The most significant aspect of the 49ers’ first-round picks last week is that they now will be able to use an offensive system which is best for their offensive stars.
When Alex Smith took over as the starting quarterback early last season, the 49ers often went to a spread offense, not only because Smith was more familiar with that from his college days, but because, when he took a snap under center, he was often overwhelmed by the pass rush before he had time to look for receivers.
But the spread formation doesn’t have enough options for running, so Frank Gore was largely wasted when the Niners used the spread. They became too much of a pass-happy offense.
With Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati plugged into their offensive line, Smith should be able to get good pass protection operating out of split backs and Gore will get bigger holes — which will also take the pressure off Smith.
I expect the Niners to run mainly out of the straight T this season with Smith only occasionally dropping back into the spread-shotgun formation in obvious passing situations.
The 49ers addressed another need when they picked safety Taylor Mays in the second round. Because of his USC background and professed admiration for Ronnie Lott, Mays has been compared to Lott, which does him a disservice. There is only one Ronnie Lott.
A much better comparison is Tim McDonald, another USC player and Niners safety because, like McDonald, Mays should play close to the line of scrimmage to be a run stopper as well as a pass defender. He and Dashon Goldson, who came into his own last season, should be an effective combination.
There isn’t much doubt this draft was aimed at helping Smith become the premier quarterback they need to succeed. I was amused by the draft “experts” who kept looking for the Niners to draft a quarterback because they had no confidence in Smith.
In fact, coach Mike Singletary has said repeatedly that Smith is the No. 1 quarterback.
He will take most of the snaps in spring workouts and training camp to prepare for the season. David Carr was brought in as an experienced backup in case of injury to Smith, not to compete for the starting job, despite Carr’s misplaced optimism.
And the 49ers made no attempt to get either Jimmy Clausen, who fell to the second round, or Colt McCoy, who lasted into the third round.
For the first time as a 49er, Smith will have the same offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, for a second season. That should help immensely. I expect Smith to have a season that will firmly establish him as a top NFL quarterback, which also means the 49ers will be in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Bill Walsh always said that a team has to first look at whom it has to beat in its division. The 49ers are in a good position because division champ Arizona has lost its starting quarterback, Kurt Warner, to retirement. Seattle had a good draft, but still has holes. The St. Louis Rams are hopeless.
Should be an enjoyable season for Niners fans.