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Pros and Cons of Every Projected San Francisco 49ers Starter in 2012

Dylan DeSimoneCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2012

Pros and Cons of Every Projected San Francisco 49ers Starter in 2012

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    With Week 3 of the 2012 exhibition behind us, the 49ers are focusing on finalizing their roster. Originally entering this offseason, San Francisco was certain about the majority of their starting lineup. The real tough roster decisions will be in terms of depth, as San Francisco has talent well beyond its starters.

    At this point in the offseason, the competitive teams know what their first-team lineup looks like, as most of them are carrying over from last year unchallenged. 

    In this piece, we will break down the 49ers' projected starters with blurbs about their pros and cons. Please continue through the following slides for info on the 49ers' projected 22 starters.  

Alex Smith, QB

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    Alex Smith has undergone a rebirth with Jim Harbaugh as his head coach. Smith is basically starting over from scratch, and once upon a time, he had No. 1 overall potential.

    Now, with an arsenal of explosive weapons at his disposal, Smith doesn't have the pressure he once had. If he continues to take care of the football and efficiently get the ball into his playmakers hands, the 49ers have a winning formula with Smith at QB. 



    As of recent, it's been the league's elite passers that have been winning championships. NFL history does not bode well for Smith, who led the 26th-ranked passing offense in 2011. This team will go as far as Alex Smith can take them, so it's on his shoulders to play his role and boost this offense into a top-15 unit. 

Frank Gore, RB

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    Frank Gore is a premier running back in this league and the 49ers' all-time leading rusher. As an all-purpose back, Gore is one of the best overall players at the position. In terms of patience, vision and shiftiness, Gore is elite, and his career numbers reflect as such. San Francisco has had a consistently productive ground attack with No. 21 leading the pack. 



    Gore is not a young player anymore, pushing the dreaded age for running backs: 30. Gore also has a reputation of being a fragile player, with a severe injury history dating all the way back to his college playing days at Miami.

    Gore has a few good years left in him, but it seems the 49ers are already preparing his successor(s). With the additions of Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James the past two league-years, Gore is grooming his eventual replacement. 

Bruce Miller, FB

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    Bruce Miller came into this league as a developmental player learning a brand-new position, and he excelled. This was reflective of Miller's football IQ, diligence, hard work and the fact that he is a pure football player.

    As a rookie in 2011, the former college defensive end was starting by Week 4 in place of former FB Moran Norris.

    Miller has Pro Bowl potential in his second year as a starter as a physical player that excels at both pass- and run-blocking. Additionally, Miller is also a threat coming out of the backfield. 



    Miller did just learn the position, so his experience is certainly in question. Outside of that, there are really no negatives surrounding Miller; the future is bright for him. 

Vernon Davis, TE

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    Vernon Davis is an elite tight end in this league, when there are only really a handful. San Francisco is lucky to have a player of Davis' caliber at such a position. The league is going the way of the hybrid tight end, and the Niners have a great one.

    Davis has a combination of size, speed and strength that makes him a versatile all-purpose weapon on offense. Davis can set the edge as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, but on the next play, can take the top of the defense and kill teams deep.  



    The cons are less about Davis and more about how he is used. Davis needs more opportunities to be a receiver. In 2011, he was often asked to remain on the line and help the offense protect Alex Smith or block for the running backs. While Davis is extremely valuable in that aspect, it causes him missed opportunities to make plays downfield. 

Michael Crabtree, WR

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    Michael Crabtree was a high-profile receiver coming out of Texas Tech, but has yet to have a real impact on this league. Perhaps as a No. 1 receiver in the 49ers offense, he was asked to play out of character, but now as the split-end, sharing the field with Randy Moss and others, Crabtree is in a position to excel. He has great hands and is perfectly suited as an underneath, possession receiver who is dangerous after the catch. 



    While Crabtree's hands are unquestioned, his ability to create separation has been under the microscope. For a former 10th overall pick, it's surprising that he is rarely ever wide open. In his career, the majority of catches Crabtree has made have been in traffic or with a defender draped on him. 

Randy Moss, WR

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    Randy Moss is one of the most electrifying players in NFL history. He brings a much-needed vertical threat to this 49ers offense, and moreover, he should open opportunities for the stable of other weapons San Francisco now has on that side of the ball. And as we saw against the Denver Broncos over the weekend, Moss still commands up to triple coverage when going downfield.   



