49ers Mailbag: What's the impact if Justin Smith can't play?

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49ers Mailbag: What's the impact if Justin Smith can't play?

The next Biggest Game of the Year is coming up Sunday in Seattle. Let's open the 49ers Mailbag to see what's on the minds of readers . . .

How negatively will the defense be affected if Justin Smith can't play? (@jw49ers)
Ricky Jean Francois did just fine while filling in for Smith on Sunday night against the New England Patriots. But let's not forget that after Smith left the lineup, the Patriots -- after an interception -- scored touchdowns on drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards.

Smith does not have the flashy stats, but don't let that mislead you. He is still the player on the 49ers that the opposition accounts for more than anyone else. He pushes the pocket in the passing game, and he keeps interior offensive linemen from getting to the second level to put bodies on NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.

The specifics of Smith's left elbow injury are not known. But, clearly, this is something more serious than a bump or a bruise. After all, Smith's elbow injury kept the toughest, most-durable 49ers player on the sideline during a time that the team saw its four-touchdown lead slip away.

If Justin Smith doesn't play, do you think Aldon will be as effective? (@AndrewM49ers)
No. It's as simple as that. Without Justin Smith on the field, the Seahawks can place more focus on Aldon Smith, who can expect to see nothing but double-teams on Sunday night. Aldon Smith can still have a good game, but it'll be a lot more difficult.

Is there any chance Manningham plays Sunday night? (@branteboy49)
Mario Manningham has been practicing on a limited basis, and he looks a lot better. But he didn't even make the trip to Foxboro, Mass., last week. His availability for Sunday night is questionable.

Is Moss finally comfortable with his subtle playmaking role? No longer the center of attn even while the media thrust him there? @MiriYum
Who said Randy Moss wasn't comfortable in the first place? Early in the season he told me that he was having a great time with the 49ers. His teammates really seem to enjoy his company. He and Colin Kaepernick have developed a nice rapport, too. I haven't heard even a whisper of dissatisfaction with anything concerning Moss.

What are the chances David Akers is still on the roster come playoff time? (‏@GodsSonNasir)
The chances are very, very good. Have you seen Mason Crosby with the Green Bay Packers? His kicks look horrible, and the Packers have held onto him because they don't believe there's anyone better out there. Akers is striking the ball very well, but he's been missing. The 49ers have come this far, so I think they'll keep Akers around. The alternative is to bring in a veteran -- either Nate Kaeding or Billy Cundiff -- known for huge playoff failures.

NOTE: The Miami Dolphins signed Kaeding on Friday and placed kicker Dan Carpenter on injured reserve.

49ers select TE George Kittle in fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers select TE George Kittle in fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft

GEORGE KITTLE
Position: Tight end
College: Iowa
Height: 6-3 3/4
Weight: 247
Selection: Fifth round, No. 146 overall

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers selected Iowa tight end George Kittle in the fifth round with the No. 146 overall pick.

Kittle becomes the second Iowa player the 49ers selected in two days. Late Friday, the 49ers traded up to select quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Kittle was considered an outstanding blocker in the Hawkeyes pro-style offense. As a senior, Kittle appeared in nine games and caught 22 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns. In 2015, he had 20 receptions for 290 yards and six touchdowns.

"I think my game overall, I’m a very versatile player," Kittle said. "I can have my hand in the dirt and block anybody you want me to block. You can move me around and run routes. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I feel like I can catch the ball well and run routes well. I’m a versatile guy."

Kittle joins a 49ers tight end group that includes Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen, Blake Bell and Je’Ron Hamm. 

Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi on Friday reported the 49ers are attempting to trade McDonald. In one of former general manager Trent Baalke’s final moves, the 49ers signed McDonald in December to a five-year contract extension that included a $7 million signing bonus.

Kittle said he caught passes during Beathard's workout with 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello. The next day, he was invited to fly to Santa Clara as one of the 49ers' 30 pre-draft visits.

While the 49ers' selection of Beathard at the end of the third round might have surprised some, Kittle said he figured the 49ers would have reason to be interested in his teammate of the past four years.

"He’s just a guy, he loves football more than anything other than maybe his daughter," Kittle said of Beathard. "He lives and breathes it. That’s all he cares about. He is a genius in the film room and on the football field. He know absolutely everything that everybody is going to do. . . . He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around.”

49ers trade up, pick RB Joe Williams in fourth round of 2017 NFL Draft

49ers trade up, pick RB Joe Williams in fourth round of 2017 NFL Draft

JOE WILLIAMS
Position: Running back
College: Utah
Height: 5-11
Weight: 210
Selection: Fourth round, No. 121 overall

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers traded up in the fourth round to select Utah running back Joe Williams.

The 49ers traded up to No. 121 overall in general manager John Lynch’s sixth trade of the draft. Just minutes earlier, the 49ers acquired Kapri Bibbs in a trade with the Denver Broncos.

The 49ers traded up in the fourth round with Indianapolis to select Williams. The 49ers dealt No. 143 in the fourth round and No. 161 of the fifth round to the Colts to complete the trade.

Williams, who ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, rushed for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns on 210 rushing attempts in nine games. He also caught nine passes for 107 yards.

Williams walked away from the team two weeks into last season but was welcomed back. He was welcomed back to the team and rushed for 332 yards against UCLA.

Former 49ers head coach Dennis Erickson, who was Utah’s running backs coach, later explained Williams’ brief “retirement.”

"I knew he was down a little bit at the beginning of the year," Erickson said. "He fumbled a couple of times. Mentally, he was drained a little bit. Physically, he was not feeling very good."

Williams had 278 all-purpose yards to be named MVP of the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana at Levi’s Stadium.

On a conferene call with Bay Area reporters, Williams explained his personal struggle of the past 10 years that led to him stepping away from the game:

"I had to lay it out on the line (to teams) that football is what I drink and breathe. It's what I wake up for in the morning and it's how I want to provide for my family. They knew at first they wanted to understand how I could walk away from football, but after I tell them how it came to be, I felt they were empathetic about it and they understand that sometimes you have to put things on hold to do what's right.

"My sister (Kylee, 7 years old) had passed away in 2006. She died in my hands. She died on Sunday, June 19th. She'd been in and out of the hospital that Friday and Saturday. She had fell unconscious and . . . just the guilt and shame I always put upon myself because I didn't act quickly enough with my parents or call 911, I thought it was my fault. Going through high school and college, I was getting counseling.

"Coming into this season, a lot of the emotions were coming to the forefront, and I was trying to deal them the best way I could. As the season started, and I knew my mental health wasn't where it needed to be, I knew the best option for me was to sit down in front of my wife and my coaches and just tell them where I was at. It came to the decision that stepping back at that time would be for my best interest -- not only for football but for life after football.

"I did a lot of soul-searching. I got my sister's tattoo on my left arm. I was doing everything necessary to finally come to peace with her death. . .  I finally forgave myself."