The San Fransisco 49ers were the best team in the NFL last season. They may have lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl, but I think that they were the most complete and impressive team in the league. Colin Kaepernick completely changed that team’s offensive identity, and with a season under belt now, not to mention Super Bowl experience, and combined with their stellar front seven on defense for a full off-season, I believe the San Fransisco will be the best team in the league again in 2013.
And the scary part about it is, at this point in the off-season, this team is far from being a finished product. Yesterday they completed a trade that sent Alex Smith to the Chiefs in exchange for a pair of draft picks (reportedly a second rounder this year and a third rounder next year), which has brought their pick total for the 2013 draft to an unfathomable 15 picks, five of which come in the first three rounds. For an organization that has proven themselves as excellent at player development, this is a remarkable plate of assets. With such a large number of picks, and with each and every NFL draft pick carrying so much value, the 49ers are prime position to make a key move or two this off-season simply by moving some of their surplus draft picks.
The latest rumor surrounding the team involves superstar Darrelle Revis, a seemingly disgruntled star cornerback that is unhappy about his contract situation. The New York Jets realize that they’d be better off attempting to rebuild their talent base (especially offensively) than to continue to pay a ton of money for a franchise cornerback. Revis is in the final guaranteed year of his deal with the Jets and there is no way he will be accepting his $3 million player options over the next year years, which means he is looking to restructure his contract, and he is looking for the richest deal for a player of his position in NFL history.
Naturally, this makes the 49ers a perfect trade partner for the Jets. The 49ers have more picks than they have roster spots, meaning transactions involving some of their picks is a guarantee, and the Jets are looking to add prospects to their roster via the draft. To go even further, San Fransisco’s secondary got toasted late in the season, especially corner Chris Culliver and safety Dashon Goldson. Even though he is coming off of ACL surgery, Revis would be a massive upgrade to the Niners’ defense, and San Fransisco’s massive amount of picks would still allow the team to gain defensive line depth through the draft. If the price is something like the 2nd round pick they just got from the Chiefs (34th overall) and their own first round pick (31st overall), I would strongly consider that if I was San Fransisco.
The reason this trade isn’t likely to happen is that Revis would be asking for a huge pay raise from the 49ers from the day he arrived and San Fransisco has not made a habit of committing long-term salary to players not developed within their own organization. Assuming they are unwilling to shell out a record deal to make Revis a 49er long-term, they’d be paying too hefty a price for a rental player, especially since, at the end of the day, Culliver and Goldson are not horrible. That said, I really think that Revis is a foundational piece worth paying for, particularly in the 49ers case, as the combination of his lockdown coverage skills and that devastating pass rush would make them an impossible team to score on consistently. And who wouldn’t love the Richard Sherman-Revis post-game meetings after Seahawk-Niner games?
Another star player on the trade market that has been connected to the 49ers, at least by way of the media, is Percy Harvin. There were some reports this off-season that Harvin and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier didn’t see eye-to-eye, and with Harvin being in the last year of his deal with the team, he is believed to be available for the right price. Adding Harvin would have a similar effect on San Fransisco’s offense as Revis would on their defense. While San Fransisco already has a rising star in Michael Crabtree as their number one wideout (by the way, he’s up for an extension this year or next, too), but they lack a clear number two wide receiver. Randy Moss may have a little bit left, but he’s best as a spell #2 receiver and not an every down guy, and Mario Manningham was one of the more disappointing players in the league last season.
Harvin is such a dynamic and explosive player and he has a ton of experience running the spread read-option offense. He put up a pair of 1,000 yard seasons as a scat back that played all over the field when he was at Florida with Tim Tebow, and I think Harvin could have a very similar role within San Fran’s Kaepernick-centric offense. He can split out wide, in the slot or in the backfield and make plays from any of those positions. Harvin’s shiftiness makes impossible to tackle in space and forcing defenses to account for his speed in addition to a running quarterback, a dynamic number one like Crabtree and that powerful run game would be quite unfair for the rest of the league.
San Fransisco could actually acquire both Harvin and Revis before the draft and be able to proceed this season under the cap. The problem is that both of these guys want extensions, and the 49ers are unlikely to be willing to deal those out to a pair of outsiders, especially with Kaepernick, Crabtree, Culliver, Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith and a couple of other in-house products due up for their own extensions in the next 24 months.
While a deal for Revis or Harvin would have the most immediate impact on the success of their club, San Fransisco is more likely to package their picks to move up in the draft to get a higher selection. I presume there’s an off chance that a team in the top 10 would be willing to take a deal that involved a few valuable picks, but the more likely scenario is San Fransisco trading up into the 10-15 range to grab one of the top defensive backs or defensive linemen in the class.
Dee Milliner is the top corner in the class, but after running a 4.37 at the combine, he’s a shoe-in for a top 10 selection. That makes Xavier Rhodes an intriguing prospect for the 49ers. The Florida State product can play bump-and-run coverage at 6’1″ and ran a very solid 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a big player that fits into the physical style that Harbaugh’s defensive group loves to play. I really like Rhodes as a fit for the Niners because I think you can stick him on the outside right away and mold him into Culliver’s replacement in the event the team chooses to part ways with him.
Another corner that the Niners can move up to get is Desmond Trufant, the brother of longtime NFL corner Marcus Trufant. Trufant has speed and size along with the ability to cover in space and could fit in right away as a slot corner and work his way towards starting on the outside in the near future. Trufant impressed at the combine and also showed well at the Senior Bowl, which means his stock will be on the rise as we get closer to the draft. He may end up inching closer to the top 10 by then, which means the 49ers would have to pony up to have a shot at him.
If San Fransisco is inclined to take a young safety in this draft, then trading up for UT’s Kenny Vaccaro is a very good option. Vaccaro really impressed me on film as someone that can cover the field from a deep position and in man-to-man scenarios. He was also a very physical player that wasn’t afraid to get involved in the run game. And if the Niners instead want to bolster their defensive line, there are three players with top-10 talent that will be available in the middle of the first round for various reasons: Barkevious Mingo, an extremely talented 3-4 prospect with attitude questions, Star Lotulelei, a stud defensive tackle that was once thought to be the best prospect in the draft had his stock drop when a heart condition was discovered during his physical at the combine, and Jarvis Jones, who has a medical condition with his spine that may cause a few teams to pass on him on draft night.
Another player to keep an eye on with the Niners around draft time is defensive end Margus Hunt, and this isn’t someone that the 49ers will have to trade up to acquire. Hunt moved from Estonia to SMU to join the track team, which was shut down right before Hunt could start competing. Luckily for Hunt, his track coach encouraged him to try out for football, and it didn’t take much for Hunt to convince June Jones to add him to the team. Even though he’s only played the sport for the past few years, Hunt showed solid instincts during his time with the Mustangs and he was an exceptional blocker of kicks because of his rare combination of explosion and timing.
Hunt is a 6’8″, 277-pound monster of an athlete that ran a 4.6-40, the third fastest amongst defensive ends, and tied defensive tackle Brandon Williams for the most bench press reps at the combine with 38. He is one of those LeBron type athletes that is just a level above his competition, and though his skills and fundamentals may need some fine tuning to make him an NFL caliber starter, I don’t think Harbaugh and his staff would have much trouble finding a way for Hunt to contribute.
I know for a fact that Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers are still kicking themselves over missing out on some opportunities to become Super Bowl Champs last season. But while John Harbaugh’s Ravens squad was certainly a one-hit wonder riding a wave of emotion and momentum to a title, Jim’s team is a sure bet to be a top the NFL over the next several years. And what they choose to do with their bevy of draft picks this off-season will have alot to do with how much success the team will have going forward.