San Francisco 49ers: Assessing ESPN's Choice of Defensive End as Hidden Treasure

Joe LevittContributor IIIJune 28, 2012

Ray McDonald (No. 91).
Ray McDonald (No. 91).Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Wednesday morning, ESPN NFC West blogger Mike Sando declared that defensive end was the San Francisco 49ers“hidden treasure” in 2012.

In “examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations,” the NFL writer chose DE Ray McDonald as the man for the honor.

I was fairly dumbfounded when I read the title of the article initially. The 49ers feature one of the most preeminent 3-4 defensive lines in all of football, not to mention the indisputable best defensive end in Justin Smith.

Upon further examination, Sando nominating McDonald was a fantastic choice.

The Smith brothers (Justin and Aldon; not actually related) and Niners’ inside linebackers receive most of the attention in the team’s 3-4 front—and deservedly so. That often made McDonald the odd man out.

As the ESPN blogger shrewdly indicated, Ray Mac totaled 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while playing at a relentless pace. He also tallied 39 tackles, two deflected passes and a fumble recovery.

It is appropriate to credit Justin Smith’s leadership for his partner’s progression. It is also appropriate to cite McDonald’s desire and dedication to become the player he is.

McDonald is indeed a highly underrated DE that excels in pass rush and against the run. He could very well qualify for the Pro Bowl in 2012. The highly cerebral boys at Pro Football Focus certainly corroborate these assertions.

Other defensive players worthy of the title of hidden treasure are cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver, as well as linebacker Ahmad Brooks and even safety Donte Whitner.

The 49er faithful are very much aware of all these players’ invaluable contributions to the team.

Sando, though, did a great service to the outside world by highlighting Ray McDonald as an underappreciated treasure on this Niner squad.

Which player on the 49ers would you designate for this title?