San Francisco has one of the more youthful teams in the league, especially for a team that is competing at the level they are. The 49ers (9-3-1) are coming off a rebound win against the Dolphins, allowing them to keep their spot at No. 2 in the NFC.
Out of 32 NFL teams, the Niners maintain the 5th highest winning percentage in the NFL (.731). Yet, on the field there are a lot of young players executing at key positions for the team. They have legitimate superstars that are only a few years removed from college, and others showing monster potential.
Colin Kaepernick, 25
Kaepernick was named the starter late in the season, following an injury to regular quarterback Alex Smith. Since stepping in, he has shown great poise, especially when considering he had no prior experience at the pro level.
Kaep has moved to 3-1 as a starter, showing incredible ability as a dual-threat. His presence has added another dimension to this offense. And while he provides the threat of a big play, he is smart with the football and does not make costly mistakes.
LaMichael James, 23
In Sunday’s game versus Miami, the rookie made his long awaited NFL debut. As one of the most prolific runners in NCAA history, countless fans were eager to see how James would transition to the pros.
He looked sharp backing up Frank Gore, accounting for 45 yards on nine touches (8 carries, 1 reception). He showed promise as an all-purpose threat, and looked dangerous in San Francisco’s read-option plays.
Michael Crabtree, 25
In his fourth year, Crabtree looks to be blossoming, especially with gunslinger Colin Kaepernick behind center. Crabtree’s niche has always been as an aggressive receiver and what he’s been able to do after the catch.
Alex Smith would typically look for the receiver who’s created separation – not something Crabtree is known for. With the second-year passer, Crabtree looks to be developing into the next Anquan Boldin.
— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) December 10, 2012
Chris Culliver, 24
Culliver has been one of the most impressive players for the 49ers this year. Only in his second year, the young cornerback already looks to be the team’s best corner. At 6’0”, Culliver is a fast, physical defender who plays with a lot of energy.
With Carlos Rogers, 31, No. 29 should become the starting corner in the not too distant future. And long-term, Culliver has perennial Pro Bowl potential and could emerge as the team’s best overall player in the secondary.
Aldon Smith, 23
There isn’t a whole lot that hasn’t been said about Aldon Smith already. His teammates have even gone as far to now label him incomparable, given what he’s done in this league in such a short period of time.
On film and on the stat sheets, Smith looks like a Hall of Famer. He is surpassing long-lasting NFL records at a seemingly unstoppable pace. With only 5 years of organized football in his whole life, Smith still has room to grow.
#49ers Aldon Smith's 19.5 sacks tie him for ninth all-time (single season).— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 10, 2012
NaVorro Bowman, 24
At age 24, Bowman has already been named an All-Pro. There are only two at his position chosen each year—and the other, teammate Patrick Willis.
This season, the 49ers extended No. 53 until 2018, offering him a five-year $44.5 million contract. Bowman is a carbon copy of Willis, playing at the highest level. The combination of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis may go down as the greatest linebacker tandem in NFL history.
The 49ers have very talented youth implanted at every level of their team’s infrastructure. In a lot of ways, this is reflective of a highly capable front office, led by general manager Trent Baalke. The team’s chief contract negotiator, Paraag Marathe, also deserves a great deal of credit.
There are a number of honorable mentions to go around too. San Francisco has plenty of significant personnel at age 25 or younger, including Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Bruce Miller, Ricky Jean-Francois, A.J. Jenkins, Kendall Hunter and Alex Boone.
Not only are the 49ers a threat right now, but this team has a very bright future. It’s going to be quite the spectacle to watch this corps of players develop together in a successful environment like the one Jim Harbaugh has established in San Francisco.