Power Ranking the Top 25 Players in Super Bowl XLVII
Ray Lewis' pending retirement and the Harbaugh brothers facing off will dominate the headlines, but it is the actual players who will decide the outcome.
Who are the best guys each team has to offer?
Power ranking the top 25 players in the Super Bowl showcases a ton of defensive stars, future Hall of Famers and frequent Pro Bowlers.
But enough foreshadowing; let's kick things off with a player who won't even be in the starting lineup...
25. Alex Smith
This may look like a controversial choice, but it shouldn't be.
Alex Smith was playing tremendous football before his injury and subsequent benching in favor of Colin Kaepernick.
Smith is undoubtedly the best "backup" QB in the NFL. Should anything happen to Kaepernick, San Francisco can take comfort in the fact that it can turn to a guy with tons of starting experience and who has taken plenty of reps with the starting unit.
Smith may not be the explosive playmaker that Kaepernick is, but he is consistent and has proven he can move the chains and put points on the board.
24. Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin is not the elite wide receiver he once was.
Whether he has lost a step or not is debatable, but Boldin is clearly the Ravens' No. 2 wide receiver behind Torrey Smith.
Still, Boldin will occasionally remind us why he was such a feared weapon for the Arizona Cardinals.
He had 921 yards receiving and four touchdowns in the regular season. In the playoffs, he has stepped up his game to the tune of 276 yards and three touchdowns.
Boldin and Flacco are firing on all cylinders and have connected in a way seldom seen before.
The question will be if it can continue on the biggest stage possible.
23. LaMichael James
Yes, LaMichael James has only been on the field in six games this season.
However, he is one of the most talented and important players in the Super Bowl.
James is becoming a bigger factor in the running game, as evidenced by a rushing touchdown against Atlanta, and he is also a potent kick returner.
A big game from the Oregon product could be the deciding factor in the chase for the Lombardi Trophy.
22. Bernard Pollard
Bernard Pollard has a penchant for injuring New England Patriots.
Does that matter heading into the Super Bowl? Not really, but it's still a bit shocking.
What does matter is that Pollard is a Pro Bowl alternate who knows how to deliver big hits and is never afraid to talk a big game.
Luckily for the Ravens, he usually backs it up.
21. Michael Crabtree
Perhaps no player on the 49ers roster has benefited more from the QB change than Michael Crabtree.
Floundering under the Alex Smith regime, Crabtree has become the top target for Kaepernick over the last several weeks.
He has six touchdowns over the last five weeks and has added 420 receiving yards in that time. Crabtree does not have elite speed, but he is adept at getting separation from defenders and creating space.
Sure hands and smart route running are great ways to become an elite wideout in this league.
20. Vonta Leach
Don't forget about the fullback.
Vonta Leach is not a Pro Bowl fullback because of his 32 rushing yards this season. Rather, it is because he opens up lanes for Ray Rice and protects the pocket when Joe Flacco drops back to pass.
Leach is consistent and stable.
He will likely not show up on the stat sheet against San Francisco, so his work will go unnoticed, but make no mistake, Leach is an important cog in Baltimore's success.
19. Mike Iupati
Offensive guards rarely get noticed unless they are committing some kind of penalty.
However, 49ers guard Mike Iupati is one of the best in the business at what he does. Iupati is an absolute road-grader on running plays, but can also stand his 6'5", 331-pound frame up and hold off rushers in passing situations.
Iupati made the Pro Bowl for a reason. He will need to protect Kaepernick and excel when asked to pull or move the pocket to help the offense move the ball downfield.
18. Dashon Goldson
The first half of the 49ers' safety tandem on this list is Dashon Goldson.
Goldson was burned on multiple occasions against the Falcons, but aside from Julio Jones embarrassing him, Goldson has been good almost the entire season.
His Pro Bowl berth affirms the fact that he is one of the NFL's best coverage safeties. Rarely are speedy wide receivers able to beat him deep down the seams or over the middle of the field.
Goldson recorded three interceptions this season and will need to make his fair share of plays against the balanced Ravens offense.
