49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

April 28, 2010
Post-draft depth chart: Defense

Nineteen players were added to the 49ers' roster in the last week. Here is my best guess as to where they fit on the depth chart. Today: Defense.

NT: Aubrayo Franklin, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francois, Khalif Mitchell
Comment: With Franklin likely to play on a one-year contract, this position is a big -- HUGE -- question mark for next year. Sopoaga has size and strength, but he's on the record as saying he'd rather play defensive end. The team is giving Jean-Francois an extended look at NT, but the jury is still out. Mitchell shows flashes, but lacks consistency and tenacity, and the team is considering him as an offensive lineman.

LDE: Sopoaga, Kentwan Balmer, Mitchell, Demetric Evans.
Comment: This depth chart is assuming Balmer is back for training camp after having shoulder surgery this offseason. Evans usually plays on the right side, but could move to the left in a pinch.

RDE: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Evans, Derek Walker.
Comment: The relentless Smith finally was rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance this past season. He's the team's best defensive lineman, although it's noteworthy that he turns 31 this season. McDonald is more than a year removed from ACL surgery, and he should have more burst than a year ago. Walker is a project. He's listed as 6-4, 271 pounds, but is probably bigger than that. Still, the 49ers would like him to get bigger.

MILB: Patrick Willis, Matt Wilhelm, Scott McKillop, Navorro Bowman, Keaton Kristick
Comment: The key figure here is McKillop. The 49ers want to see the progress that was lacking last year, and he will be one of the most scrutinized young players on defense. If he wins the coaches' confidence, the team will have no need for Wilhelm. Bowman will see time at both "Mike" and "Ted," and Kristick also might be moved around.

TILB: Takeo Spikes, Wilhelm, McKillop, Bowman
Comment: The 49ers are looking for an heir to Spikes, who is in the final year of his contract. Spikes is afforded a lot of "veteran courtesy" time - time off - in practice, which means Bowman probably will see most of his time at "Ted." Again, progress by McKillop and/or Bowman could make Wilhelm expendable.

WOLB: Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks, Diyral Briggs, Martail Burnett
Comment: Brooks will see more action this year than last, but like last year it'll mostly come on passing downs. Briggs is well on his way to getting up to 250 pounds. The objective now for the former defensive end is to learn how to play linebacker.

SOLB: Manny Lawson, Travis LaBoy, Briggs
Comment: Lawson is playing in his contract year. He wants an extension, but the 49ers have to ask themselves this: Do they pay now for a player who has mostly underachieved to this point or do they risk Lawson having a break-out season and seeing his asking price shoot up? My guess is that they go with the latter. LaBoy has a lot of talent but a long injury history.

FS: Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith, Chris Maragos
Comment: The 49ers are very excited about Goldson, who took a desired step forward last year in his first season. He is exactly what they want at the position - a rangy ball hawk who is not shy about thumping ball carriers. Perhaps his greatest achievement last year could have been remaining healthy for 16 games. Smith (part of the '08 class) seems to have a lot of talent but has yet to make an impact. The 49ers would love to see him take over for Mark Roman, who has not been re-signed. Smith will be pushed by Maragos, a classic overachiever who reminds people of ex Raven and current Jet Jim Leonhard. (Leonhard is 5-8, 186; Maragos is 5-10 1/2, 200)

SS: Michael Lewis, Taylor Mays, Curtis Taylor
Comment: Lewis has been perhaps the team's most underrated player since he arrived in 2007. He's a true warrior - a guy who plays hurt and who has been a Top 3 tackler every season since he arrived. But Lewis' base salary jumps this year, and it's hard to see him holding off Mays all season. Taylor's progress also could factor into Lewis' tenure.

LCB: Nate Clements, Karl Paymah, Phillip Adams, Patrick Stoudamire
Comment: Yes, Clements salary jumps to $6 million in base this year. But the 49ers did not spend a high draft pick on a cornerback, and because of that it's difficult to see Clements leaving. My guess is that all the negative talk about Clements will serve as fuel for a very strong 2010 season. Paymah is similar to former 49er Donald Strickland and likely will be in on a lot nickel packages. Adams and Stoudamire are projects. Stoudamire could play safety.

RCB: Shawntae Spencer, Tarell Brown, Keith Smith, Tramaine Brock
Comment: Spencer played remarkably well in 2010, especially considering he had an ACL injury the year prior. Like a lot of young players on the 49ers, Brown lost his starting opportunity to a veteran, Dre Bly. If there are injuries or if players underachieve, both Bly and Walt Harris are waiting for phone calls.

-- Matt Barrows

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Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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