    Moss has a history of being unreliable and disruptive to a team's chemistry. While this is not likely to reoccur in the atmosphere San Francisco has created, it is a concern in the back of a lot of people's minds. 

Joe Staley, LT

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    49ers left tackle Joe Staley is coming off a Pro Bowl year in 2011 as San Francisco's most veteran offensive lineman. Staley is no normal tackle; he moves extremely well for his size. His versatility allows the Niners to get creative on the offensive side of the football. 



    While he maintains his repertoire as an efficient blocker and blindside protector, Staley has the occasional lapse on any given play. Sometimes his matchup just gets the better of him, so consistency is an issue, if anything.   

Mike Iupati, LG

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    Mike Iupati is essential to the 49ers' physical style of play up front. He brings an unparalleled tenacity to the game of football that is infectious to the players around him. In terms of the run game, the 49ers do not have a more valuable blocking lineman than Iupati. He stands alone as the Niners' best run-blocker, aiding what the team does best offensively. Still in the early stages of his NFL career, Iupati has a world of upside. 



    If Iupati has any flaws, none of them are fatal. He could become a better pass protector, but that goes for the entire offensive line. It wouldn't be correct to single Iupati out in that sense. 

Jonathan Goodwin, C

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    Jonathan Goodwin is a former Pro Bowl center who joined the 49ers via free agency in 2011. His purpose was to provide a high-level stop-gap while the organization builds and develops his eventual replacement. Goodwin has provided veteran experience to a position group that was in desperate need of it. 



    Goodwin allowed five sacks in his first season with San Francisco. Obviously, he would like to improve on that and strengthen his relationship with quarterback Alex Smith. Now with a full offseason in this system, Goodwin should be back to his Pro Bowl form in 2012. 

Alex Boone, RG

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    Alex Boone is transitioning from tackle to the starting right guard position in 2012. He has the physique to be an impact player, and coming from the tackle position, he should bring some ability as a pass-protector. At 6'7", Boone could be a force as an interior lineman, but he needs to consistently play with leverage. 



    Boone's height, while a pro, can also be a con. He is in a position to get beat by small-stature defensive linemen with more burst than him. His inexperience at the position is also a concern in a year when San Francisco is hoping to make a title run. If Boone does not perform up to standards early in the season, he could be replaced by Leonard Davis. 

Anthony Davis, RT

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    Anthony Davis is still developing as a tackle, taken in the first round (11th overall) of the 2010 NFL draft. Davis was inserted as a starter right away and has improved annually since day-one. While he has had lapses in protection, he has been better learning to use his body at this level. Davis could be the 49ers' long-term solution at right tackle. 



    Davis still displays issues with hand and footwork, and speedy outside rushers often surprise him with that first contact. He needs to practice better balance and overall control when attempting to neutralize the pass-rush. 

Ray McDonald, LDT

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    Ray McDonald stepped into a starting role in 2011 and does not give the sense that he will be relinquishing those responsibilities any time soon. McDonald had a great year in his first as a starter, contributing to the league's No. 1 run defense and top-three overall unit. McDonald looked like an experienced vet when it came to gap control, stopping the run and rushing the passer. 



    There is not a whole lot of negative to be said about McDonald, who exceeded expectations when granted the opportunity. Any potentials questions would be in regard to his ceiling: Was 2011 the best of Ray McDonald or is he just scratching the surface? 

Isaac Sopoaga, NT

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    Isaac Sopoaga is a strong, strong football player holding down the core of this defensive line. His football IQ is also underrated, as Sopoaga has to know what's happening to his direct left and right, as well as what's behind him. And during that thought process, Sopoaga has to focus on keeping everything in front of him.

    Sopoaga absorbs up to three offensive linemen at a time, controlling gaps and allowing his backers to run free.  



    Sopoaga plays sound football in the 49ers' 3-4 system. It is an unglamorous position that he carries out, but he excels nonetheless. Sopoaga is a well-rounded football player with no apparent flaws in his game. 

Justin Smith, RDT

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    For my full analysis on Justin Smith, click here.  

Ahmad Brooks, LOLB

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    Ahmad Brooks had seven sacks from the outside linebacker position in his first season as a starter. Brooks is a high-ceiling player in terms of talent and ability. He is a wide linebacker that is effective at getting in the opponent's backfield, inside or outside the tackles. Brooks can use his strength or edge-rush ability to get to the quarterback or ball-carrier.

    Entering his second year as a starter, Brooks could be in line for a Pro Bowl year, his first ever. 



