Colin Kaepernick will lead the 49ers' offense.
The San Francisco 49ers came within five yards of winning the Super Bowl last season. There have been several changes to the 49ers' roster as they attempt to take the final step to bringing a world championship back to San Francisco.
Gone are mainstays Alex Smith, Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga and David Akers. Top reserves Delanie Walker and Ricky Jean-Francois have also departed.
The 49ers added veterans Anquan Boldin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Glenn Dorsey, Craig Dahl and Phil Dawson. GM Trent Baalke is also hoping top draft selections Eric Reid and Tank Carradine can contribute right away.
The 49ers have an outstanding core of veterans that lead the team, both on and off the field. Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Joe Staley and Vernon Davis lead the offense. Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Donte Whitner spearhead the defense.
With such a strong core of veterans, the 49ers still need some of their younger players to step up and make a positive impact. We'll take a look at five key players that are in line for breakout performances in the coming year.
Anthony Davis is on track to be one of the top right tackles in the league.
For long-time 49er fans this may come as a surprise, but Anthony Davis makes our list of top breakout candidates. When Davis first broke into the league, as a first-round draft pick in 2010, he was arguably the worst starting tackles in the league.
Mike Singletary, the 49ers' head coach at the time, thrust Davis into the starting lineup before he was ready. In his first season, he was flagged for more penalties than any other offensive lineman in the league. Davis was routinely beaten by defensive ends and blitzing linebackers.
A year of learning would have benefited Davis and his struggles would have been lessened. He worked to improve and has reached a point in his career where he is on the cusp of becoming one of the best right tackles in the league.
The 49ers also feel the same way, as they just signed Davis to a seven-year, $39.67 million. If he serves out the full length of the deal, Davis will be a 49er through the 2019 season.
Davis is a devastating run-blocker and plays with a mean streak. His footwork and technique as a pass-blocker have improved and Davis should be a Pro Bowl selection this coming year.
Chris Culliver was beaten by Jacoby Jones for a critical touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Chris Culliver is one of the most interesting players on the 49ers' roster. He probably has more physical talent and athleticism than any of the other defensive backs on the team.
Culliver has tremendous upside as a player, but there are several issues that have held him back. He must improve on these areas, if he is to reach his full potential.
Culliver has decent speed and is a big-hitter. He also has the ability to be a good cover-corner.
The areas that Culliver struggles with all have to do with discipline, or lack of it. Culliver is often over-aggressive, which causes him to get beat on double moves and makes him susceptible to pass interference penalties, as he races to catch up to his man.
This overly aggressive nature of play also results in personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Culliver's incessant trash talking is also something that gets out of control. It looks terrible when Culliver is beaten for a big play, then jumps up into the face of the receiver with his trash talk.
A classic example of this was in the Super Bowl. Culliver allowed a 31-yard first-down reception to Anquan Boldin that ultimately led to a Baltimore touchdown. Following the catch, Culliver jumped into the face of Boldin, which showed his immaturity.
Culliver also tried to throw teammate Donte Whitner under the bus by blaming him for the long touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones late in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. He told the media that it was Whitner that blew the coverage.
Whitner disputed this allegation, explained exactly what coverage the 49ers were in and what each player's responsibilities were. It was clear that Culliver was in the wrong and his attempt to blame Whitner could also cause him to lose the respect of his teammates.
To top this off, Culliver also must stop making stupid statements in the media about subjects outside of football. In the past few months, Culliver has been on the hot seat for his homophobic comments prior to the Super Bowl and also more recently, his comments disparaging women.
Culliver has a world of talent, but must be smarter both on and off the field. He needs to develop much more discipline and professionalism.
At this point, Culliver is at a crossroads. If he becomes a more disciplined individual, he has a chance to be an outstanding player. If, on the other hand, Culliver continues on the path he's been on recently, he will not come close to reaching his full potential.
Ricardo Lockette caught two passes for the Seahawks in 2011.
Lockette signed with the 49ers this past season after he was released by Seattle. Although he did not catch a pass last year, Lockette impressed head coach Jim Harbaugh with his work ethic and athletic ability.
Lockette worked out extensively with Colin Kaepernick after the close of last season. The pair seem to be building a good bond and Lockette has an excellent chance to win the job as the 49ers' third wide receiver.
LaMichael James provides the 49ers with an explosive presence.
LaMichael James only got the chance to play after Kendall Hunter went down with an injury. Hunter had been backing up Frank Gore and there weren't any opportunities for James, until Hunter went down.
James did not get his first carry until week 14 of the regular season. He finished the year with 27 carries for 125 yards, a 4.6 yards-per-carry average.
James is an ideal change-of-pace from starter Frank Gore. James gives the 49ers great speed and explosiveness. With Hunter still not at full strength after his torn Achillles, James has the inside track as Gore's backup.
The 49ers will continue to use James on kickoff returns, where he averaged 29.8 yards per return last year. One are where James can make a bigger impact is in the passing game. He is very elusive and would be very dangerous on simple swing passes.
James is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball. Look for the 49ers to find more ways to capitalize on James' explosiveness in the upcoming season.
Colin Kaepernick is also an excellent runner.
In his second professional season, Colin Kaepernick started seven games during the regular season, plus three postseason games. In those 10 starts, Kaepernick displayed immense talent and athleticism.
Kaepernick is blessed with a strong arm and also is an accomplished runner. He has also worked very hard on his leadership skills and will emerge into one of the 49ers' team leaders this coming season.
During the regular season, Kaepernick completed 136 of his 218 pass attempts. His 10 touchdowns with only three interceptions was also impressive.
Kaepernick also ran the ball 63 times for 415 yards and five touchdowns. He is a dual-threat quarterback with immense physical talent.
Based on his size and speed, it's tough for a defender to get a good shot on Kaepernick. He could prove to be very durable because of this.
Although Kaepernick will run some spread-option plays and also scramble out of the pocket when under pressure, he is not a reckless player. Kaepernick will have a breakout season in 2013.
Jim Harbaugh will have the 49ers on track for another run at the title.
Jim Harbaugh led the 49ers to the NFC title game in his first season in San Francisco. Last year, the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl only to lose to the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 34-31.
The 49ers have been on the brink of greatness and a world championship is the only thing missing for Harbaugh and the 49ers.
It's a long season and good health and a little bit of luck will play a big role in the 49ers' success this year.
If the five young players highlighted in this article do indeed have breakout seasons, that will bode extremely well for the 49ers. It's a Super Bowl title or bust for the 49ers this year.