The most taxing rosters in the league to power-rank are the weakest and the strongest ones—it is fair to say the San Francisco 49ers qualify as the latter. This is an organization utterly laced with talent, through and through.
In virtually every phase of the game, at every level of their infrastructure, there lies proven talent or high potential.
In the following piece, however, we’ll attempt to project and individually rank the members of the 49ers’ 2013 NFL roster. With the existing and incoming talent, it can be difficult to differentiate players on occasion but by outlining standards, the rankings become simpler.
Moreover, it is a meritocracy in San Francisco, and akin to that philosophy, these rankings will be earned.
The rankings are based on the following criteria:
- Importance to the Team
- Position Standing
- Name Recognition
In his second season, TE Garrett Celek is hoping to emerge as a legitimate option in San Francisco's passing attack.
53. Lawrence Okoye, DT
A big story in training camp this year—literally and figuratively—is British Olympian Lawrence Okoye.
The 6’6”, 304-pound phenom signed as a free agent to play for San Francisco after going undrafted. A raw specimen, Okoye will have an opportunity to learn the defensive line position from coach Jim Tomsula, which could yield the 49ers a high return on a low-risk investment.
Okoye is difficult to rank or value considering he has no game experience.
It's not about where you start, it's where you finish— Lawrence Okoye (@Okoye) May 19, 2013
52. Tramaine Brock, CB
This offseason, San Francisco retained cornerback Tramaine Brock on a one-year tender.
The 5’10”, 197-pound defensive back will be arriving for his fourth NFL season, having signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent from Belhaven in 2010. Brock has been steadfast as the No. 5 corner—equipped with a relative amount of talent considering how far down the depth chart he sits.
San Francisco’s inclination to retain his services reveals an overall trust in his ability. Brock had a career-best season in 2011, finishing with two interceptions and four pass breakups.
The 49ers have three CBs on the field: Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock, who gets the call instead of Perrish Cox.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 24, 2012
51. Darcel McBath, S
In late March, the 49ers announced the re-signing of safety Darcel McBath, bringing him back on another one-year deal.
Providing depth on the back end, he was one of their best special teams players a year ago. McBath, 27, finished with eight S/T tackles, making him the unit’s leading man in 2012.
He also made a touchdown-saving tackle in Super Bowl XLVII, having stopped a fake field goal attempt on a direct snap to kicker Justin Tucker. It was a true a hustle play on his part, which no doubt earned him brownie points with the coaches.
50. Dan Skuta, LB
After spending four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, linebacker Dan Skuta signed a two-year contract to play ball in the Bay Area. This deal gives the 49ers another special teams ace for their restoration project in that phase of the game.
According to Pro Football Talk, Skuta was a top-tier gunner a season ago, racking up a team-best 17 tackles as part of the Bengals coverage team. With his history, there is reason to believe he will impact the S/T unit right away.
49. Quinton Dial, DT
Coming out of the University of Alabama, defensive lineman Quinton Dial is used to playing in three-down fronts. The rookie will come in and likely dethrone the line depth carried over from years past.
He will compete primarily with Demarcus Dobbs, Will Tukuafu and Tony Jerod-Eddie—offering more talent and ability than any of these aforementioned undrafted free-agent signings.
The 6’6”, 304-pounder is massive, but an untrained talent.
He has a better body for the defensive line position than several others, with the ability to be imposing on size alone. If Dial can be molded and learn how to play the game properly from line coach Jim Tomsula, he can be sublime.
There is a high ceiling here, which had the coaches very eager, per 49ers.com.
Even though he has not been getting a ton of recognition, this is a sleeper to look out for in 2013. There are many reasons to be excited about Dial’s progression. If he wows in training camp, it may give the 49ers a talented rotational player in the trenches.
48. Joe Looney, G
An offseason ago, the 49ers invested a mid-round draft pick on Wake Forest guard Joe Looney.
With their starting line locked in, it has been part of San Francisco’s philosophy to draft mid-to-late round linemen and groom them for the future. Given the dexterity it requires to play OL in the pros, this approach eases the transition.
Currently a backup, Looney is one of the team’s premier developing interior lineman, alongside guard Daniel Kilgore. If and when Alex Boone or Jonathan Goodwin moves on, Looney and Kilgore will be ready to compete.
Joe Looney is only going to become more valuable with time.
47. Ian Williams, DT
In the 2012 offseason, the San Francisco front office had a decision to make along the defensive line. They elected to retain Ian Williams, re-signing him to a two-year, $3.2 million deal, per ESPN.
This was part of the conclusion to let Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois walk for more lucrative deals elsewhere. The 49ers would not have allowed those two to depart without having the confidence in Williams to raise his game.