17. Justin Smith
Justin Smith is the "yin" to Aldon Smith's "yang."
He has battled injury throughout the postseason and is not at 100 percent right now, but he is still capable of making plays off the edge and helping Aldon's game tremendously.
Justin is not the speed rusher that Aldon is, but he clogs holes and constantly occupies blockers so that the rest of the defensive line is free to make plays.
Having him on the field is extremely important if the 49ers are going to win the Super Bowl.
16. Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco is not everyone's cup of quarterback tea.
He can be inconsistent, sometimes makes ill-advised throws and has a tendency to sit in the pocket for too long.
And yet, Flacco can take over a game. When he is jelling with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, the Ravens' passing game becomes downright electric.
Flacco has eight touchdowns and zero interceptions so far in the postseason. A track record he hopes to continue in the final game.
15. Aldon Smith
There is a caveat to Aldon Smith's inclusion on this list.
Yes, he racked up 19.5 sacks this season, but check out this fact from ESPN Stats & Info:
Aldon Smith 0 sacks in last 4 games, and all 19.5 of Smith's sacks this season came w/ Justin Smith on the field— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2013
Smith is simply not a dominant pass-rusher without Justin Smith lined up opposite him. However, when the duo is on the field, Aldon becomes a lethal force off the edge. He can quickly get past any offensive tackle and accelerates better than most.
If he were better in run defense, Smith would be much higher on this list.
14. NaVorro Bowman
NaVorro Bowman often gets lost in the 49ers' defensive shuffle, but he is a great linebacker who deserves more recognition and praise.
Bowman is a sideline-to-sideline presence that can make any tackle and is unafraid to put his body on the line to make plays.
Bowman recorded 149 tackles this season and earned a backup Pro Bowl berth. While focus in the Super Bowl is mostly on Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, Bowman will have a great chance to make an impact.
13. Donte Whitner
Ah, yes, the other half of the 49ers' safety duo, Donte Whitner.
For some reason, it feels like Whitner has been in the league forever, but he is only 27 years old and entering his physical prime.
Like Goldson, Whitner is a Pro Bowl selection and a tough man to beat in the secondary. With deceptive speed and a small but strong 5'10", 208-pound frame, Whitner made 83 tackles this season and had one interception.
He has been relatively quiet of late and is due for a big game at some point. Why not the Super Bowl?
12. Jacoby Jones
Jacoby Jones is on the Pro Bowl roster as a return man because he can change the game on a single play.
In the regular season, he had 37 punt returns for 341 yards and a touchdown. Jones added 38 kickoff returns for 1,167 yards and two touchdowns.
He is quick out of his breaks, cuts on a dime and could be a huge factor in the Super Bowl. His impact depends on how many times he actually has a chance to return the ball.
Jones had 30 receptions as a wide receiver this season.
11. Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick did not play his best football against the Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers signal-caller mustered just 233 yards passing and added a mere 21 more rushing yards.
However, there is no denying his versatility and skill. What Kaepernick did to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round is still fresh in everyone's minds. His 444 total yards and four touchdowns in that contest put the league on notice.
Kaepernick has one of the strongest arms in the league, can accelerate quickly once he decides to run and has made few mistakes in the postseason.
He may have only made nine starts in his career, but Kaepernick is the most dangerous weapon in the Super Bowl.
10. Joe Staley
By most accounts, 49ers left tackle Joe Staley has not had his best season, and yet he remains one of the best offensive linemen in the NFC and is on the Pro Bowl roster.
Staley has had a tough task adjusting from the traditional dropback style of Alex Smith to the more mobile nature of Kaepernick, but he has transitioned quite well.
From the Pistol formation to the read-option attack, there have been many changes to San Francisco's offense, but Staley has been a steadying force the whole year.
9. Terrell Suggs
Terrell Suggs is not yet back to the Defensive Player of the Year form he was in last season.
However, he is getting close.
Suggs is one of the best outside linebackers in football when healthy and is at his best when causing chaos through complicated blitzing schemes.
