Through free agency and unexpected retirements, the 49ers lost eight players this offseason who started a combined 98 games.
And that does not count defensive linemen Ray McDonald, who was released late in the season, or Justin Smith, who remains undecided whether to return for his 15th NFL season.
But general manager Trent Baalke said he believes the 49ers have those spots filled with players acquired in previous drafts or with the free-agent acquisitions.
“I feel good about where the roster is at from a positional standpoint,” Baalke said. “(I) felt we addressed some needs in free agency that would allow us to go into the draft with the ability to draft value over need.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have any holes we’d like to fill or we’re not looking to upgrade at certain positions. But what it does mean is we feel very comfortable where we’re at in this stage of the game.”
Here are the positions that rank at the top of the 49ers’ list of needs:
1. Inside linebacker – This does not mean the 49ers will take a player at this position in the first or second round. But at some point, the 49ers will add to the depth at this position with a player who could find a situational role while being a core special-teams contributor. Patrick Willis retired, and Chris Borland unexpectedly announced his decision to quit the sport after a strong rookie season. NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite are slated as the starters. Veteran Desmond Bishop will compete for a roster spot. Nick Moody and Nick Bellore are viewed mostly as special-teams players. The 49ers remain interested in signing veteran Lance Briggs, who could be added after May 12 with no negative impact on next year’s compensatory draft picks.
2. Wide receiver – Michael Crabtree was never coming back, so the 49ers wasted no time in replacing him with the quick signing of Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract. Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are the starters. But the 49ers do not have a clear-cut No. 3 among Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Jerome Simpson. If the 49ers can get a talented wide receiver within the first couple of rounds, he can get on the field immediately and team up with Smith as a starter in 2016. This is a strong class of wide receivers, so strong options can be found through the first two days of the draft.
3. Cornerback – Sure, the 49ers lost Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox to free agency. But the 49ers believe they have some good players at this spot. Tramaine Brock returns from injuries that sidelined him for most of the season. Shareece Wright was signed to a one-year deal. While Wright might be the answer as a stop-gap starter, the 49ers must continue to think for to the future. They could choose a cornerback as early as with the No. 15 overall selection. Veteran Chris Cooks was re-signed in the offseason, and Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker and Keith Reaser were draft picks last year. First-round pick Jimmie Ward, listed as a safety, is ticketed to be the nickel back.
4. Defensive line - Coach Jim Tomsula calls it the deepest line he has seen with the 49ers in his eight seasons as the position coach. The 49ers believe they have prepared for Justin Smith’s eventual departure for the past couple of years, so they are not counting on his return. They signed Darnell Dockett in the offseason. Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial and Tony Jerod-Eddie all return. Still, the 49ers could use a game-changing type of talent to add to this group.
5. Offensive line – Three of the starting spots appear settled. There should be competition at center and left guard. The 49ers lacked a swing tackle last season, and it proved costly. Expect the 49ers to add an offensive lineman. Their biggest need is a versatile offensive lineman who can hold up as the backup at both tackle positions.