The Huddle Report - Team Needs

By Aaron Freeman
March 18, 2002 

Draft Position: #27
Acquired Picks: none
Traded Picks: 3rd (voided)


2002 Free Agents:
Unrestricted: FB Fred Beasley, CB Tyronne Drakeford, RB Garrison Hearst, LB Terry Killens, CB George McCullough, QB Rick Mirer, C Jeremy Newberry, S Lance Schulters, T Matt Willig, DE Troy Wilson
Restricted: FB Terry Jackson, C Ben Lynch, DE Chike Okeafor
Priority Rating Key
10 Without one season is doomed from the start. 5 Needs an upgrade.
9 Need one badly and things look gloomy without one. 4 Could use some work but no need for reaching.
8 Top priority for this team. 3 Fine for the time being.
7 A definite need for this team. 2 Not much to worry about at this position.
6 Should be addressed but not top priority. 1 Selecting a player is a total waste.
F Free Agency concerns; a key player is a free agent and losing him would make it a larger need than listed.
X Injury concerns; a key player is coming off a serious injury, so there are questions if they will be 100% next season.

Team Needs

Rating: 5.5
Projected Starters: Tai Streets, J.J. Stokes
Key Backups: Cedrick Wilson, Vinny Sutherland

 The outlook on Terrell Owens' future is cloudy right now. It's obvious he is not particularly wanted in San Francisco, but it's also clear that he's too good a player to let go. There is a shot he could return, but the team will look for opportunities to shop him. That means Tai Streets will assume the starting spot. They will have to rely on him to be the next go-to receiver. J.J. Stokes is just a complementary wide out. They will look in the draft for reserve help, since Cedrick Wilson is untested. The 49ers could nab a wide receiver in the first round, and they will probably be looking at Marquise Walker (Michigan), Javon Walker (Florida State), or Donte Stallworth (Tennessee) that late in the round, but would love to have Ashley Lelie (Hawaii) if he dropped that far. Even if Owens is retained, there needs to be better depth.

Rating: 5.0
Projected Starters: Jason Webster, Ahmed Plummer
Key Backups: Rashad Holman, Jimmy Williams, Anthony Parker

 Webster and Plummer are pretty good starting pair, but they give up a lot of big plays. Holman played better as a nickel back than most expected. Jimmy Williams is another young prospect. Parker has been a disappointment thus far, but if healthy he can be a solid nickel player. The 49ers may look for a solid cornerback in the opening rounds. In the first round, they will likely be looking at Keyou Craver (Nebraska), Lito Sheppard (Florida), and Mike Rumph (Miami FL). The unit is not that bad, but they still need some more help if they want to be able to beat the Rams.

Rating: 5.0
Projected Starters: Ray Brown, Dave Fiore
Key Backups: Dave Costa, Chad Ward

 Brown may or may not retire this year. He has been a solid player on the left side, despite achieving his first Pro Bowl this year. Fiore is solid on the other side. Costa and Ward are untested reserves, so the 49ers will probably look to add depth in the middle or late rounds. Derrick Deese is the likely play to step in at left guard if Brown retires.

Rating: 5.0
Projected Starter: Vinny Sutherland

 Sutherland was below average on both kickoffs and punts. The return position was a big question heading into last year, and was not resolved. The team will look at other players this year, but probably won't devote a draft pick solely to a return specialist. They may seek help in free agency.

Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: Derrick Deese, Scott Gragg
Key Backups: Matt Willig, John Feugill, Mark Bristol

 Deese and Gragg are pretty good, but neither excel at their positions. But the 49ers do not have any complaints. Matt Willig is a pretty good reserve, but it may be time for them to go with younger players like Feugill and Bristol. Deese may move inside to left guard this year or next year, so the team will be on the lookout for a solid left tackle. Although Levi Jones (Arizona State) will probably be available in the first, they'll probably pass on him. They will look for a young left tackle in the early and middle rounds.

Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: John Engelberger, Andre Carter
Key Backups: Bobby Setzer, Chike Okeafor, Menson Holloway

 The duo of Carter and Engelberger was not as productive as the team hoped, but they should be better next year. The team feels that Engelberger is a capable starter, but probably would be better off as a rotational player. So they could look to add another pass rusher early in the draft, but it's not a major need. They will look for bigger contributions from Chike Okeafor, and young players Setzer and Holloway.

Rating: 4.0X
Projected Starters: Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield
Key Backups: John Schlecht, Junior Bryant

 Young and Stubblefield were once again a good interior unit. If Junior Bryant is not 100% next year, then the team will probably have to rely on John Schlecht becoming their third tackle. That's because they will probably cut Reggie McGrew despite the fact that he finally stepped up last year. The 49ers will probably be looking for a solid young defensive tackle to play in the rotation.