Suggs hits with a force that few other players could dream of, and he has an infectious energy that the rest of the Ravens feed off of.
How he handles the read-option will be an interesting storyline in the Super Bowl.
8. Frank Gore
Frank Gore's career has been legitimately revitalized this season.
While San Francisco's 29-year-old running back is not at his performance peak, he is a perfect fit in the read-option attack that the 49ers are currently utilizing.
Gore's has maintained his health all season, and there are few running backs better than him when he is at 100 percent.
Whether it's with runs between the tackles, screen plays and even the occasional flare route to the sidelines, Gore is a multifaceted back who can cause nightmares for opposing defensive lines.
7. Torrey Smith
Which Torrey Smith will show up in the Super Bowl?
Unfortunately, there are two versions of Smith: the dynamic playmaker who stretches the field vertically and causes secondaries to spread across the field; and the guy who disappears for quarters, halves and sometimes entire games.
When he is on his game, few players can be as dynamic as Smith. He and quarterback Joe Flacco have developed a tremendous chemistry of late, resulting in two touchdowns in the divisional round against the Denver Broncos.
That player deserves the seventh spot in these power rankings. The other guy wouldn't even make this list.
6. Ed Reed
Will Ed Reed retire after this season with Ray Lewis?
Does it matter if the Ravens do or don't win a Super Bowl?
Those questions aside, Reed is still a great player in Baltimore's secondary and will eventually be heading to Canton, Ohio, for a reason.
Reed makes devastating hits when the ball is in the air and yet becomes something of a wide receiver when he makes one of his many interceptions.
Reed is no longer far and away the best free safety in football, but he remains one of the best in the game.
5. Vernon Davis
Vernon Davis answered the critics in a big way in the NFC Championship Game. Some had questioned whether he and Kaepernick would ever develop a decent connection, but those doubts have been resoundingly silenced.
Davis accumulated five catches for 106 yards in the contest. He became the safety valve that Kaepernick needed and found seams over the middle of the field and on out routes near the sidelines.
A 6'3", 250-pound frame allows Davis to create mismatches against most linebackers, and his first step is too quick for most defenders to adjust.
Davis has underrated blocking ability and will be a sexy "X-factor" pick heading into Super Bowl Sunday.
4. Ray Rice
Ray Rice is only 5'8" and 212 pounds.
He should not be as much of a bulldozer as he is. Yet, Rice is one of the best between-the-tackles runners that the NFL has to offer.
You can count on over four yards per carry each time he steps on the field, and Rice will seldom miss a seam or cutback lane when it becomes available.
His 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns this season were particularly impressive, as Baltimore became more reliant on the passing game.
3. Haloti Ngata
Haloti Ngata almost never gets the recognition he deserves.
Perhaps it is because he plays on a defense littered with Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers. Regardless, Ngata is one of the most versatile defensive lineman in the NFL.
Whether he is playing defensive end or tackle is really irrelevant. He is a disruptive force wherever he lines up and forces offenses to game-plan around him.
San Francisco has its work cut out with No. 92 dissecting the read-option.
2. Ray Lewis
He may be set to play in his final NFL game, but Ray Lewis is still a dominant force for the Ravens defense.
Lewis is playing injured, his right arm engulfed in some kind of robotic brace, but he continues to be in seemingly every pile and make plays at the line of scrimmage.
Lewis missed 10 games this season, but in the playoffs, he has ridden a wave of emotion and been the inspirational leader both on and off the field that Baltimore needs.
Here is a quick question: Is there any player you would rather have if you needed a stop on 3rd-and-1?
1. Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis is arguably the best middle linebacker in the NFL.
OK, let's be honest. Willis is the best middle linebacker in football.
He was hampered during the regular season by a shoulder injury but still managed 120 tackles. He is skilled at all facets of the game, from run blitzing to zone coverage and even man-to-man isolation.
Willis is truly a jack of all trades for the 49ers and is San Francisco's defensive leader.
He sits alone atop the power rankings heading into the Super Bowl.