protection throughout 2020, the 49ers need to look to add a tackle through the draft or free agency. Even if they are confident that Justin Skule can come in and fill the left tackle position, it would be prudent to get someone who can be groomed to replace McGlinchey once his contract is up following the 2021 season, as choosing to use go with the fifth-year option would prove to be too expensive given the level of play we’ve seen from the former first round pick.
This one is a no brainer. The 49ers currently have zero cornerbacks who have started a game for them under contract for 2021. To make the situation even more dire, other than Emmanuel Moseley, all of the starters from 2020 are unrestricted free agents, meaning the 49ers will need to outbid other teams for their services.
Look for the 49ers to add at least one cornerback through free agency and another through the early part of the draft.