San Francisco 49ers: Grading the Entire 53-Man Roster

Dylan DeSimoneCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2012

San Francisco 49ers: Grading the Entire 53-Man Roster

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    The preseason is over! 

    The NFL is ready to kick off the season, beginning this Wednesday, when the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants host NFC East division rival Dallas Cowboys. The regular season is at our doorstep.

    Concluding this holiday weekend, the 49ers have finalized their roster as they prepare for Week 1. 

    The Niners had locked down the majority of their position groups, but depth needed to be established this offseason. With a high level of talent occupying the grounds in Santa Clara, Jim Harbaugh's implementation of Darwinism was certainly in play.

    Naturally, there were some difficult decisions that needed to be made. There were players who shined bright that still could not earn a roster spot. The flashes of potential from players like Josh Johnson, Eric Bakhtiari and Nathan Palmer went unrewarded.

    Not everyone's needs can be met in a harsh NFL offseason. But regardless, the 49ers are certain this is the best 53-man squad going forward.

    For a complete grading assessment of the 49ers' final 53-man roster, continue through the following slideshow.   

Quarterbacks

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    Alex Smith: San Francisco's starting quarterback looked sharp this preseason, building off his career-best 2011 campaign. The 49ers' passer will look to lead this team back to the NFC championship, and hopefully, further. He's got the tools to succeed this year, but to what degree is yet to be determined.  

    Grade: B+

     

    Colin Kaepernick: Kaepernick had one of the more electric preseason performances, looking miles ahead of where he was this time last year. The second-year quarterback was making plays with his arm and his legs, showing strong potential for the future. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Scott Tolzien: In a heated battle for the third QB spot, Tolzien outshined Josh Johnson early, getting a lead in the competition. Looking like a more pro-ready passer, Tolzien secured the No. 3 quarterback spot.  

    Grade: C+

     

    Overall Grade: B

Running Backs

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    Frank Gore: The Niners have their franchise back in 2012, as he looks to lead a very deep and talented group of runners. Gore has been a top-10 back in this league, as a player with great vision and elusiveness.  

    Grade: A-

     

    Kendall Hunter: The second-year running back for the 49ers had a very strong offseason, getting a lot of work and looking great in the exhibition. Hunter should be the primary backup in this rotation of extremely versatile runners. 

    Grade: B+

     

    Brandon Jacobs: Coming over from the New York Giants, Jacobs will be a situational hammer for the 49ers' ground game. At 6'5", he will provide a physical presence this small-statured backfield has otherwise been without. 

    Grade: B-

     

    LaMichael James: In an attempt to cultivate more big plays in 2012, the 49ers spent a second-round draft pick on the home-run hitter from Oregon. James will add some much-needed speed and game-breaking ability to this San Francisco offense.  

    Grade: B-

     

    Anthony Dixon: This was not a leisurely offseason for Dixon at all, as the running back was hard at work proving his worth to the team. Dixon provides the versatility in that he can be a short-yardage back, special teams gunner, fullback and team hype-man. 

    Grade: C

     

    Overall Grade: A-

Fullback

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    Bruce Miller: In his second year at the position ever, Miller should be looking to build on a fantastic debut season. Miller is a physical, all-purpose back who is sound in his assignments and strong at the point of attack. 

     

    Overall Grade: B+


Tight Ends

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    Vernon Davis: The 49ers have a top-three tight end in Vernon Davis. The rare combination of size, speed and uncompromisable focus, Davis is an elite and ascending weapon in this league. 

    Grade: A

     

    Delanie Walker: Entering the final year of his contract with the 49ers, Walker has been an invaluable member to the Niners offense as a No. 2 tight end. As a pass-catcher and run blocker, Walker brings a unique skill set to the game. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Garrett Celek: Celek was the lone UDFA to make the team in 2012. Brother of Eagles tight end Brent Celek, the former Michigan State pass-catcher brings upon a change at the No. 3 tight end position, previously held by Nate Byham.  

    Grade: C+

    Note: Celek may be released upon the signing of veteran OLB Clark Haggans. 

     

    Overall Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

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    Randy Moss: The 49ers used Moss sparingly in the exhibition, treating him like the 10-plus-year veteran he is. This season, the future Hall of Famer is expected to provide the vertical threat in San Francisco's run-first offense. 

    Grade: B+

     

    Michael : Crabtree is a very talented possession receiver. Now with a supporting cast, the former first-rounder is in a position to excel in 2012. 

    Grade: B+

     

    Mario Manningham: Acquired from the Giants, Manningham will be a wild card in the 49ers offense. He's a standout slot receiver but has the physical attributes to take teams deep from the outside. His presence will allow for depth and mismatches on game day. 

    Grade: B

     

    Kyle Williams: Williams is a tremendous raw talent looking to have a bounce-back year in 2012. He has made strides this offseason and could be an explosive player who challenges the depth of defenses this season.  

