As 49ers news breaks with the frequency of a total solar eclipse, fiending 49ers fans are caught in a familiar purgatory: that hellacious time of year during which the Patriots are in the Super Bowl and the draft hype has not yet begun. To ease the pain, I thought it would be fun to give my unqualified opinion as to how the 49ers can best approach building a team that will put a stop to the Patriots winning Super Bowls. Below is the formula I think the 49ers should follow to field a Super Bowl contender as quickly as possible. This talent should be acquired primarily through the draft. Though the 49ers are certainly still in a state that makes drafting the “best player available” a great strategy, I chose to stack-rank the positions which San Francisco should draft according to need:
I know, I know. All the 49ers do is invest high draft picks in the defensive line. Before you give yourself a concussion due to the ferocity of the face-palm you’ll conduct at the thought of the 49ers drafting another d-lineman, give it some thought. Take, for example, the current vomit-inducing situation that is the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Obviously, for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, they will have to be able to beat a team such as the Patriots.
As it became fashionable to note in the lead-up to the AFC Championship, and as it no doubt will be fashionable to talk about as the Super Bowl approaches, teams hoping to beat the Patriots have to sack/hurry/hit Tom Brady in order to win. In games during which opposing defenses cross a certain threshold for sacking Tom Brady, the Patriots’ history of winning those games drops precipitously. The New York Giants plainly demonstrated this in their two Super Bowl victories over the Patriots, when they sacked Brady a combined 7 times. Sack Brady once or twice, Patriots win. Sack Brady 4+ times, not so much.
More importantly, against elite teams such as the Patriots, pressure on the QB MUST be gotten by rushing 4 linemen. The great quarterbacks beat the blitz and destroy the zone, and most teams don’t have the elite coverage corners necessary to hang through an entire game playing man coverage against teams like the Patriots or Steelers.
This is why the 49ers must find outside edge rushers; at least one who is elite, and ideally 2 or even 3. As the adage goes, defense wins championships, and great defense starts along the line. It’s true, the Niners already have great talent on the defensive line – great talent with which to form the interior core of the line. Buckner and Thomas are studs, and will be interior mainstays for years to come. Arik Armstead is a talented monster that definitely has a place on this line, provided he can stay healthy. But the 49ers still need to find that bendy, outside speed rusher who can be counted upon for 10+ sacks each season.
As the 49ers showed last year, adding the important piece of franchise quarterback to an offense full of mid-level talent can do wonders. With a top 5 defense, this team could compete immediately with the top echelon NFL teams. A critical component to an elite defense are top-tier corners. Ahkello Witherspoon appears to be a legitimate starting-level NFL cornerback, Dontae Johnson is probably not (though he is a good cornerback, a solid locker-room presence, and he definitely has a place on this team). The 49ers need to pair Witherspoon with an elite, ball-hawking cornerback. Much like the speed rusher cashing in on a baseline number of sacks, this corner needs to be good for 8 + interceptions a year, working in tandem with a dominant defensive line. Additionally, the 49ers must be able to be confident enough to maroon him on an island against the likes of Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. It will not be enough for the 49ers’ cornerbacks to be in good position but to not close the deal by notching interceptions (think Tramaine Brock).
The 49ers need improvement here, particularly on the interior of the offensive line. Though, Laken Tomlinson did improve throughout the season, and Jimmy Garoppolo can camouflage offensive line weakness, it’s not good enough. The tackles are solid, but it is time to start drafting to replace Joe Staley. A dominant defense coupled to an offensive line that can keep Garoppolo standing for longer than 2.5 seconds would make this team a serious Super Bowl contender, even if the offensive skill positions remain unchanged.
Julio Jones, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson…..
Some say a fast, big bodied receiver is the 49ers most pressing need. I disagree, although it sure would be nice. Of course, if this type of player falls into the Niners’ proverbial lap early in the next couple of drafts, they should pull the trigger. But they can get away with improved line play and a lock down defense. I must admit, it sure is fun to imagine a Julio Jones type playing alongside Marquis Goodwin, Pierre Garcon and Trent Taylor, all while the point guard Jimmy G is distributing the rock like Jason Kidd or John Stockton.
This is just one Niner fan’s opinion. Of course, this is all dependent on both the necessary talent being available in the draft, and the 49ers’ front office being able to correctly identify that talent. However it plays out, I am confident that John Lynch and company have the competence and the expertise to turn this franchise into a Super Bowl contender sooner rather than later. For now, there is nothing left to do but suffer through another Patriots Superbowl, and let the offseason speculation and draft fun begin.
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