Krueger: Quarterback puzzle solved, but 49ers still need these key pieces

Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers’ franchise quarterback. Now the focus is to surround him with enough talent to win a Super Bowl.

It’s been said that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If your team has a franchise quarterback, a player who can potentially win a Super Bowl, you are one of the haves. If your team doesn’t have such a player, you are simply existing, spinning your wheels in the land of irrelevance.

Last Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago the 49ers officially made the successful transition from irrelevant to relevant when their new starting quarterback, 26-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo demonstrated that he can be a player of significance going forward. In one afternoon, Garoppolo showed that he can play the position at a high level. He was accurate and moved the football all afternoon against a solid NFL defense on the road, completing 70% of his passes. He was excellent on 3rd Downs, converting 10 of 18 into first downs, including 7 of 9 in the second half.

Garoppolo saved his best work for the fourth quarter. Trailing 14-12 with 5:27 remaining, he led the team from the 8-yard-line on a 14-Play drive, clock killing drive. The biggest play was the 33-yard completion to rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor on 3rd and 9 from midfield. Garoppolo calmly burned the whole clock and Robbie Gould kicked a game winning 24-yard field goal with only 4 seconds left. It was outstanding situational football, efficient and methodical. A guy who watched Tom Brady for 3 and a half years, looked very Brady-like.

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The John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan regime’s greatest year one accomplishment has been addressing the quarterback position with Garoppolo and CJ Beathard. Garoppolo looks like the answer at the position and Beathard, at his worst, is a top level backup.

With the quarterback position solidified, the 49ers can now turn their attention to rebuilding the rest of their depleted roster. Their needs are clear. The interior offensive line, wide receiver, tight end, and a receiving running back are their offensive holes. On defense the primary needs are a number one outside pass rusher and a number one cornerback in addition to a couple of stack linebackers.

The draft will provide answers and Lynch is likely to field attractive trade offers for his top five first round pick with teams looking to trade up for quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and possibly even Baker Mayfield.

The 49ers will be armed with the salary cap room to be major players in free agency next March. I can’t envision them using their cap room to sign a group of older players. Their targets in free agency need to be young, ascending players with speed and explosiveness. Here are a few of their likely targets.

The 49ers will attempt to resign Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida is a keeper but Tampa Bay’s running back Charles Sims would be a nice fit. Sims is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and is only 27-years-old. He’d give Shanahan a similar player to Tevin Coleman, a player he had in Atlanta.

The draft is loaded at wide receiver with Calvin Ridley, James Washington, Christian Kirk, Courtland Sutton, and Anthony Miller just to name a few, but the 49ers may look to free agency for help. Arizona’s John Brown and Los Angeles’ Sammy Watkins are both fast, big play wide receivers who would complement Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor perfectly.

Watkins is currently in a similar offensive system to Shanahan’s, and could easily transition. Brown has had health issues, and has been under utilized in Arizona, but he’s an difference maker on the outside.

There are some interesting free agent tight ends as well, a group that includes Jimmy Graham, Tyler Eifert, and Ed Dickson. The guy who’s ready to bust out is the Jets’ Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He’s had off the field issues in the past, dating back to his days at Washington, but he’s only 25-years-old and has a world of talent. George Kittle is a dependable receiver, but Seferian-Jenkins would give Shanahan another dynamic player to pair with Kittle in two tight end sets.

It’s been a rough year for Jack Mewhort in Indianapolis, but the former Buckeye offensive tackle is still only 26-years-old and would fit in well on the 49ers’ line. Mewhort is tough, smart, and versatile and could really help their interior.

The positions the 49ers should devote their most resources to are outside pass rusher and cornerback. DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell, DJ Jones, Sheldon Day, Ronald Blair, and Arik Armstead give the 49ers a strong interior, but they could mount a better outside rush. Solomon Thomas has a non-stop motor and is still developing, but Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah and the Chargers’ Jeremiah Attaochu would make this group the best in the league. Ansah is big, fast, and dominant off the edge at 280-pounds. Attaochu is a freaky athletic speed rusher who’s best football is ahead of him.

At cornerback the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson and the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler will be the top two players on the market, but the Bears’ Kyle Fuller would be the best option for the 49ers. Fuller showed last Sunday what he can do. He was all over the field, making plays versus the run and pass. He has the size that Robert Saleh covets in his corners, and he would give the 49ers secondary a truly exceptional shutdown cornerback.

The 49ers will likely need to fill their inside linebackers needs in the draft but one sleeper to consider is Kansas City’s Kevin Pierre-Louis. He began his career in Seattle. He’s fast, versatile, and smart. Pierre-Louis is only 26-years-old, and is a top tier athlete. He could become a defensive stalwart for the 49ers.