Matt Barrows wrote a blog this morning arguing why the 49ers’ biggest offseason issue is the pass rush, not the secondary. I love Matt’s work and I usually agree with his opinions, but I disagree this time.
The 49ers need to address the secondary with greater urgency than the D-line. If Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois leave in free agency, then the 49ers need to address the D-line after addressing the secondary. If Sopoaga or Jean Francois re-sign with the Niners, then wide receiver becomes the second-biggest offseason issue.
The Niners already are committed to four d-linemen they like and want to play every down – Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks. When these four players are healthy, they’re a top-10 defensive line. Any D-lineman the 49ers draft or sign this offseason would be just a backup next season.
The 49ers do not have one defensive back who can blanket a receiver or tight end in coverage. Tarell Brown struggles against big receivers. He gave up 11 catches to Julio Jones in the NFC Championship game. Brown will be a 29-year old free agent after next season.
Strong Safety Donte Whitner is too short to cover tall tight ends.
Dashon Goldson is better at hitting than covering, and it’s unclear he’s even going to come back.
Carlos Rogers will be 32 years old next season. He struggles more and more against the quick slot receivers, like the Rams’ Chris Givens and the Seahawks’ Doug Baldwin.
Chris Culliver got torched from Week 6 on. He can’t seem to locate the deep pass when he turns his head.
The 49ers have five of the first 94 draft picks. They’re in a position to trade up to the 11th or 12th pick and draft a young lock-down corner who has a whole career ahead of him.
If the 49ers cannot work out a trade, they definitely need to draft the best cornerback available at pick No.31, or scour the free agent market for a corner who is not too expensive.
I’m basing my opinion on the fact that if a defense has weak coverage skills in the secondary, it doesn’t matter who is rushing the passer. An opposing wide receiver will be open before a rusher gets there.
On the other hand, if a defense has coverage corners and safeties who can blanket the opposing wide receivers and tight end, even a less-than-stellar D-lineman might be able to get to the quarterback because the quarterback is forced to hold onto the ball longer and search for an open receiver.