Ranking 49ers' offseason needs

Ranking 49ers' offseason needs
February 10, 2014, 10:00 am
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Tramaine Brock is projected to start next season, but the 49ers may look to add another starter or at least depth at the cornerback position via the draft. (AP)

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Team needs change from month to month, depending on injuries or the fact that some players improve or decline during the course of a year.

And, certainly, every NFL team will see a shift in needs with free agency scheduled to open March 11 and the draft taking place from May 8 to 10. (Up until the start of free agency, every team has sole negotiating rights with their own scheduled free agents.)

The 49ers own 11 draft picks and expect an additional compensatory pick at the end of either the third or fourth round.

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Here is a ranking of the 49ers’ offseason needs:

1. Cornerback: Tramaine Brock is a starter. Chris Culliver, returning from a knee injury that kept him out the entire season, will be back to compete for a job. Carlos Rogers turns 33 in July, and his status is uncertain due to his hefty contract. The 49ers have not drafted a cornerback in the first two rounds since Shawntae Spencer in 2004. It’s about time.

2. Wide receiver: If Anquan Boldin re-signs, the need is not as great. After all, the 49ers would return Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton. But the 49ers need to add at this position for depth and the future. Crabtree is scheduled to enter the final year of his contract, and he might be difficult to retain.

3. Safety: Veteran Donte Whitner is a free agent and a priority to re-sign at the right price. Eric Reid will be a starter. Craig Dahl and C.J. Spillman are the backups. A good player got away when Miami signed Michael Thomas off the practice squad late in the season.

4. Offensive line: The 49ers are unsettled at the center position with the club expected to look to get younger at that spot. Jonathan Goodwin is a free agent. Left guard Mike Iupati is scheduled to enter the final year of his contract. Starting right guard Alex Boone is still the 49ers’ top backup tackle.

5. Inside linebacker: NaVorro Bowman’s rehab will determine if he’ll be available for the start of the regular season. Rehab from ACL surgery typically takes six to nine months. Michael Wilhoite is a capable backup, as he showed when Patrick Willis was out of the lineup. The 49ers also like Nick Moody, a sixth-round pick last season.

6. Outside linebacker: Aldon Smith is scheduled to enter the final year of his deal, though he is not expected to be going anywhere. Ahmad Brooks is signed through 2017 with de-escalators in his deal that reduces his pay if his stats drop off. Veteran Dan Skuta is in the final year of his deal, while Corey Lemonier had one sack while seeing limited action as a pass-rush specialist.

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7. Quarterback: There's little question with the organization that the 49ers have their quarterback of the now and future with Colin Kaepernick. But Colt McCoy is a free agent with an uncertain future. The 49ers do not have another quarterback who has attempted a pass in a regular-season game. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is the only other QB on the roster.

8. Tight end: Vernon Davis is coming off a 13-touchdown season. And the 49ers selected Vance McDonald in the second round of last year’s draft. McDonald got better as a blocker late in the season, and he’s expected to gradually become more of a factor in the team's passing game as the No. 2 tight end.

9. Defensive line: The 49ers used two 2013 draft picks on defensive linemen who, essentially, had redshirt seasons. Second-round draft pick Tank Carradine and fifth-rounder Quinton Dial are expected to take part in the full offseason program and be ready to compete for spots in the rotation in 2014. The 49ers return four defensive linemen with starting experience: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams.

10. Running back: Frank Gore is under contract, though his deal might need to be adjusted. But the 49ers already accounted for the future with the selection of Marcus Lattimore in last year's draft. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Jewel Hampton are back, too.

11. Specialists: Phil Dawson, who made 32 of 36 field-goal attempts, is scheduled for free agency. Also, the 49ers might want to consider adding a player with experience handling punt returns.

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