A lot of fans and analysts were well aware that San Francisco was not one of the teams looking to add starters this offseason.
Even with that in mind, the 49ers were actively operating under the radar, acquiring serious talent in an attempt to become one of the deepest teams in the league. This strategy may fare well for them this upcoming season, especially when many of their otherwise unheralded pickups have been making noise in training camp.
The Bay Area beat reporters like Cam Inman, Eric Branch, Matt Maiocco and Matt Barrows have been doing an exceptional job keeping fans up to date day-by-day.
The next six players are new additions to the 49ers who have a chance to exceed expectations in 2012.
Nathan Palmer, WR
The San Francisco 49ers are very loaded at receiver, but that did not stop them from searching for a diamond in the rough. The Niners added a plethora of wide receivers this offseason, including a large crop of undrafted free agents.
Of the undrafted free-agent wideouts, many followers expected former Stanford receiver Chris Owusu to step in front of the pack and make the hardest push. However, that has not been the case—we find ourselves hearing a lot more about Nathan Palmer.
Palmer has been going hard since the beginning and getting noticed almost every day. San Francisco Chronicle and 49ers beat writer Eric Branch said he thinks Palmer has a legitimate shot to make the final 53-man roster.
From Northern Illinois University, Palmer was a slot receiver in college where he was able to display his explosiveness.
Branch summarizes what originally got Palmer recognized:
Palmer (5'11", 195) boosted his stock with a strong performance at Northern Illinois’ pro day. He ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, had a broad jump of 10'5" and a 37-inch vertical jump. His broad jump would have ranked tied for sixth among wideouts at the NFL combine and his vertical jump would have tied for 13th.NIU's Nathan Palmer 91-yard TD vs. Minnesota
A slot receiver in college, Palmer had 47 catches for 695 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior in a spread offense that emphasized the run—NIU had 595 rushing attempts and threw 408 passes. In a nod to his speed, Palmer averaged 9.5 yards on 21 carries during his career.
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) August 1, 2012
Demarcus Dobbs, TE
Yes, Demarcus Dobbs on offense.
This has been one of the more noted storylines in 49ers camp.
Dobbs is proving to be an all-around athlete that can play multiple positions at the NFL level. At 6'2", 275 pounds, the second-year man from Georgia is just a football player. When the Niners originally decided to hang onto him, they might've foreseen this sort of scenario. For his size, the coaching staff must have recognized the above-par versatility and athleticism.
In 2012, Dobbs could feasibly become a three-phase player for San Francisco. The Niners' coaching staff has had him take reps on offense, defense and special teams.
Joining the 49ers as an undrafted free-agent defender in 2011, Dobbs has recently been excelling at tight end. San Francisco should want Dobbs to win the No. 3 TE job, because then the 49ers could afford to carry one less tight end and have an extra player somewhere else.
The team's first two tight ends are pretty established, so San Francisco can be flexible with the three-spot. If Dobbs wins the job, he will be the second former collegiate defenseman to switch to offense for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, joining fullback Bruce Miller.
Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had this to say about Dobbs at the end of July:
Well, he did a good job in the offseason and really ever since he's been here, even during last year, improving his strength and improving his body. His body wasn't developed to the point that it should have been when we got him. I'm talking from a strength, speed and quickness standpoint.
And he's worked extremely hard on that, been one of our best workers. It doesn't look like it to you, he still probably weighs about the same that he weighed last year at this time, but it's a different 285 pounds than it was last year. And he's much better prepared physically to be an NFL player.
49ers camp battles: Third TE, Nate Byham vs. Demarcus Dobbs (who, by the way, looked good Monday catching the ball). bit.ly/Oj0zQq
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) July 31, 2012
Brandon Jacobs, RB
Jacobs is a former 1,000-yard rusher and is no stranger to sharing carries. In his past two seasons with the New York Giants, Jacobs was not the starter, but rather played second-fiddle to Ahmad Bradshaw.