By nature, Williams (6’1”, 305 lbs.) is a clogging defensive lineman that will do his best work on first- and second-down situations. The capacity of his game remains to be seen, but he has the trust of the front office.
He may emerge as the No. 2 nose guard this season.
46. Adam Snyder, G/T
After a short-lived spell with the Arizona Cardinals (2012), offensive lineman Adam Snyder has returned to the Niners.
With this back-and-forth exchange, the 49ers now get an OL with starting experience at almost no cost to fill in as a backup. This is great value for San Francisco, which reached the 2011 NFC Championship with Snyder starting at right guard.
At 6’6”, 325 pounds, the nine-year pro has both the build and the experience to be the primary reliever at guard and tackle. This will give the team a similar role player as the one Leonard Davis provided in 2012.
Adam Snyder has value as versatile backup. Fans frustrated with him but it's not his fault Cardinals gave him starting money.— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) April 29, 2013
45. Garrett Celek, TE
Backup tight end Garrett Celek is returning for his second season in San Francisco, eager to compete for an opportunity to play alongside Vernon Davis. At 6’5”, 252 pounds, he is the tallest tight end on the roster.
He has earned game day reps here and there, making four grabs for 51 yards on 103 snaps in 2012 (h/t CSN Bay Area). As a tight end with upside as a vertical pass-catcher, Celek is averaging 12.8 yards per catch so far.
According to Digital Media Manager Scott Kegley of 49ers.com, Celek has been developing and spent time shadowing the Pro Bowl starter, Davis, hoping to make a leap in his sophomore campaign.
44. Brian Jennings, TE/LS
Regardless of position, if there is one trait that is universally valued in the league, it is consistency. In that respect, long snapper Brian Jennings has been an asset for 13 seasons in San Francisco.
At 6’5”, 242 pounds, Jennings lists as a tight end, but carries out his primary duties as a key component on special teams. After being drafted by the 49ers in Round 7 of 2000, Jennings has twice been named to the Pro Bowl.
He played 194 games for San Francisco from 2000-2012.
43. Colt McCoy, QB
In a calculated decision, the front office acquired McCoy in a trade with the intention of making him the No. 2 quarterback, via ESPN. He will back up Colin Kaepernick, while setting an example for the up-and-coming QBs competing for depth.
Seeing as how McCoy is only entering his fourth NFL season, he may reap the benefits of being instructed by quarterback guru Jim Harbaugh. After whittling away at his mechanics, he may develop into a reliable second-stringer.
In 24 total games played, Colt McCoy averaged a 74.8 career passer rating.
42. Craig Dahl, S
Dahl will compete for the recently vacated FS job, largely providing a bar for first-round pick Eric Reid to surpass in training camp. The upside Dahl has over, say, UFAs Charles Woodson or Ed Reed, is that he is a special teams contributor.
He also costs substantially less than the latter (h/t NFL.com).
By the time Week 1 rolls around, Dahl will likely be situated in a S/T function, providing help to the coverage team as a gunner. After losing Blake Costanzo (Chicago) and Colin Jones (Carolina), Dahl is an investment that may help revamp Brad Seely’s special teams group.
41. Daniel Kilgore, G/C
Entering his third year, Daniel Kilgore has been a backup interior lineman for San Francisco, developing under the tutelage of a great group of starters. In this understudy role, he has taken a steady approach to becoming a pro.
Kilgore has primarily been groomed for the team’s jumbo packages, which calls for extra offensive linemen. He is also the No. 1 backup guard and center, ready for duty in case Mike Iupati (LG), Jonathan Goodwin (C) or Alex Boone (RG) go down.
With Goodwin in the last season of his three-year deal, Kilgore is a conceivable replacement to succeed the Pro Bowler as the starting center in the near future (via Spotrac).
40. Nick Moody, ILB
This recent draft pick was for the sole reason of infusing a combination of youth and talent into a special teams unit in need of vivacity. As a converted safety now playing linebacker, Nick Moody has the athleticism to be a force on the S/T unit.
He is strong, agile and shows great instincts in open-field situations.
The 49ers will look to harness his ability, and with any luck, San Francisco will have found a new player to captain the coverage team on game day. Moody may join C.J. Spillman, Darcel McBath and Anthony Dixon as core guys in year one.
Florida State LB Nick Moody said he hopes to carve out role on special teams in NFL. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) April 27, 2013
Former South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore is not expected to play as a rookie, but may be a top-ranked player in the near future.
39. Corey Lemonier, OLB
In the 2012 NFL draft, the 49ers added another rush linebacker to an already deep corps of players. Like others before him, former Auburn DE Corey Lemonier will fulfill an understudy role behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.
He will be converting to the standup position, having played down in the grass with the Tigers from 2010-2012. He has potential to contribute as a situational pass-rusher in his first year, and may even be a starter one day.
