Their top need remains the same as it was when the season ended: Outside linebacker.
The 49ers have not had a player with 10 or more sacks since 2002. The club needs somebody on the other side to complement Parys Haralson, who led the 49ers with 8.5 sacks. This year's draft is deep with hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker types who are well-suited for a 3-4 defense. A consistent pass rush is the team's top weakness on defense.
After acquiring offensive tackle Marvel Smith in free agency and with the return of veteran Isaac Bruce at wide receiver, the 49ers have less urgency at those two positions for the 2009 season and now can give more extensive consideration to acquiring a quarterback to develop – and maybe even challenge to contribute immediately if the team can snag one of the top prospects available with its No. 10 overall pick in the first round.
Coach Mike Singletary has said he feels lucky to have Shaun Hill and Alex Smith on the roster, but the 49ers are still looking for a quarterback. They failed in an attempt to lure free agent Kurt Warner to the team. The Niners are expected to look for a quarterback to develop in the draft. The question is whether they would select somebody in the first round.
While Marvel Smith should capably man a corner of the offensive line as the team's right tackle in 2009, the 49ers still need to take advantage of the depth of quality talent at offensive tackle in this year's college lottery. Right tackle was a weakness for the 49ers last season. The 49ers had three different starters at that spot. Adam Snyder finished the season as the starter, but his versatility makes him better suited as a backup. Despite the signing of Smith, they still need to create more depth at this spot and groom a cornerstone-type tackle for the future.
Here's a look at the top three needs of the other three NFC West teams:
1. Running back: The Cardinals struggled to run for most of the 2008 season. Edgerrin James will be released this spring and J.J. Arrington left for Denver. That leaves Tim Hightower as the only back on the roster. If Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Connecticut's Donald Brown is available at No. 31, the Cardinals won't pass on them.
2. Outside linebacker: The Cardinals are old and beat up at those two positions and need some youth, especially if the youngster can rush the passer. Of course, in today's NFL, getting to the passer is a need of almost every team.
3.Tight end: Stephen Spach is the best tight end on the roster but he's coming off ACL repair. Leonard Pope has dealt with several injuries and he has trouble grasping the offense at times. The Cardinals could use an infusion of talent.
St. Louis Cardinals
1. Offensive tackle: With left tackle Orlando Pace having been released and Alex Barron entering the final year of his contract, a revamping of the position is possible. In the short term, the Rams plan to move Barron from right tackle to left tackle, the position he played in college and for 15 games in 2007 when Pace was injured. That still leaves a void on the right side, where left guard Jacob Bell will work in the offseason.
2. Wide receiver: With Torry Holt and Drew Bennett released, there is no real veteran presence at the position. Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton return for their second season, and it's possible the Rams could add a receiver in free agency while still going for another young player in the draft.
3. Middle linebacker: Will Witherspoon is moving from the middle to the outside where it is believed he will be able to excel. For now, Chris Draft is the starter, but he is not a long-term answer. The Rams have looking for excellence in the middle ever since London Fletcher left after the 2001 season.
1. Running back: Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett are scheduled to share the load this season, but the Seahawks could still use a more explosive alternative here.
2. Offensive line: With Walter Jones coming off of microfracture knee surgery, the Seahawks could use some added insurance here.
3. Safety: The Seahawks need to draft a younger, more physical presence to man the middle in the defensive secondary.