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The 2014 season stands to be a big one for the San Francisco 49ers. They certainly realize that.

As the 49ers get set to open a brand new billion-dollar stadium, they will also face the hefty challenge of trying to build on three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances and finally take that last step to win the team’s first Super Bowl title in two decades. After coming up short twice in the NFC title game and once in the Super Bowl over the last three seasons, the offensive and defensive faces of the franchise—Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis, respectively—have already gone on record as saying the 49ers “must” win Super Bowl XLIX (details about ramifications of failure have yet to be discussed, however, so this declaration seems a bit hollow).

Of course it would only be fitting to see the 49ers win the 49th Super Bowl ever played (though not all of them were called “Super Bowls”), and it would leave fans buzzing about the possibility of a back-to-back bid in Super Bowl L in February 2016 to be held in the 49ers’ own Levi’s Stadium. Unless the Arizona Cardinals spoil the party by winning the Super Bowl in Glendale this coming winter, such a prospect would afford the 49ers the chance to become the first team ever to win a Super Bowl on their own field (interestingly, they came the closest of any team to date, beating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX in 1985 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto).

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If you believe the talking heads this past weekend on ESPN and NFL Network (and the torrent of amateur experts to chime in since) a title for the 49ers in Super Bowl XLIX is little more than a formality. Many contend that the vaunted Seattle Seahawks have lost significant prowess through free agency following their first ever world title, and to a man nearly everyone lauded unanimous praise on each and every move the 49ers made on draft weekend. Even experts as normally critical as Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay had little more to say on the 49ers’ choices than “WOW!” The entire cadre of draft experts could leverage nary a criticism against any move Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh made all weekend.

The 49ers practically stole veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills, giving them another crafty receiving option to pair with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and recently-reacquired veteran Brandon Lloyd. The 49ers then proceeded to address the perceived weak points of the secondary and pass rush after losing most of their starting defensive backs to the free agent market and seeing all-world pass rusher Aldon Smith run afoul of the law once again. It all seemed the perfect coup, but was it really?

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It is undeniable that the Harbaalke braintrust did a tremendous job finding prospects with incredible upside. The surprising first-round selection of Jimmie Ward—a man seemingly on the radar of few other teams at least as far as the first round was concerned—appears to have landed them another smart, hard-hitting, play-making defensive back to pair with sophomore stalwart Eric Reid in what could become a modern adaptation of Dwight Hicks and the Hot Licks. Ultimately, if Ward becomes the caliber of player many expect him to be, he would more than warrant a late-first-round pick, but one must question whether the 49ers could have swung a deal for their valuable top choice and acquired more assets (picks or other veteran role players) yet still had him waiting for them in the second round.

From Carlos Hyde to Bruce Ellington to Aaron Lynch all the way to Trey Millard, the purported experts were surely not short on superlatives while simultaneously singing the praises of each subsequent 49ers selection. However, a truly objective observer might look upon these picks more particularly.

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Carlos Hyde is a stout bruiser of a running back, a potential bell-cow touted by many as the heir apparent to an aging Frank Gore. Gore certainly isn’t getting any younger, but it’s not inconceivable that he could continue to turn in solid seasons for several more years. During this time Hyde will compete for carries with Gore, Kendall Hunter, a recovering Marcus Lattimore, and potentially LaMichael James. Lattimore offers perhaps a bit more explosiveness in the running game than the Gore-Hunter-Hyde trilogy, but James is truly the only “change of pace” style back on the roster. He can also contribute in the return game, something none of the rest of the backs can claim.

James has been the subject of heavy trade speculation thus far this offseason; the presence of yet another big bruising back can only stand to further ostracize the former Oregon stand-out. A dogged commitment to heavy traditional run formations was hugely detrimental at times last season to an offense that drastically underperformed its talent. If the 49ers force James out of town by falling in love with their new stable of similarly-suited backs, they may find themselves forced to become even less creative in the run game than they already were.

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Bruce Ellington joins a receiving corps now seemingly flush with talent after losing Mario Manningham back to the New York Giants and facing the uncertainty of Michael Crabtree entering a contract year. The additions of Ellington, Lloyd, and Johnson certainly stand to infuse new excitement into Colin Kaepernick’s stable of weapons, but Ellington’s lack of size raises some questions. With the exception of Jon Baldwin, who was largely ineffectual last year following a bust-for-bust trade that sent AJ Jenkins to Kansas City, the only legitimate receiving threat with a combination of size, strength, and speed is Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. Boldin shows considerable power for his size, but ultimately he, Crabtree, Ellington, Lloyd, Johnson, and Quinton Patton are all essentially possession receivers. Unless Baldwin assumes a much more prominent role on the offense this season, the 49ers will still lack a tall, physical receiver to complement (or possibly even spell) Davis. Perhaps the other receivers offer enough variation to give Kaepernick options and keep opposing defenses honest, but loading up on so many similar receivers seems a suspect strategy to say the least.

Aaron Lynch was perhaps the only selection on whom the experts seemed to consistently offer real concern. Everyone agreed that his raw talent gives him tremendous upside, but his performance and production dropped precipitously after his transfer from Notre Dame to South Florida, leading many to question his focus and effort. Baalke and Harbaugh implied that they felt his physical prowess made him a reasonable risk—and if you believe the consensus assessment of the rest of their draft, they were certainly entitled to take a chance with one pick. However, one must worry that a player thusly skilled could only fall as far as Lynch did due to significant bust potential. This could leave the prospect of Lynch as an insurance policy against further Aldon Smith strife on dubious grounds. Additionally, Smith and Chris Culliver’s recent off-field issues should serve as warning that even an environment as disciplined as Harbaugh’s leaves room for players to find trouble if they are so inclined.

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Nobody can question the fact that the 49ers added substantial talent to their roster through free agency, trades, and the draft, but that doesn’t mean there are no questions entering 2014. If the 49ers hope to overcome the disappointment of the last three postseasons, there is substantial work to be done before the first kickoffs at their new digs. Make no mistake that they should be in strong position to continue fighting for their sixth title, but reasonable fans should temper their enthusiasm, at least for the time being.

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