    Brooks is a pretty stocky linebacker, so in terms of pass coverage, he doesn't bring a whole lot of athleticism. Luckily for him, the 49ers 3-4 defense does not heavily demand coverage from the outside backers. In Vic Fangio's system, the outside linebackers rush while the inside guys are typically responsible for the tight ends and backs. 

Patrick Willis, ILB

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    Patrick Willis is the heart and soul of the 49ers, as the central figure of its team and the face of the organization. The All-Pro linebacker is one of the fiercest, if not the fiercest defender in all of the NFL. Willis captains the league's top defense and brings an old-school feel back to linebacking.

    Willis brings the ability through quickness and awareness to run down ball-carriers sideline-to-sideline. He also has the brute strength and control to take on a blocker, shed him at will and make the tackle. Patrick Willis is one of the great players in this league as an early favorite for Canton consideration.  




NaVorro Bowman, ILB

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    NaVorro Bowman is one of the more exciting young players in the NFL. In his first year as a starter, the up-and-comer burst onto the scene in 2011, having many referring to him as Patrick Willis 2.0.

    On game day, when their jerseys are scrunched up and the numbers are hard to make out, it's hard to tell which is which. Bowman has great instincts and already plays the game like a savvy veteran.  



    Bowman certainly has more to learn, but he's had an excellent start to his career. The real con when you talk about NaVorro Bowman is discussing his long-term future with the Niners. Can the San Francisco 49ers really afford to keep two All-Pro inside linebackers? 

Aldon Smith, ROLB

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    Aldon Smith was one of many 49ers defenders that had a great first year with the team in a specified role. Smith was a situational pass-rusher as the 49ers' first-round rookie in 2011, but this year, he is transitioning to becoming the starter. He is looking to build upon a season-high 14 sacks, and with more time on the field, it's not out of the realm of reason. 



    With the added responsibility of becoming a starter, Smith will have to concern himself with the occasional zone coverage. He did not have a lot of experience with this as a rookie or at the college level, so this is new territory. Smith will have to adjust, or the Niners have said they will keep him in a situational role until he's ready if need-be. 

Carlos Rogers, CB

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    Carlos Rogers had the first Pro Bowl year of his veteran career after leaving Washington for San Francisco. The one-time first-round pick looked like a different ball player with the Niners, proving to be a solid No. 1 cornerback in this league. With six interceptions in 2011, he was finally able to rid himself of the stone-hands perception. 



    Rogers finally broke through at age 30, so his long-term value is yet to be determined. Also, fans and analysts alike are left wondering if Rogers' season was a fluke. Can he be consistent year-to-year? San Francisco's 2012 schedule will test Rogers more than most players, so we will find out about him one way or another. 

Tarell Brown, CB

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    I was thoroughly impressed with the way that Tarell Brown stepped up in 2011. Brown carried over from the old regime and had not done anything significant enough to warrant being a starter. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh's decision to promote Brown was a home run, as the cornerback capitalized on his opportunity. 



    Brown is coming to the end of his contract with the 49ers, so this year will be a defining year for Brown, as the team will have to decide whether or not to keep him. Brown has heat underneath him with players like Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox displaying their potential. As much as we like Brown right now, he might not be around for the long haul. 

Dashon Goldson, FS

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    49ers free safety Dashon Goldson earned quite the reputation in 2011 with his fierce hits and ball-hawking tendencies. Goldson tied Rogers for a team-high six interceptions last season, not including a pick against Drew Brees and the Saints in the postseason. Goldson's presence keeps wide receivers cautious at all times because at any moment, the safety could come in and deliver a crushing blow or simply snatch the ball away.



    San Francisco has retained Goldson on the franchise tag, so his long-term future with the Niners is up in the air. Dashon Goldson plays a risky brand of football and isn't exactly disciplined in terms of coverage on a down-to-down basis. While the 49ers might have once given the house for a safety like Goldson, the team may allow him to walk after this season. 

Donte Whitner, SS

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    Donte Whitner signed with the 49ers in 2011 and has added great value. Aside from his crushing hits, coverage and excellent run-support, Whitner has become a vocal leader for the 49ers. He brings experience and veteran leadership to a secondary unit that has drastically improved since his arrival. Whitner is a devastating hitter but remains very reliable in coverage. 



    There are few questions surrounding Whitner's game. He's been a very positive addition to this 49ers ball club, and the team is proud to have him. 

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