How the Niners offense can improve on third down and in red zone

This is a blog about Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, but first, some context.

According to Matt Maiocco, Dashon Goldson is the Niners’ top candidate for the franchise tag. Franchising Goldson would cost the Niners $6.2 million in 2012, while it would cost them $10.6 million to franchise their other top free agent, Carlos Rogers.

So, Goldson most likely will be a Niner next season. But, will Rogers?

He wants a four year contract, but he said he’d take less money to sign with San Francisco. How much money would the Niners be comfortable giving to the 30 year old?

Maiocco says “the team believes (Chris Culliver) will be ready to start next year as a second-year player.” If that’s true, it doesn’t seem like the Niners feel desperate to re-sign their Pro Bowl corner.

If they let him walk, how will that affect their offseason?

First, they’ll probably have cap space to seriously bid for a big-bodied, free agent wide receiver – their biggest need by far. If they want the Saints’ Marques Colston, who is 28 years old and 6’5”, the Niners could potentially outbid and weaken their rival.

They’d also have to get another cornerback, probably in the draft but not necessarily in the first round. Teams usually expect and count on first rounders becoming starters in their first season. But, if Maiocco is correct that the Niners see Culliver and Tarell Brown as starter-caliber corners for next season, then Trent Baalke can draft a corner to develop in the second round, like Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina.

Here’s where Coby Fleener comes in. No matter what happens with Carlos Rogers, the Niners should draft Fleener in the first round.

But the Niners already have Vernon Davis and Delanie walker, you say. They don’t need another tight end.

What the Niners need is to improve their offense, especially on third downs and in the red zone.

Fleener would do that.

He’s 6’6”, he’s fast, and he can play tight end or wide receiver. He’s bigger and faster than any wide receiver who likely would be available at the 30th pick of the first round.

Plus, he’s a much better receiver than Walker, the Niners current No. 2 tight end, who is short for the position, plus he drops passes.

Fleener is not as good of a blocker as Walker or Davis. But the Niners don’t need more blocking. They need more getting open and more catching. Fleener is known for both those things.

According to the Associated Press’ Antonio Gonzalez, who covered Stanford Football this season, the Cardinal players called Fleener “deceivingly fast,” and “the second fastest player on the team.”

Gonzalez says Fleener ran past linebackers easily – he even blew by safeties. So, by the end of his college career opposing defenses covered him with cornerbacks.

Fleener stretches the field just like Vernon Davis. If the Niners have both guys, neither one could be double teamed.

Imagine this shotgun formation on third down and long: Fleener and Davis at tight end, Colston at split end, Joshua Morgan at flanker and Michael Crabtree in the slot. Alex Smith could easily find good one-on-one matchups with that personnel.

If the Niners draft Fleener, they’ll have the best tight end corps in the NFL – better than the Patriots’ group with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

If the Niners also sign Colston, they’ll be a good third down and red zone offense. They’d have too much talent not to be.

“Good” is a big improvement from “dreadful,” which is what the Niners offense was on third downs and in the red zone this past season. If the Niners can go from “dreadful” to “good” in those areas, they’ll have no holes on their team.

And if all it takes to make that possible is Rogers signing somewhere else, it will be worth it for the Niners, don’t you think?

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