    Grade: B-

     

    Ted Ginn Jr.: Ginn is the primary return specialist for San Francisco, and it's a role he excels in. Within the offense, the Niners have devised high-percentage ways to get Ginn the football in space. He has game-breaking ability, but it's all about how he is utilized.  

    Grade: C

     

    A.J. Jenkins: The 49ers' first-round pick came on strong toward the end of the preseason after undergoing heavy scrutiny early. Jenkins is the sixth-best WR on the team at the moment and is in a great opportunity to learn. 

    Grade: C+

     

    Overall Grade: B

Offensive Tackle

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    Joe Staley: The 49ers' left tackle is coming of a Pro Bowl year as Alex Smith's blind-side protector. Staley is a strong, yet quick-moving offensive lineman who seems to have a firm handle on his position.

    Grade: A-

     

    Anthony Davis: Entering his third year, Davis has been entrenched at the right-tackle spot after being one of two first-round selections in 2010. He has improved annually and could be heading into his most stable playing season yet. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Overall Grade: B-

Offensive Guard

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    Mike Iupati: The road-grading left guard for the 49ers has quickly become a force in the NFL. Inserted into a starting role as a rookie, Iupati is one of the league's top up-and-coming linemen. 

    Grade: A

     

    Alex Boone: Boone will be assuming the starting duties come Week 1 at Green Bay. The 49ers were not aggressive in filling that position with an outside talent, exuding confidence in Boone's conversion from the tackle position. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Leonard Davis: San Francisco added experience, depth and a safety net when they signed Davis this offseason. The former Pro Bowl guard is in great shape and ready to step in if need-be. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Joe Looney: Looney will be providing depth for the 49ers' offensive line as a rookie. He missed some time this offseason due to injury, but there are high expectations in regard to Looney's future with the team. 

    Grade: C+

     

    Overall Grade: B

Center

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    Jonathan Goodwin: For a second year in a row, the 49ers' starting center will be Goodwin. Goodwin is in the middle of a short-term deal with San Francisco after coming over as a Pro Bowler from New Orleans. He was definitely an upgrade to the position after the Niners lost David Baas to the Giants. 

    Grade: B

     

    Daniel Kilgore: Despite the competition over the past two years, Kilgore remains a Niner,  projecting as an interior offensive lineman. San Francisco drafted him in 2011, and with long-term uncertainty at center and right guard, Kilgore could be a factor in the not-too-distant future. 

    Grade: C+

     

    Overall Grade: B-

     


Defensive Tackle

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    Ray McDonald: McDonald is one of a handful of players entering his second year as a starter for San Francisco. In 2011, McDonald stepped into that role and excelled, revealing himself to be a rising star in this league. 

    Grade: B+

     

    Justin Smith: The 49ers' premier defender is one of the league's most feared players—a purely dominating force. Smith embodies everything this team represents: physicality, consistency, efficiency and heart.  

    Grade: A+

     

    Demarcus Dobbs: Dobbs is listed as a defensive lineman, but that classification hardly does him justice. Dobbs became a three-way player this offseason, having contributed on defense, special teams, and now, as a tight end on offense. Even more recently, the 49ers have become curious about what he can do as an outside linebacker. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Will Tukuafu: Tukuafu rarely hears his name called but does a fine job providing depth nonetheless. His roster spot carries over from last season when he first earned a job with the team. 

    Grade: C

     

    Overall Grade: A

Nose Tackle

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    Isaac Sopoaga: Sopoaga is probably the most unheralded player on the 49ers. Moving from end to tackle, Sopoaga transitioned nicely, providing great pressure and gap control in the middle. 

    Grade: A

     

    Ricky Jean Francois:  Jean-Francois could start on a lot of NFL teams, but on the 49ers, he is a backup in the 3-4 system. He is a great substitute player to spell the starters when they are winded and is versatile enough to play all three spots in the Niners' base package. 

    Grade: B

     

    Ian Williams: After making the team in '11 as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, Williams has been better preparing himself be a full-time defensive lineman in this league. He had a strong preseason and good showing in the exhibition, showing why the 49ers felt the need to retain him. 

    Grade: C+

     

    Overall Grade: A-

Outside Linebacker

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    Ahmad Brooks: After his first year starting at LOLB, the 49ers decided to extend Brooks with a six-year, $44.5 million contract. Brooks should be looking to build upon a very productive 2011 campaign that resulted in seven sacks and numerous pressures and TFLs. 

    Grade: B+

     

    Aldon Smith: In a breakout rookie campaign, Smith recorded 14.0 sacks in limited action. Transitioning to a starting role this season, Smith has a high ceiling in terms of his immediate playing career. 

    Grade: A-

     

    Parys Haralson: Haralson is in a rare situation in that he had a strong year as a starter last year but is moving down the depth chart, regardless. His humble nature and loyalty to the team will give San Francisco great depth at outside linebacker this year. 

