Midseason report: Offense


Midseason report: Offense

First-half storyline: There was plenty of skepticism when the 49ers were unable to sign veteran Matt Hasselbeck, whom the organization pursued as a free agent, and Jim Harbaugh began the season with Alex Smith as the starting quarterback. But everything has worked out just fine. The 49ers are not winning in spite of Smith. They are winning in large part because of Smith.

He has been ultra-efficient with 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions in the first half of the season. The 49ers rank 30th in the league in passing yards, but Smith is sixth in the NFL with a 97.3 passer rating. The 49ers averaged 19.1 points per game in 2010. In the first half of this season, the 49ers averaged 25.8 points. Smith has done everything asked of him while the running game has taken off behind a constantly improving offensive line and powerhouse running back Frank Gore.MVP: Gore. He entered the regular season happy with a new contract extension, but things got off to a rough start. After three games, Gore averaged just 2.5 yards an attempt and many questioned whether he was finished as an elite running back. Five games later, Gore has left little doubt that he remains one of the best in the business. It does not seem to matter that opposing defenses have been geared to stop him. Gore became the first player in 49ers history to rush for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games. And he enters the second half of the season with 782 rushing yards (4.9 average) and five touchdowns.Biggest surprise: Smith. He demonstrated incremental improvements when he was healthy through his first six NFL seasons. But under the new coaching staff, Smith's game has taken off. He has thrown fewer interceptions than any other starting quarterback in the league this season. And he is a huge reason the 49ers are a plus-12 in the takeawaygiveaway column.Biggest disappointment: The 49ers offensive line did not get off to a good start on the season, and at halftime of their Week 3 game at Cincinnati, a change was made. Right guard Chilo Rachal, a second-round pick in the 2008 draft, was benched in favor of veteran Adam Snyder. The move has worked out for the 49ers, who have not lost since the change was made.Best play: It was Smith's least-consistent game of the season, but when the 49ers needed him to be perfect, he was. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line against the Detroit Lions, Smith put a quick slant on the money to tight end Delanie Walker, who lined up as a wide receiver on the right side. Walker caught the pass at the 2-yard line and kept his knee off the ground while Lions defensive back Louis Delmas tried to bring him down short of the end zone. The touchdown provided the 49ers with the go-ahead points in their eventual 25-19 victory over the previously unbeaten Lions at Ford Field.Worst play: In the closing minutes of the 49ers' 48-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, receiver Josh Morgan caught a 19-yard pass from rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Morgan's left leg got caught underneath on the tackle, and he sustained a broken ankle. He underwent season-ending surgery the next day. Morgan was emerging as a down-field threat in the passing game while also impressing coaches with his contributions as a blocker.Key to the second half: The focus of the offense will always be Gore and the run game. But the 49ers must also find a way to get big-chunk plays in the passing game from Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards. The 49ers do not have to open up the offense and change their philosophy in the second half of the season. But they need to take advantage of their big-play chances while also being more consistent on third downs. The 49ers rank 26th in the league, converting just 31.1 percent their third-down chances.

Tom Rathman to be inducted into 49ers Hall of Fame

Tom Rathman to be inducted into 49ers Hall of Fame

Former 49ers fullback Tom Rathman, who was not retained this season on Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff, will be coming back to the organization in a permanent fashion.

Rathman, 54, who spent a total of 22 seasons as a player and coach, will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame, CEO Jed York announced on Tuesday.

York wrote on Twitter:

“No one epitomizes being a @49ers more than Tom Rathman. So happy for him to take his place in the #49ersHoF

Rathman discussed having a role on the 49ers’ coaching staff after the hiring of Shanahan. But Shanahan had already promised the position of running backs coach to Bobby Turner.

“It was all positive,” said Rathman told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “I have no hard feelings. It’s just the nature of the business. Everybody just has to understand that. In pro football, coaches get fired and new guys come in and they bring their guys. I totally understand it. I don’t have a problem with it. Being in the business for 28 years, playing and coaching, you understand what it is. You can never take anything for granted.”

Rathman played for the 49ers from 1986 to ’93. He was a starter on two Super Bowl-winning teams and seven NFC West champions. Used mostly as a lead-blocker for Roger Craig, Rathman’s best season came in 1989, when he caught 73 passes for 616 yards.

After his playing career concluded with the Los Angeles Rams in 1994, Rathman entered into a career in coaching. He coached under Steve Mariucci from 1997 to 2002. He returned to coach with the 49ers in 2009, serving on the coaching staffs of head coaches Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly.

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

49ers draft board consists of nearly 200 prospects

The 49ers new draft grading system is inspired by the New England Patriots, but their draft menu consists of a lot more options.

“We’ve got just under 200 players on our draft board, that we see as draftable players on our board,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time in here and it was needed this year because I had a lot of catch-up to do. I can tell you that just (Sunday) night I finally got to the point, I always knew as a player like, ‘OK. I’m ready.’ That moment was (Sunday) for me where I said, ‘OK. I’m ready. I’m ready to go on this thing.’ That’s a good feeling.”

The 49ers have 10 draft picks scheduled for the three-day draft, including the No. 2 overall selection. With 73 players under contract, the 49ers figure to add approximately 17 rookies through the draft and as free agents. The NFL's seven-round draft will result in 253 players being selected.

Lynch was hired out of the FOX broadcast booth a week before the Super Bowl. The following week, Lynch assembled all of the team’s scouts for meetings in Santa Clara.

“When we first brought scouts in right after the Super Bowl we were kind of working off the old grading system,” Lynch said. “But what helped was the grading system that they use in Denver, which kind of derived from one that was developed in New England.”

One of Lynch’s first hires was former Broncos college scouting director Adam Peters as 49ers vice president of player personnel. New coach Kyle Shanahan was also familiar with the system because, like Peters, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff worked in the Patriots’ scouting department.

“In these last three weeks of draft meetings we moved over to that grading scale,” Lynch said.

“I’ve always been someone who thinks you should listen to multiple opinions and we’ve been very collaborative. I believe in strong opinions. Someone once told me, ‘Strong opinions, weakly held.’ So are you open to different thoughts and someone makes you think? But ultimately someone’s got to make decisions.”

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio recently told Boston-area reporters that New England's draft board consists of only 50 to 75 players who fit as draft picks for their team. The Patriots have seven scheduled draft picks but none in the first two rounds.

"I would say it varies year to year, but I would say our draft board is smaller than most," Caserio said. "We are trying to find players that we feel comfortable with on all levels that we would actually draft -- not that are going to get drafted.

"It's players that we would draft, that we would actually feel comfortable with in our program in some capacity."

1. First round: No. 2 overall
2. Second round: No. 34 overall
3. Third round: No. 66 overall
4. Fourth round: No. 109 overall
5. Fourth round: No. 143 overall (compensatory)
6. Fifth round: No. 146 overall
7. Fifth round: No. 161 (pick acquired from Washington in 2015 trade for TE Derek Carrier)
8. Sixth round: No. 198 overall (from Baltimore in trade with C Jeremy Zuttah for No. 186)
9. Sixth round: No. 202 overall (pick acquired from Denver in 2015 trade for TE Vernon Davis)
10. Seventh round: No. 219 overall (pick acquired from Cleveland in 2015 trade for Andy Lee)