It seems the majority doubts Jacobs' abilities, and if you ask a Giants fan, they don't miss Jacobs half as much as they do Mario Manningham.
The reports on Jacobs have been under the radar with more commanding storylines in play, but everything about him has been positive.
He looks lean and mean now in the best shape of his playing career, running harder and faster. This offseason Jacobs dropped 15 pounds, bringing his playing weight down to 260.
Since joining the team, Jacobs has truly embraced the 49ers culture wholeheartedly. He even elected to skip the Giants' Super Bowl parade in New York, claiming it was "not worth it" because it would cost him at least two days in Santa Clara.
Like Carlos Rogers or Donte Whitner, Jacobs is someone who could really benefit from the change of scenery the 49ers have provided for him.
In 2011, Kendall Hunter was an excellent backup for the 49ers, but Jacobs could be a sleeper to get around the second-most carries during the season. Hunter has a long-term place for the 49ers while Jacobs is in on a one-year deal, therefore San Francisco might not hesitate to squeeze everything out of Jacobs.
On a team where everyone plays physical football—ultimately fueling one another—it could have a sizable impact on the 6'5" veteran running back.
Kourtnei Brown, LB
Kourtnei Brown is a big-time sleeper, because as an undrafted free agent, he's the most physically freakish.
Brown is 6'6" and lengthy—very similar but larger than last year's defensive breakout, Aldon Smith.
Also working in Brown's favor, the coaching staff and front office has a proven track record, indicating they know how to find pressure outside linebackers and even convert them. Trent Baalke was able to identify Ahmad Brooks, and with Jim Harbaugh, came to a decision that he can be an effective starter in this league.
Baalke and Harbaugh then selected Aldon Smith with their first-round pick, when the two most hyped players were defenders, Patrick Peterson and Von Miller. The 49ers bringing in Smith was a high-risk, high-reward move considering the bust factor on inexperienced pass-rushers.
San Francisco saw potential in Smith's physical abilities, and they obviously saw something in Brown's. Largely due to the team he is on, Brown could live up to his potential, which is relatively high.
As the 49ers look for a situational pass-rusher while Aldon Smith steps into a starting role, Kourtnei Brown could win the job. It is the equation of Brown plus the staff that could equal results by the end of training camp. If he performs well during game situations in the 2012 exhibition, he could find a spot on the team.
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL
A two-time All-Conference defenseman from Texas A&M, Jerod-Eddie signed as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco.
The 6'5", 301-pound Jerod-Eddie is a a former soccer player who has quick feet that benefit him tremendously as a defensive lineman. In addition to that, he has good upper-body strength, and collectively it gives him great push off the line of scrimmage.
Jerod-Eddie had 56 tackles (seven for a loss), with five sacks and a forced fumble in his senior season with the Aggies. He was a productive defensive lineman in a competitive Big 12 conference.
In 2011, the 49ers coaching staff was able to identify and retain two undrafted free-agent defensive linemen in Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams. With Dobbs getting work on the other side of the ball, and the possibility that it could free up a slot, Jerod-Eddie could be the benefactor.
Which new 49er is your sleeper to exceed expectations?
Michael Thomas, DB
Like a number of the safeties the 49ers have brought in during the past two years, Thomas has the versatility to play either safety or corner. His build and skill set is that of someone who can run and cover, and not a typical hard-hitting safety—not to say that Thomas can't tackle.
One of the things that is unique for Thomas as he looks to progress through Niners training camp is that he is familiar with the staff. A former Cardinal, Thomas played for Jim Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio at Stanford.
Fangio was recently asked about being reunited with Thomas:
Mike's a good football player. He had a lot to do with Stanford's success recently and hopefully he'll be able to transition that into the NFL
Hopefully Thomas—familiar with the terminology and scheme—can let his athleticism take over. The other players at safety, Trenton Robinson and Mark LeGree, for example, are still learning the nuances of Fangio's defense. Thomas, while not knowing everything, is more up to speed than his competition.