Over the past 3 seasons, the S.F. 49ers have had arguably the best defense in the NFL. Their D is packed with potential Hall of Famers. I'd say the following players, one who is no longer on the team, could make the HoF cut: Whitner, Reid, Willis, Bowman, Smith (Aldon), Smith (Justin). This D honestly deserves a ton of respect. As a Seahawks fan, I always get knots in my stomach for a few days prior to our games with the 49ers...take that as a sign of how much I actually respect this team, both defense and offense!
Getting back to the subject at hand, the loss of SS Donte Whitner will be devastating for them. Whitner was ranked #7 on PFF for 2013. His replacement, Antoine Bethea, was ranked #50 by PFF. Antoine will turn 30 this month, and his last season was mediocre at best. To put it into context, Earl Thomas was ranked #10 and Chancellor #12 on PFF. 49er FS Eric Reid was ranked #17 on PFF. Eric Reid will likely have a great season at FS. But for SS, they have a HUGE hole.
At CB, Tramaine Brock is pretty solid…had a good year in 2013; ranked PFF #14, just ahead of Byron Maxwell. Brock projects to have another good season in 2014. Their second CB, would be Chris Culliver…Chris started 6 games as the 3rd CB in 2012, but had a torn ACL just prior to the 2013 pre-season. He was ranked #29 CB by PFF in 2012. Unfortunately, Culliver has a serious court date coming up. In an incident that took place on 3-28-14, he ran over a bicyclist, left the scene of the accident, was chased down by a family that witnessed the entire incident, rammed the witness' vehicle, confronted the 15 year-old son of the driver (the witness) of the van while wearing brass knuckles, and proceeded to verbally threaten the whole family while calling them "wetbacks" (Culliver had also gone on some kind of homophobic rant to the media just over a year ago). Although originally charged with felony hit-and-run, Culliver pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor hit-and-run charges and felony weapons charges. The case is currently continued until 7-10-14. He could very easily do some jail time; at the least, Goodell will likely hit him with a hefty suspension. I tend to feel sorry for a guy in Culliver's shoes, but not so much when he assaults a good samaritan. The question is whether this will be a case with a bunch of continuances, or will he plead out? Point being, depending on the outcome of this case and the timing of that outcome, Culliver may not even be available for 2014…of course, this could all be delayed until 2015. If he is able to play a full or partial season in 2014, the question remains, how does he do coming off an ACL tear…another potential HUGE hole, or at the very least, a pretty big question mark. Chris Cook would be the next man up and he was not too impressive with the Vikes in 2013…ranked #94 CB by PFF.
At ILB, Patrick Willis, ranked #3, is solid as they come. I love this guy and he should be a beast once again in 2014. Their other ILB, Navorro Bowman, had a great year in 2013…ranked #1 by PFF. He is not only a player I consider to be the MOST important guy on the 49er team, I consider him to be one of the top 3 defenders in the NFL. But his knee injury was REALLY severe (it still makes me shudder when I think about it)…I’m sure most of you saw it at least once in slow motion since that NFCCG (and just in case there are any 49er fans reading this, I want to deeply apologize about the popcorn incident...it was a despicable act and the person who did it should be disgraced...it is obviously not reflective of the character of ALL Seahawk fans, MOST of whom do try to stay classy). There have been whispers speculating that Bowman might still miss the entire season. Any real football fan has got to be really upset about this injury. A devastating loss for 49er team and the fans. Next man up would be Michael Wilhoite..not a lot of info on him, but not too impressive in 2013 as a backup. Another HUGE hole for at least half of the season, but hopefully not into the second half of the season.
At OLB, Aldon Smith played well in his 11- 2013 games…ranked #5 ILB by PFF. If this kid could get his head on straight, he has the potential to be one of the best pass rushers of all time (definite HoF candidate). I just don't get how a kid with such a promising future, would throw it all away by getting arrested 4 times in a matter of 2 years. Aldon pleaded no contest (no contest is the same as a guilty plea, and it is frequently used in order to avoid looking guilty in a civil trial/lawsuit) to a number of charges back in May, 3 of them felonies. He is scheduled for sentencing on 7-25-14. He faces a max sentence of 4 years and 4 months…he will most likely get anywhere from probation to one year. Again, Goodell could be handing out a lengthy suspension when this case is ultimately resolved...another potential HUGE hole. The possibilities have Aldon missing anywhere from 2 games to the entire season. Next man up to replace Aldon would be Corey Lemonier. Corey subbed for Aldon during his rehab stint last year. Corey is pretty solid, but he is no Aldon Smith…not even close. This is another potential huge hole. The other OLB would be Ahmad Brooks, who had what many consider to be a mediocre season as compared to previous years. Ranked #34 for 3-4D OLB's by PFF last year. If his production declines at all, it would be a rather small hole, but a hole nonetheless.
At DE, the production of both Justin Smith and Ray McDonald has steadily declined over the last couple of seasons; their PFF ranking of #1 and #2 from 2011 has turned into #16 and #22 in 2013. Not a huge hole but 2014 could be the year they both start to struggle hard. Smith will be turning 35 early in the season and McDonald will turn 30 around the same time. Their NT, Glenn Dorsey, was solid as a run stopper last year.
So in conclusion, the 49ers defense has some really questionable stuff going on. If any of the legal issues go bad, or the suspensions go longer than expected, or the production of some of the veterans declines, the 49ers defense could take a HUGE step back in 2014. Quite a few holes to fill. The 49ers do have great depth on D, and if things don't pan out for some of their starters, it is quite possible that the next guys up could fill some of those holes. I wish them the best for 2014.