clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Unit Preview: 49ers Passing Offense

I was thinking about something Shrug wrote, along the lines of critiquing others' work by improving upon it in your own work, and decided rather than to deride FO's unit rankings to instead do a set of my own. Two major differences: One, I will only cover the NFC West, because I can do that smaller grouping with greater accuracy. And Two, I'm not splitting the offense into four separate units (Qb, Rb, WR, OL) but two units: Passing and rushing. I think we are still at a point in NFL analysis where isolating any one player is very tricky, and by grouping players into RB or OL units you are forced to do just that. So instead I'm going to simply split them into passing and rushing.

I'll do these one team, one unit at a time; Lest I bite off more than I can chew. So, in alphabetical order.

The San Francisco 49ers

Grade: C

Grade Range: D <-> B

Injury Risk: High


Vernon Davis' Potential
Davis, at 6th overall, is the highest drafted tight end, along with Kellen Winslow Jr., in the last twenty years. Winslow was able to shake off the injury and stupidity bug last season and immediately became one of the most productive tight ends in the league (15.5 DPAR). Winslow had a better college career and came from a better program, but Davis, 23, has better overall physical tools. From a prospect evaluation standpoint, it's a push, or, better stated, a pick`em. I prefer performance over projection, but both methods have their merits. Like many tight ends, The Disease didn't do anything super impressive his rookie season, but the potential is still there. If Davis can translate some of his projection into on field performance, he's a devastating force in the passing attack and a matchup nightmare.


Darrell Jackson

Jackson, 28, is a solid number one who thrived in Holmgren's system. The Niners system is less demanding and I don't foresee Jackson having major problems adjusting.

Jonas Jennings
Jennings, 29, is an excellent pass blocker, and over the last 16 games he's allowed only one sack and incurred just three holding penalties. Unfortunately, those 16 games span two seasons, and that inability to stay healthy keeps Jennings from being a ++ asset at left tackle.

Jason Hill

Hill, 22, has huge potential as a receiver. He's confident, productive, a very good route runner with strong hands and good potential for RAC. He has the potential to be an above average receiver his first season.

Backfield Pass Blocking

Moran Norris, 29, and Maurice Hicks, 29, are both good pass blockers. With more and more teams sending outside linebackers on blitzes, pass blocking has become an increasingly important skill for backs.


Alex Smith's Potential

Smith, 23, was almost "impossibly awful" in 2005, but merely "very bad" in 2006. Smith will attempt to make another big jump to "average" this season. Before Smith can be average, though, the training wheels have to come off the passing attack. Smith failed to top 200 yards in 11 of his 16 contests, and considering how little was expected of him, his completion percentage (58.1) and TD to INT ratio (1) are hardly impressive.

Frank Gore's Receiving

Gore, 24, caught a lot of passes in 2006, but he didn't do much with them. His DVOA is the definition of average, -0.6%. Gore is primarily an outlet receiver, but he's decent as just that.

Ashley Lelie

Lelie, 27, has had more than few a head-cases to deal with at quarterback, but the fact remains, Lelie has been bad or worse in 3 of his 5 seasons. Lelie is essentially a one tool player, speed, and coupled with Davis poses a heretofore nonexistent deep threat for the Niners. If Lelie is the Niners #2, it's trouble, but he can be an effective seam stretcher out of the slot.

Arnaz Battle

You've got to love a player who works his ass off merely to be kind of bad, versus laughably bad, and that's Battle in a nutshell. Battle, 27, found a home as a possession receiver last season, but he's more than maxed out his potential. Battle caught 70% of the passes targeting him in 2006, and that simple ability to get open is his main asset.


Trent Dilfer

How do mediocre athletes decline? Severely. Dilfer is now 35 and over a year removed from his last start. As far as insurance, Dilfer offers virtually none. The best thing he has going for him is that his play has always been more about his head than his arm, but should that arm have lost even a tick of strength or accuracy, Dilfer goes from serviceable to disastrous.


Kwame Harris

Harris, 25, is a decent run blocker, but against the pass rush he's clueless. I'm of the school of thought that you stay patient with your young linemen, especially those with Harris' potential, but after four seasons, Harris needs to be either moved to guard or cut free. He simply can't handle the edge rush.

Jennings, Allen, Jackson: Health

People talk about the 49ers being a young team, but their three best players on pass offense are old or often injured. Jennings routinely misses games, and his most recent injury, a dislocated shoulder, is one of the most severe a lineman can suffer. Allen is 35, nearly 36. Jackson has been more steady than he's given credit for, missing only 16 games in his seven year career, but knee injuries are very troublesome. Jackson's health is trending downward, and he's still suffering from "turf toe", a surprisingly severe and chronic injury despite its goofy name.

Jennings is, by far, the biggest loss if he gets hurt, not just because he's a left tackle, or because he's the unheralded anchor for a potentially good passing attack, but with Joe Staley likely a few years away, because the Niners simply have no answer for his loss. A highly possible scenario would see Jennings injured and Allen a shell of himself, giving San Francisco perhaps the worst left side in football.  


The Niners grade out better than I thought. I think their offense will be determined less by the development of Smith or Davis and more on the health of their left side. It's certainly not impossible that Jennings could finally stay healthy and record a career year. With him locking down the left side, the San Francisco has the chance to be an above average passing offense. It's also far from impossible that he could go down with an injury and with him the 49er passing attack.