Unsung Heroes of the San Francisco 49ers' 2012 Season
The 49ers have several big stars, including Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. However, the measure of a team in the NFL is also based on the play of their unsung heroes.
I have two main criteria to be on this list, as an unsung hero cannot be one of the 49ers' star players. They also must be away from the media spotlight, which immediately rules out Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith.
Any player who has made a Pro Bowl also cannot be considered for our list. Let's take a closer look at the 49ers' unsung heroes in 2012.
10) Ahmad Brooks
Ahmad Brooks almost did not make our list of unsung heroes because he is rapidly becoming recognized for the outstanding player he is.
Brooks is one of the four 49er linebackers who make up, arguably, the best group in the league. However, when you are playing alongside Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, it's easy to fly under the radar.
Although Brooks is not well known to the media, he is an outstanding player. The 49ers' management is well aware of Brooks' value, as they locked him up with a long-term contract earlier this year. Brooks signed a six-year contract worth $44.5 million in February.
Brooks, who is in his sixth NFL season, is steady and reliable. He has 39 tackles, including 5.5 sacks and one interception, which he returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
9) Delanie Walker
Head coach Jim Harbaugh likes to use multiple tight ends in several of the 49ers' offensive plays. The 49ers have an outstanding tight end in Vernon Davis, and the emergence of Delanie Walker has given Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman the opportunity to utilize that double tight-end set.
Walker has excellent speed, and along with Davis, creates matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Walker has 13 receptions for 206 yards and one touchdown. His 15.8 yards-per-catch average leads the 49ers.
Walker has developed into a decent blocker in the 49ers' running game. This was an area that he has worked very hard at, which is giving him more playing time. Walker is also a solid special teams performer.
8) Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis was the 49ers' first round selection, 11th overall, in the 2010 NFL draft. Then head coach Mike Singletary threw Davis to the wolves, starting him before he was ready. In 2010, no offensive lineman allowed more sacks or was penalized more than Davis.
Last year, Davis began to show some promise. He is a strong run blocker, but he still needed a lot of refinement on his pass-protection skills.
This season, Davis has taken a big step forward. He continues to be a powerful run blocker and has dramatically improved in pass protection. Davis is finally beginning to display the talent that the 49ers hoped for when they drafted him.
It may not happen this year, but Davis is moving towards being a Pro Bowl tackle in the future.
7) Jed York
Jed York is the man in charge of the San Francisco 49ers. As CEO, he took over the operation of the team from his parents, John and Denise York. Denise is the sister of former 49er owner Eddie DeBartolo.
Now in his early 30's, York has become a popular owner and administrator. He is very close to his uncle Eddie and learned a lot about running a football team from him.
I included Jed in our list for two major reasons. First of all, he is the man who finally made the dream of a new stadium for the 49ers a reality. The 49ers struggled with a myriad of political roadblocks in San Francisco, and Jed was able to get the stadium bill passed in the city of Santa Clara.
The 49ers plan to open their new stadium in 2014, a year ahead of the original plan. Candlestick Park will always be remembered as the home of some great 49er memories, but the truth is, it is a dilapidated, rundown venue and the 49ers needed a new stadium.
York also stays under the radar, allowing the men he hired to run his football team do their jobs. This is the polar opposite from owners like Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder or the late Al Davis. York hired excellent football men in GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh.
By not meddling in the football operation and supporting Baalke and Harbaugh, York has developed a culture of trust, class and professionalism in the 49ers' hierarchy.
6) Tarell Brown
The 49ers' defensive secondary has had it's ups and downs this year. While Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner get most of the press, it is Tarell Brown who may be playing the best football.
Rogers has been victimized in particular by quick slot receivers Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola. Although he tied for the lead in interceptions last year with Goldson, Rogers has been a favorite target of opposing quarterbacks.
Whitner is very strong against the run and a good tackler, but he is not the best cover safety. Nevertheless, I do believe Whitner has done a good job this year.
Goldson has the most athleticism of this group, and is a fierce hitter at the safety position. However, his penchant to go for the highlight-reel hit has made him susceptible to penalties and missed tackles because he does not always wrap up his man.
Brown is the most improved player among these four and has developed into an excellent cover corner. He is also a solid tackler and is a very consistent player in the 49er secondary. Brown, like Anthony Davis, is also on the verge of Pro Bowl stardom.
One of the greatest compliments an opposing quarterback can give a defender is to target other players on the defense. It seems that opponents are targeting many more plays aimed at Rogers and nickel back Chris Culliver this season than we have seen against Brown.
5) Alex Boone
Alex Boone is a physical specimen at 6'8" and 300 lbs. He came into the NFL in 2010 as an offensive tackle and played sparingly in his first two seasons with the 49ers.
With the departure of starting right guard Adam Snyder this past offseason, the 49ers needed a starting right guard. Boone won the job and has done a solid job. Boone is a powerful run blocker and excels at driving people off the line.
Unless you are a true fan of the 49ers, most people would have no idea of who Alex Boone is. As an offensive lineman, being under the radar is ideal because the last thing you want to hear is your name being called, because it's usually for a penalty.
Boone filled a gaping hole in the 49ers' offensive line and his contribution is one reason the 49ers have the best ground attack in the NFL.
4) C.J. Spillman
The San Francisco 49ers have had some issues this year on special teams. In addition to David Akers' inconsistency, their coverage units have been spotty. The 49ers have allowed several long returns and must shore this area up, or it may cost them in the postseason.
C.J. Spillman is definitely an unsung hero, as his contributions are almost entirely on special teams. He is a captain of this unit and also a "gunner" in punt coverage.
Spillman is the leader of the 49ers' special teams unit. He does a fine job covering kickoffs and punts. Although most people do not know him, Spillman remains one of the most important 49ers on the roster.
3) Bruce Miller
Bruce Miller is an unsung hero for the 49ers, as he just does what is asked of him with little fanfare or accolades. Miller is the starting fullback and his primary job is as a blocker for Frank Gore.
Miller is an excellent lead blocker and also does a good job when called upon in pass protection.
Miller came to the 49ers as a seventh-round draft selection, in 2011. He played his college ball at Central Florida as a defensive lineman, but the 49ers felt he would make an excellent fullback.
In addition to his blocking skills, Miller also has done a good job when called upon to run the ball or as a receiver out of the backfield. He currently has nine receptions for 79 yards. Miller plays on special teams and contributes there also.
2) Vic Fangio
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman get most of the media attention, but Vic Fangio plays a huge role on the 49ers. Fangio is the 49ers' defensive coordinator and has put together the top defense in the NFL.
The 49ers allow the fewest points in the league and a primary reason for this is Fangio. He always has the defense well-prepared and is in complete control on the defensive side of the football.
While Harbaugh and Roman work together on the offense, the defense is Fangio's focus. To Harbaugh's credit, he allows Fangio to run the defense without interference.
1) Chris Culliver
Chris Culliver was drafted by the 49ers in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. He has steadily improved over the past couple of years.
As the nickel back, you would think opposing quarterbacks would target him. However, Culliver has risen to the challenge and has drastically improved as a defensive back.
Culliver has 37 tackles and two interceptions this year. As teams employ three- and four-wide receiver formations, Culliver is in the game on a regular basis. His growth is a huge reason the 49ers' defense has been as good as it has.
The 49ers Are Poised to Get to the Super Bowl
The San Francisco 49ers are poised to win the Super Bowl this year. They have an outstanding defense and also an improving offense.
Their window of opportunity is open right now and it will be up to the 49ers to storm through the postseason on a winning note.