San Francisco 49ers: Has Their Defense Improved This Offseason?


Oct 28, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (24) along the sidelines prior to playing the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field. The Falcons defeated the Eagles 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at my mock draft recently, you will see that I projected the San Francisco 49ers to use four of their first five draft picks on a defensive player. A few players left via free agency, including Dashon Goldson, a first team All-Pro and long-term starter at free safety.

So, even with the loss of Goldson, has the 49ers’ defensive unit improved this off season?

Losing Goldson was a move that could hurt. He was the leader of the secondary and he brought a degree of physicality to the secondary. Replacing him with Craig Dahl is a move that would hurt even more. Dahl is more of a core special teams player that can start at safety in a pinch if need be.

That said, the free safety position will surely be an area that will be open for competition. Expect the 49ers to use a high draft pick on a safety that will come in and compete with Dahl and probably emerge as the starter during training camp. John Cyprien, Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, Bacarri Rambo and DJ Swearinger are some options in the draft.

Donte Whitner has become a real liability in pass defense, as shown by his abysmal performance in the Super Bowl. CJ Spillman, Darcel McBath, Trenton Robinson and Michael Thomas are all on the roster, but safety is still a position that has not been improved upon. Expect the 49ers to draft at least two safeties this year.

Isaac Sopoaga and Rickey Jean Francois both left via free agency. Ian Williams is the next man in line, and he will be relied on to help out at the nose tackle spot. Tony Jerod-Eddie is a big body that can help out as well. Signing Glenn Dorsey was the biggest move for the 49ers on defense. Dorsey didn’t put up the sack numbers that the Kansas City Chiefs may have expected, but he was very good against the run. He is younger than Sopoaga and a better player than Francois. The 49ers were able to upgrade their defensive line with the addition of Dorsey.

The defensive line will need to be able to have a rotation of players to keep everyone fresh. Justin Smith is not getting any younger. Ray McDonald is a very underrated player,however, as he consistently gets pressure on the quarterback and is stout against the run. Expect the 49ers to draft versatile linemen such as Datone Jones, Jesse Williams or Jonathan Hankins. They may even put together a package to go up and get Sheldon Richardson. John Jenkins is primarily a zero tech but he has been linked to the 49ers after meeting with them recently.

The linebacker position at this point has regressed, if you ask me. Some may feel that it is crazy to say that a unit that includes Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith has regressed. I say that it has regressed from a depth standpoint. Larry Grant visited with the Chiefs recently and it seems like he’s not likely to return to the 49ers. Grant showed how effective he can be when he filled in for Willis against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Having a reserve like Grant that can step up when called upon is valuable.

Ahmad Brooks showed that he can be a decent pass rusher and Aldon Smith threatened to break the sack record. After those two All-Pro players, there are some questions. Parys Haralson is returning from a preseason injury that kept him out the whole year. The pass rush slowed down towards the end of the year. It’s no coincidence that the pass defense, which ranked fourth in the NFL, began to show some weaknesses. They did not give up a pass play of over 40 yards until the NFC Championship and Super Bowl.

Surprisingly, the 49ers did not make any moves to improve the pass rush via free agency. There are some opportunities to improve the pass rush in the draft. Margus Hunt is a raw prospect that some feel will be an early selection. Quanterus Smith from Western Kentucky could come in and help get pressure on the quarterback. He suffered a torn ACL in November but had three sacks against Alabama to start the season.

The last area to address is cornerback. Much has been made about the signing of Nnamdi Asomugha. Adding a player like him will improve almost any secondary. His size alone will be a plus when it comes to defending bigger wide receivers. Chris Culliver has tremendous upside as a young corner. Tarrell Brown was the most consistent. Carlos Rogers seemed to regress from his 2011 Pro Bowl form.

The cornerback unit did improve, but the 49ers will still draft a corner early in the draft. Tyrann Mathieu is a target because he would be an eventual replacement for Carlos Rogers and would help in the return game. Jamar Taylor, Jordan Poyer and Robert Alford are also possibilities.

Overall, the 49ers’ defense has not improved so far this offseason. It has more or less remained stagnant. As noted above, the real improvement will come by way of the draft. There are less than two weeks left and the anticipation is mounting.