Rating: 4.0
Projected Starter: Jeff Garcia
Key Backups: Tim Rattay, Gio Carmazzi

 Garcia is the starter, but the team hopes Rattay can step up and perform well this summer as a possible #2. The team has had to re-sign Rick Mirer each of the last two off-seasons due to the slow progress of Rattay and the injury to Carmazzi last season. If a good player drops, the 49ers may bring in another quarterback to push Carmazzi for the third spot.

Rating: 3.5FX
Projected Starters: Lance Schulters, Zack Bronson
Key Backups: John Keith, Al Blades, Ronnie Heard

 Schulters will be a sought-after free agent this off-season, so the 49ers stand a pretty good chance of losing him. Zack Bronson played well this year and will return at free safety. John Keith was expected to start at strong safety until his injury this summer. If they lose Schulters, then Ronnie Heard will probably be the first to fill in at strong safety. Al Blades will also contribute. If they lose Schulters, they may look for a strong safety early in the draft.

Rating: 3.5
Projected Starter: Eric Johnson
Key Backup: Justin Swift

 For the past several seasons the 49ers have looked for a true pass-catching threat at this position. Greg Clark was decent, but was far too good a blocker for your traditional West Coast tight end. Johnson played well in Clark's absence this year, and Clark's cap figure will likely keep him from returning. Justin Swift is a decent #2 tight end. The 49ers could look at other players late in the draft, but it's not necessary.

Rating: 3.0
Projected Starters: Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich
Key Backups: Jamie Winborn, Terry Killens

 Peterson and Ulbrich were a fine duo this year. Ulbrich will be pushed by Jamie Winborn, who was not as effective as a rookie as the team hoped, but he's a good backup as of right now. Peterson's durability has been a concern each of the past two years so re-signing Terry Killens is a good idea for depth concerns. They may add a player in the late rounds for depth.

Rating: 3.0F
Projected Starter: Jeremy Newberry
Key Backup: Ben Lynch

 Newberry is one of the league's best centers, and its likely the 49ers will have to compensate him for that. It may be hard for them to keep him. Ben Lynch is a good backup, but its unknown whether he can assume the starting spot. And there's very little belief that he would be as good as Newberry. If they lose Newberry, center definitely becomes a draft priority that they could address in the second or fourth round.

Rating: 3.0X
Projected Starter: Derek Smith
Key Backups: Jeff Ulbrich, Alex Lincoln

 Smith had a solid year in the middle position. His backup will be Ulbrich until Alex Lincoln is healthy. This position is secure.

Rating: 2.5F
Projected Starter: Fred Beasley
Key Backup: Terry Jackson

 Beasley is probably the top free agent at fullback, so it will cost the team quite a bit to retain him. Jackson is an excellent player off the bench, and should be able to start if Beasley is lost. If they lose Beasley, they will probably draft another fullback to play behind Jackson in the late rounds.

Rating: 2.5X
Projected Starter: Garrison Hearst
Key Backups: Kevan Barlow, Paul Smith, Jonas Lewis

 Hearst is a free agent, but there is no doubt he wants to stay in San Francisco, so a deal should be able to be worked out. Barlow looked very good at times in spelling Hearst, and is the feature back of the future. He and Hearst will probably share more carries down the line, and eventually in a year or two, Barlow will receive more carries than Hearst. Paul Smith was expected to contribute last year, but spent most of his time on special teams. Jonas Lewis is a quick back coming off injury. The 49ers should be very deep at this position in 2002.

Rating: 2.5
Projected Starter: Jose Cortez

 Cortez proved he could be a good clutch kicker last year, but he needs to become a little bit more accurate on non-game winning kicks.

Rating: 2.5
Projected Starter: Jason Baker

 Baker was decent in his first year, but can get better and the team expects that he will.

Draft Board

  1. Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina*
  2. John Henderson, DT, Tennessee
  3. Bryant McKinnie, T, Miami (Fla.)
  4. Quentin Jammer, CB, Texas
  5. David Carr, QB, Fresno State
  6. Jabar Gaffney, WR, Florida*
  7. Wendell Bryant, DT, Wisconsin
  8. Ashley Lelie, WR, Hawaii*
  9. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon
  10. Antonio Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh*
Something to Expect this Off-season

 The 49ers don't have a lot of major needs, but need to upgrade a few starters and improve their depth all over the team. The 49ers probably won't be big players in free agency since they'll spend most of their money on their four key free agents: Hearst, Newberry, Schulters, and Beasley. It's quite likely the team will only be able to keep three of them. Beasley is probably the most expendable, but it's likely Schulters or Newberry will be the hardest to keep. They could also two Pro Bowlers in Owens and Ray Brown, as both would be very hard to replace. The past two off-seasons have seen a focus on the defense, but this year should have a bigger focus on offense, although there are still concerns on defense.