Offseason additions, whether through free agency or the draft, almost always inspire lofty expectations among fans of NFL teams.
Things will be no different among the San Francisco 49er faithful regarding the new pickups by their team in 2012.
The eager anticipation exists for good reason, as the 49ers acquired a bevy of playmakers to bolster an offense lacking in firepower in 2011.
They upgraded their depleted receiver corps with Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins (first-round pick). They reinforced an already top-ranked stable of running backs with Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James (second round). Important depth for other areas came on board as well.
Fanatical hope for these players is all well and good (we all do it deep down), but realistic goals are another thing entirely.
Let’s establish those goals for every new Niner in the 2012 season.
Note: These numbers adhere to those I postulated in an article earlier this year.
Despite not playing in 2011 after a subpar performance for three teams in 2010, the 49ers’ signing of Moss gained substantial attention throughout the league.
What will he bring to the 49ers offense? Does he have anything left in the tank? Will be motivated and not be a cancer to the team-first dynamic?
These were all legitimate questions due to the receiver’s accomplished, yet infamous track record. However, due to his incentive-based contract, limited remaining opportunities to win a ring and his positive showing thus far in OTAs, 49er fans have reason to be optimistic.
Moss has always possessed off-the-charts football IQ and his physical abilities are All-World. And early-offseason practices or not, he has thoroughly impressed the 49ers on the field and in the classroom.
Some might say that simply making the team should be Moss’ goal this year. I, on the other hand, fully believe Moss will not only earn a roster spot, but the No. 2 receiver role at that. He’ll produce a major impact on the field as well.
Moss’ goals, then, should be to perform the role of productive downfield and red-zone threat so absent last season for the 49ers. He should plan on stretching opposing defenses, taking pressure away from his fellow wideouts and willingly blocking for a team that so often utilizes a rushing attack.
As important as anything, he should set the goal of becoming a distraction-free team player that fulfills all duties set forth by the coaching staff, and one that maintains a healthy relationship with quarterback Alex Smith.
Regarding numbers, Moss should plan on starting nearly every game, while amassing around 650 yards and seven TDs. Not a bad return to the NFL if you ask me.
Mario Manningham (WR)
Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree will remain the focal points of the passing game, due in part to their established rapport with Alex Smith and continued development within the offensive system.
Manningham will continue his respective role as the No. 3 WR in his new 49er uniform. As such, he’ll collect fewer receptions than Crabtree and Davis, but perhaps more than Moss as a reliable pass-catcher underneath.
He’s averaged 52 catches, 763 yards and six TDs in 42 games the past three seasons with Eli Manning as his QB. Barring injury, he’ll total similar statistics in 2012, even with Smith running the offense.
Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman will implement a more balanced attack this year. A limited roster and nonexistent offseason program last season necessitated a run-first approach. Things will definitely change with all of the new added weapons.
Running backs will still get their touches, but so will the receivers.
Manningham’s downfield abilities will boost his numbers. He should set his sights staying healthy for 14 games and gaining just over 700 yards and five TDs.
Brandon Jacobs (RB)
Similarly with Moss, Jacobs should establish goals far beyond just making the squad.
His effectiveness as a short-yardage and goal-line back supersede what his low-risk contract and crowded 49ers backfield might otherwise dictate.
The 6’4’’, 256-pound bruiser has totaled 56 rushing TDs in six NFL seasons. Many of those occurred near the goal line (highlighted by 15 in 2008).
Jacobs should focus on regaining his power-running form of seasons’ past and eliminating unnecessary cuts behind the line of scrimmage.
He’ll spell Frank Gore at times, but will receive less carries than Gore and Kendall Hunter. He’ll also split time with LaMichael James.
Jacobs should thus shoot for no more than 300 yards, but an impactful five TDs.
Jenkins admitted to being a bit out of shape during 49ers minicamp.
A.J. Jenkins (WR, Illinois)
As much as fans would love to see Jenkins produce big numbers in 2011—commensurate with his first-round status—it just won’t necessarily happen.
The young receiver will no longer operate as the leading target like his role at his Alma Mater. He’ll sit behind three talented veterans (four when counting Ted Ginn) and will have to prove himself more worthy than even the much-maligned Kyle Williams.
Will Jenkins succeed in that later endeavor? I certainly believe so.
Yet, he’ll need to showcase his utility as a receiver that is proficient in all areas of the position (slot, flanker and out wide), as well as his capabilities in the return game.
Most importantly, Jenkins needs to utilize his high football intelligence to fully learn the playbook and prove himself in the eyes of the coaching staff.
I expect him to do so, and Jenkins should as well. It is reasonable for him to set his goals on upwards of 400 yards receiving and two TDs.
LaMichael James (RB, Oregon)
One of the most prolific running backs in NCAA history should not hold himself back at the NFL level.
With that said, he must realize his place on the 49ers depth chart and rookie status.
James’ goal first and foremost should be to display his adaptability to an offense away from the spread system he ran in at Oregon. Once he accomplishes that, he should look to capitalize on his incredible dynamic abilities a runner, receiver and return man.
The former Duck can expect up to five to 10 touches a game on third downs, in the red zone and as a player put in space in various sub-packages. He’ll see an increased role on special teams if anything happens to Ted Ginn, Jr.
In 2012, James should work towards reaching the end zone four times via the passing and run game.
Robinson figures to have a big role in the secondary in 2012.
OL Joe Looney (fourth round) must first fully recover from a foot injury he sustained at the Senor Bowl. Then his goal should be to further the competition at right guard behind Alex Boone, Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person. He could possibly earn the role of swing offensive lineman.
Unfortunately, LB Darius Fleming (fifth round) tore his ACL in rookie minicamp. He simply must avoid going on injured reserve in September to receive his full $390,000. Otherwise, he can expect to be in total study/observation mode during his rookie year.
Sixth-round free safety Trenton Robinson has a legitimate shot to earn backup playing time behind current holdout Dashon Goldson and second-stringer C.J. Spillman. To see more action in 2012, he should focus on mastering the nuances of NFL special teams play from Spillman’s stellar contributions on that area of the field.
Other sixth-rounder Jason Slowey (OL) must maintain a spot on the practice squad as a backup center. Beating out Jonathan Goodwin, Kilgore and Chase Beeler is entirely unlikely.
Finally, seventh-round pick Cam Johnson (LB) must do everything in his power to lock down the position of depth-filler at OLB. He should have a good chance with the injury to Fleming and limited proven depth at the position.
Cornerback Perrish Cox has the potential to play a fairly big role in the secondary and on special teams. In an increasingly pass-heavy league, defenses cannot have an excess of quality corners. He should dedicate himself to overcoming his off-field issues and recapturing his rookie talent by earning the No. 4 spot at CB and as a backup returner.
QB Josh Johnson, a former Harbaugh disciple at the University of San Diego, should set a seemingly considerable goal for himself. Even with the 49ers’ investment in second-year man Colin Kaepernick, Johnson should aim to supplant him as the No. 2 QB on the depth chart. His NFL experience and familiarity with Harbaugh’s system should aid that endeavor.
Former Raider Rock Cartwright should earn his roster spot as an ace special-teamer. He’ll also look to hone his skills as a blocking fullback behind Bruce Miller and even D-lineman Will Tukuafu and Demarcus Dobbs.
At this point in time, things do not look so great for backup long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand. Incumbent Brian Jennings is an established, less mistake-prone Pro Bowler as well.