If you don’t actually know me personally, you probably aren’t aware that I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan. That’s been the case since I was fairly young, about the same time as the popularity of Tecmo Super Bowl for NES. I loved the Montana-to-Rice combo on the game, and I actually have family connections to the Bay Area, so I started rooting for them probably a year or two before their last Super Bowl run (about the same time as I was figuring out which teams to root for in the other sports). They were competitive through the end of the ’90s, but the last few years have been awfully tough.
Fortunately, after a 7-9 season last year and a fantastic NFL draft, things are looking up again for the franchise that dominated the 1980s. The 49ers came into this weekend’s draft with a mess of picks, especially in the 3rd and 4th rounds, as well as the #11 pick overall. I watched the first round and most of the second with a couple of friends, one of whom is also a 49er fan, and we were pretty happy with #1 pick Patrick Willis. The 49ers have a handful of needs defensively, even after the big free agent signings of Nate Clements and Michael Lewis. Willis can be a franchise inside linebacker in Mike Nolan’s defense.
Then, with the Brady Quinn waiting game as our entertainment, we waited on their second-round pick, which we both thought would be a wide receiver. It was slightly shocking, then, to see them trade back into the late first round (using next year’s first-round pick, of all things) to get tackle Joe Staley. It seemed like a good pick, but at what cost? Fortunately, the Colts gave up their first-round pick to get the Niners’ second-round pick, but unfortunately, San Francisco had yet to draft a receiver. With Antonio Bryant gone, I wasn’t happy about the prospect of Arnaz Battle being Alex Smith’s first option. Frank Gore is good, but he can only carry the offense so far.
The 49ers took their receiver in the third round, speedy Jason Hill of Washington State, who looks like a pretty decent prospect. They also got oft-injured Florida DE Ray McDonald in that round, one of three picks out of UF. So, on the first day, they addressed the biggest areas of need, even if I wasn’t particularly happy with the WR situation or trading down in next year’s draft to get back in the first round this year (which is essentially what giving up their own pick for Indy’s will do). I’m more comfortable with that now, though, after learning more about Staley.
The second day was equally eventful for my team of choice. They started out by trading a fourth-rounder for Seattle WR Darrell Jackson, part of their plan to employ as many former Gators as possible. He gives Alex Smith a reliable target and probably is instantly the #1 wide-out. The rest of the day was spent bolstering the depth chart on defense, adding a couple of corners, another linebacker, and a defensive tackle. The Niners used their last pick to secure a backup for Frank Gore in Thomas Clayton.
Overall, I must say I’m more excited than I’ve been about the 49ers in a long time. They could be the best team in the NFC West this year if they continue their improvement, and maybe they’ll get a new stadium at some point.
Finally, you might be wondering why I don’t post more often on the team I consider to be my favorite in arguably the most popular pro sport in the country. Honestly, I don’t feel like I have much to add to the discussion about football. There’s a great stat site out there called Football Outsiders, but even they would admit that football stats have a long way to go before we can tell anything meaningful, which is not true of the other sports I post about more frequently. So much of football is dependent on the actions of the entire team acting all at once, as well as the decisions of the coaching staff, that it’s hard to tell on an individual level who is really performing the best. That doesn’t stop us from deciding that for ourselves, but I just don’t have much to add other than a nod in agreement that Peyton Manning is good and Rex Grossman is not.
So, forgive me, 49er fans and football fans in general, for not giving them the same blogging treatment I give the Braves and the Harding basketball team. I’ll be rooting the Niners along just the same, though.