The hours of preparation, consideration and speculation are over ladies and gentlemen. Here we have a rookie draft class eager to get to work and contribute, something the 49ers have spent months searching for. See, GM Trent Baalke and HC Jim Harbaugh have prospected, staked their claims and excavated their talents…now it’s time to analyze what is truly gold, silver and other valuable players and what is fool’s gold. Dependent on how malleable the players and roster become is whether or not Harbaugh can mold this lode into his true vision of the 49ers moving forward. Luckily for Coach Harbaugh, GM Trent Baalke worked his 11 NFL Draft picks and truly came home with a haul.
Remember ‘Sky is the Limit’?
A few months ago Anquan Boldin was quoted saying the ‘sky is the limit’ for the 2014 offense. Much to everyone’s delight, rumblings of an improved passing attack and continued progress in the young but impressive career of Quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to soar. But the 49ers weren’t done there; they followed suit and went out to grab free agent WR Brandon Lloyd in order to bolster the competition at WR #3. Many thought Lloyd would bring a level of experience and impressive body control mixed with great hands to the third position and begin to create this unique passing attack.
For an organization which has struggled to produce a solid WR outside of Crabtree within the NFL Draft, many fans (and skeptics) looked to the 2014 draft class as the time for the 49ers to get it right. Discussions as to whether a DB or WR being taken at #30 or traded up for swirled back and forth. The 49ers didn’t get a name like Watkins, Benjamin or Evans but they sure got one that garnered attention and a collective sigh from their NFC West opponents.
Stevie Johnson has been a name thrown around the 49er community and fan base for a few years now as a potential favorite to land in San Francisco and do great things. From growing up in the area and living just around the corner from Candlestick Park, to being a childhood 49er fan…things almost had that Kaepernick feeling when it all came together (and we all know how that turned out). Johnson has eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark three times in his career and averages 12.7 yards per catch as well as 50+ yards per game. Add that to 201 of his 301 catches moving the chains and we have ourselves a WR Corps that looks unstoppable. Perhaps Boldin did have it right, for a franchise who has come up short three years running (as result of a struggling passing game) in 2014 the sky could truly be the limit for the 49ers.
Keep Moving Forward
The 49ers have a large number of potential free agents coming in 2015, and at key positions none the less. Names like Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree spring out at you; Frank Gore is another who could potentially find himself on the outside looking in. All in all, the 49ers have some very hard decisions coming up and none could be more important than their apparent franchise Quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is seeking between $15-18 million a year and regardless of whether or not the 49ers believe he is worth that, someone will pay it. So for now, the 49ers are working hard in an attempt to lock him up on an extension sooner rather than later and save that severe hit to next season’s cap space. In addition, the 49ers rank 31st in cap space, which shows their desire to ‘win now’ rather than just continue building for the future. Kaepernick’s progress this season will surely dictate the pace and aggressiveness of the discussions moving forward. He surely has the weapons and experience at his disposal, no excuses in 2014.
I spoke earlier on Frank Gore and his potential departure, which should get the fan base in a ferocious uproar (and rightfully so). The 49ers legend has eclipsed the 30-year mark of his lifetime and sooner rather than later the arrow will begin to point south. Sure, he posted another 1,000-yard season (including 9 touchdowns), which gives Gore seven seasons of 1,000 yards or more in his 10-year career.
Think about this though, in the last three years Gore has not only played in all 16 games (48 games total) but he has also played in another eight NFL Playoff games after posting those 1k seasons. During which, Gore has carried an additional 140 times for 646 yards (4.6 YPC average) and hauled in 18 receptions for 167 yards. That’s another ½ NFL season under his belt in the last three years straight for an aging ba
ck. Do the math to figure the projection for Gore’s numbers based off the eight postseason games he has played in and he would haul in 280 carries for 1,292 yards and 36 receptions for 334 yards. That would hypothetically be his second BEST rushing season in his career.
It is hard to begin to pull back on a guy who has given so much for so long. He surely deserves a ring prior to the end of his great run with the team. In order to get there, the 49ers MUST begin to spare him here and there to save his legs. For a 31-year-old NFL RB, an extra half-season on old legs begins to take its toll, especially in the punishing NFC West. Don’t be surprised if Gore is kept fresh for the playoffs, and this means a lot of Hyde/Lattimore/Hunter in his place for the longer haul.
Gore will likely finish out the 2014 season and be asked to come back in a lesser role as the 49ers simply cannot afford to spend big time money on him with all the future signings that must take place. Gore could always take the deal to retire with the very team which chose him (rarity) but history and numbers show he could likely go elsewhere in an attempt to keep pace with the NFL. The next year or two will surely be bittersweet for 49ers fans. Because Frank Gore is a pro’s pro and deserves the best in whatever he does. What would be great is if #21 can go out on top a la ‘The Bus’ and retire on his ring…and as a 49er.
- Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore will get to contribute and earn their way onto an already packed roster…should be fun to watch.
- Second-round pick Carlos Hyde will come into an already crowded backfield and look to earn that #2 or #3 spot. Hyde recently signed his four year contract with the franchise.
- Lawrence Okoye will be able to show exactly what he has learned from training and traveling with the team for the 2013 season, can the Olympic wonder breakthrough?
- Lattimore says he feels ‘great’ and is working on the surrounding muscles in his knee to get himself ready for TC.
- Stevie Johnson/Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington should make for an exciting and fun battle at #3 WR position.
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- — 2015 NFL Season Takeaways: Week Nine Edition