Corey Lemonier knows how to get after the passer. If they use him as they used Aldon as a rookie, his name will grow quick.— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 27, 2013
38. A.J. Jenkins, WR
This 2012 first-round pick red-shirted as a rookie, but in his sophomore campaign, the 49ers will be looking for wide receiver A.J. Jenkins to take a spot in the lineup that is rightfully his.
At this point, the former Big 10 pass-catcher is still an unknown as a pro.
In three regular season games played, Jenkins failed to record a single catch. Moreover, when it came time for the postseason and Randy Moss was lackluster at best, the No. 30 overall selection was not looked to for production.
This will not condemn his career, but it means that he has established nothing so far and any receiver in camp will have an opportunity to compete for field time that he could be seeing.
On a lighter note, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reports that the second-year pro has added much-needed weight to his frame. Hopefully this will make him more effective at the line of scrimmage, both blocking and getting a release off the snap.
Now that there is an opening in the lineup, Jenkins has a chance to drop a bombshell on the doubters this year. Nothing will be given, though, including his slot in the Bleacher Report Power Rankings.
37. Marcus Lattimore, RB
Arriving to work in Santa Clara following a prolific yet injury-ridden NCAA career, Marcus Lattimore is one of the more prized assets to be stashed on this filled-out 49ers roster.
As a result of a gruesome knee injury in 2012, the Niners were able to secure a first-round talent in Round 4. His eventual insertion into the lineup will be an exercise in patience, and he may be an entire year away.
Once he’s ready to go, though, this roster will receive a profound boost.
At 5’11, 221 pounds, Lattimore is the every-down back to supersede Frank Gore down the road. He is a tough, long-bodied runner that finishes incredibly well, which makes him the ideal front man for the future of this three-headed attack.
He projects as an all-purpose tailback, bringing terrific ability as both a rusher and receiving option out of the backfield. Lattimore already has great vision and read-and-react skills, but Gore will help him improve in that regard.
As a cerebral runner, Lattimore will be able to setup his runs like Gore, and with his body-type, he will be able to power through them like Darren McFadden. He will be a riser in San Francisco’s power rankings in the not-too-distant future.
49ers HC Jim Harbaugh on the fourth-round selection of RB Marcus Lattimore: "We're betting on Marcus Lattimore -- and that's a great bet."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 27, 2013
36. Anthony Dixon, RB
Since he arrived in the Bay Area in 2010, Anthony Dixon has spent the majority of his time buried on the depth chart. This is a team that has been fortunate at the running back position and has only gotten richer since the advent of Jim Harbaugh.
In his most recent campaign, Dixon fulfilled a role as a third-down back and closer in the fourth quarter, spelling Frank Gore when the game was locked up. Yet each season, Dixon has had fewer and fewer carries: 70 in 2010, 29 in 2011 and 21 in 2012.
His value, like many other underrated contributors, lies on the special teams unit.
Dixon has been an effective gunner for San Francisco’s coverage team, which has kept him on the roster even during the most competitive training camps. He also brings value as a hype man and is an esteemed locker room presence.
35. C.J. Spillman, S
From 2011-2012, C.J. Spillman has been a valuable backup safety and asset to special teams coordinator Brad Seely’s coverage unit. That is where the five-year pro has seen a majority of his snaps on the field.
He returns to the team this year as a core S/T gunner, fulfilling a role as a veteran leader for the unit. Spillman has been one of the team’s players that tends to track the ball well in the open field.
Now that Dashon Goldson has moved on to Tampa Bay, Spillman has an opportunity to operate as the primary backup safety, as the likely No. 3 behind Donte Whitner (SS) and Eric Reid (FS).
It's C.J. Spillman, Frank Gore and Patrick Willis. Gore as the offensive captain, Willis defensive, and Spillman special teams.— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) December 9, 2012
In his second NFL season, LaMichael James could be poised for a breakthrough year as an all-purpose weapon.
34. Quinton Patton, WR
As a rookie receiver from Louisiana Tech, Quinton Patton is in line to make an impact for San Francisco. At the moment, though, he is an untested commodity in an understudy role.
Before OTAs even began, Patton’s work ethic was apparent to the team, as he hurried to the practice facility in Santa Clara. This sort of dedication and stick-to-itiveness will only help him progress, and may help him be a factor this year.
It goes without saying that Patton is going to be asked to step up and contribute with the recent injury to No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who was the team’s lone reigning 1,000-yard receiver.
This left a sizable gap in terms of production, which needs to be accounted for.
During his days in the NCAA, Patton was characterized as an explosive receiver and a true competitor, habitually thriving in pressure situations where the team needed him to assert himself.