    Grade: B

     

    Clark Haggans: On Sunday, news broke (via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News) that the 49ers were planning to sign veteran free-agent linebacker Clark Haggans. Formerly of the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, Haggans will provide depth at the outside linebacker position.  

    Grade: N/A

     

    Overall Grade: B+

Inside Linebacker

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    Patrick Willis: The five-time Pro Bowler and perennial All-Pro returns to captain a league-leading defensive unit. On and off the field, Willis is the model player and a great individual to build an organization around. 

    Grade: A+

     

    NaVorro Bowman: Willis' tackle-mate NaVorro Bowman took to the NFL like a fish to water. After backing up for a year, Bowman assumed the starting role in 2011, replacing Takeo Spikes.

    From start to finish, the second-year linebacker exceeded expectations. As a young player, Bowman is extremely advanced—someone who could be great player in this league.  

    Grade: A

     

    Larry Grant: For a backup inside linebacker and role player, Grant has been everything a team could hope to expect. During a brief absence toward the end of the 2011 regular season, Grant filled in for Willis, putting together a small streak of strong performances. Grant is also a solid special teams contributor.  

    Grade: B-

     

    Tavares Gooden: Gooden had a strong offseason this year, and he looked sharp in the exhibition. The Niners acquired the ILB from Baltimore, and it's worked out quite well. Aside from being a reliable backup, Gooden is one of the better gunners on the Tony Montana squad. 

    Grade: C

     

    Overall Grade: A+

Cornerback

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    Carlos Rogers: It took him half of his NFL playing career to get there, but Rogers earned Pro Bowl honors last year in his debut season with the 49ers. With a refreshed outlook and state of mind, Rogers found both success and happiness in the Bay Area. He will, once again, start for San Francisco, so we'll see if he can be consistent year-to-year. 

    Grade: A-

     

    Tarell Brown: Brown deserves praise for stepping into a starting role last year, helping to solidify the 49ers' pass defense. Brown was challenged by an array of talented receivers and quarterbacks in 2011 but did not wilt. He earned the right to start again, but this has quickly become a talented position group.

    Grade: B

     

    Chris Culliver: Culliver is entering his second year in the league, and at this point, he looks starter-ready. San Francisco likes to rotate the corners around and play different matchups. Also, being in a pass-heavy league allows Culliver to see the field often as a No. 3 corner. It will interesting to see his progress from year one to year two.  

    Grade: B

     

    Perrish Cox: This should prove to be a great value move by the Niners to acquire Cox this offseason. Cox is a young, high-ceiling player with the tools to be a starter once again in this league. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Tramaine Brock: Brock had to have a strong offseason to secure his roster spot on a team that was dedicated to providing competition at each and every position. Brock is a dependable, young defensive back. And as the 49ers' fifth corner, it goes to show how far this secondary has come as of recent.  

    Grade: C+

     

     

    Overall Grade: B

Free Safety

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    Dashon Goldson: The 49ers' starting free safety is a Pro Bowl player. Goldson is coming off a career-best season in which he recorded six interceptions. He has been a hawking, hard-hitting safety with big-play ability as a defender. 

    Grade: B

     

    Trenton Robinson: The former Michigan State safety was acquired in this year's draft and will be the No. 2 safety behind Goldson. Not all of the 49ers draft picks made the final roster, so we know Robinson earned it. 

    Grade: C+

     

    Overall Grade: B-

Strong Safety

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    Donte Whitner: The acquisition of Donte Whitner proved to be a strong move by the organization. Whitner wasn't one of the free agents demanding top dollar, but he's playing football like one of the top safeties in the league. In addition to performing at a high level, Whitner has also provided strong leadership. 

    Grade: B+

     

    C.J. Spillman: With the departure of Blake Costanzo, Spillman could be the team's top special teams ace in 2012. He will be providing depth behind Whitner at strong safety this year. 

    Grade: C+

     

    Darcel McBath: McBath was one of the surprise additions to make the team, especially considering the untimely nature in which San Francisco acquired him. But, McBath did enough to earn a roster spot on a very talented team. 

    Grade: C-

     

    Overall Grade: B 

Special Teamers

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    David Akers: Hopefully, Akers will not be called upon as much for field goals this year, as the Niners look to improve their red-zone offense. But when he is called to action, Akers is a man atop his craft. 

    Grade: A+

     

    Andy Lee: This All-Pro has been a model of consistency at a very underrated position. His performance not only enables the defense to succeed, but it allows the offense the leeway to strategize differently and slow the tempo of the game. 

    Grade: A+

     

    Brian Jennings: Jennings completes the special teams unit as the 49ers' regular long snapper. Underrated as well, Jennings year-to-year presence on the team allows this group to have chemistry and consistency.  

    Grade: A+

     

    Overall Grade: A++

     

     

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