Despite failing to attain the ultimate goal, the 2011 season was one to remember for the San Francisco 49ers.
And to think it almost never happened.
Luckily for the NFL and fans alike, the 132-day stalemate known as the NFL lockout came to an abrupt halt—and the 49ers' return to relevancy ensued shortly thereafter.
But it wasn't just that the 49ers found success in 2011 that caught so many off guard. The confidence and dedication exerted by 49ers' management in the hiring of coveted head coach Jim Harbaugh hinted that a turnaround was on its way.
But so soon?
Not even the craziest members of the 49ers faithful could've imagined so much success in so little time. Heck, if any team was to get the short end of the stick from the lockout-shortened offseason, it was this squad.
So the 49ers can march into the 2012 season with their heads held high. Their first-year head coach and his staff have provided a talent-laden franchise with a stable environment for years to come.
But San Francisco certainly can't afford to reflect on the 2011 season for long. The defending NFC West champions have some serious challenges awaiting in the future.
The rest of the division looks to hunt down the 49ers in 2012, and road matchups against the Packers, Patriots and Saints give the impression that San Fran will need to make the most of its first full offseason under Harbaugh's leadership.
But which players will benefit most from the extra tutelage?
Let's look at five 49ers who may shine through in 2012 with the added time to be polished.