Admittedly, Patton is taking on a thick playbook and has a lot to learn as he transitions to the pro level. There will be a learning curve but the talent is there for him to be a real threat in 2013.
Baalke on Quinton Patton: "He's just a good, solid, all-around receiver…We feel he can play all over the place for us in our system."— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) April 28, 2013
33. Vance McDonald, TE
As a greenhorn in the Bay Area, 49ers tight end Vance McDonald will be asked to step up right away, particularly in the wake of Delanie Walker’s sudden departure to Tennessee.
Given his measurables (6’4”, 276 lbs.), hands and speed (4.60 40 time), San Francisco expects McDonald to add an entirely new dimension to this swiftly evolving offense by Week 1.
This is imperative due to the system offensive coordinator Greg Roman runs, which employs a number of two-plus tight end sets. In 2012, Walker competed in 56.82 percent of the snaps, listing as the No. 2 TE on the depth chart (571 plays).
The role left by Walker is now on McDonald to fulfill, which entails a vast set of responsibilities including: intricate run blocking and pass protection, as well as lining up in the backfield, slot and outside the numbers.
As the new joker tight end for San Francisco, the team is counting on his ability to do it all in his first season without a drop-off in performance.
Harbaugh sees Vance McDonald being similar to "Iron" Mike Ditka, wants him to wear No. 89.— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) April 27, 2013
32. Tank Carradine, DT
Despite entering the league as the No. 40 overall pick in 2012, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had Carradine as a top-five-ranked player. It was a late-season ACL tear that caused the Florida State defender’s stock to drop.
Miller, judging him on talent alone, declared Carradine one of the very best incoming prospects available.
Ergo, when it comes to the long-term value, the 49ers might have found themselves another diamond in the rough. At 6’4”, 276 pounds, Carradine has nearly identical dimensions to his new mentor, lineman Justin Smith.
As a rookie, Carradine will step in, weight train and learn the fundamentals of 3-4 defensive tackle. As a high-ceiling prospect taking a slow and steady approach, this is a top-10 player in the making.
Baalke praised Tank Carradine's versatility and his ability to play multiple positions on the DL. #draft49— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) April 27, 2013
31. Parys Haralson, OLB
Following the upsurge of Aldon Smith on the right side, 49ers linebacker Parys Haralson agreed to restructure his deal to remain in San Francisco, per Janie McCauley of the Associated Press.
In a case of the rich getting richer, the 49ers will relegate this former starter to a backup role, in which he is more than qualified. As the primary No. 3 OLB, Haralson will provide a veteran presence and a strong rotational option.
During his tenure in the league, Haralson, 29, has been routinely tough against the run but offers little in the pass-rush department. He will be returning from a tricep tear that caused him to miss the entire 2012 season.
By retaining his services for at least one more season, the 49ers have shown how they value his contributions, even despite adding a plethora of defensive talent in the 2012 draft.
As a starter in 2011, he might have ranked higher on this list two years ago, but the times are changing in San Francisco.
30. Phil Dawson, K
After 14 productive seasons in Cleveland, All-Pro place kicker Phil Dawson has finally moved on to greener pastures.
Dawson is coming off a Pro Bowl year in 2012, and will provide a much-needed service for San Francisco going forward. After enduring the brisk decline from David Akers, the 49ers had to re-infuse consistency into the kicker position.
Showing just that, Dawson connected on 29-of-31 a season ago, including 7-of-7 from 50-plus yards out. This made him No. 2 in field goal percentage for the year. He will be an asset to an organization that values their special teams contributors.
Phil Dawson was 7-7 from 50+ yards last season. He is 14-15 from 50+ over past two seasons.— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) March 19, 2013
29. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB
One would think that a four-time All-Pro would be higher on this list, but the fact is, Nnamdi Asomugha signed with San Francisco looking to re-prove himself after a two-year decline with the Eagles.
Asomugha is a 6’2”, 210-pound corner with long arms, quickness and true lockdown ability. From 2003-2010, he played within Oakland’s man-to-man defense and was an elite defensive back in this league.
Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Asomugha was hardly thrown at.
Asomugha always excelled at bump-and-run, sticking to receivers like glue. He was never an improvisational corner that thrived in zone, which is what Philadelphia attempted to do with him.
Now an 11-year pro, Asomugha will return to a system that suits his ability on game day. Moreover, he is an intelligent defensive back with the anticipation to be a lockdown CB for San Francisco in 2013.
While he is outside the top 25 players now, he is a candidate to leap into the team’s top 15 if he returns to form.
Nnamdi should be better in #49ers system, but here is his yardage allowed: 2008: 161, 2009: 246, 2010: 185, 2011: 376, 2012: 698.— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) April 2, 2013
With high number of man coverage and a good pass rush, San Francisco might be the best place for Nnamdi Asomugha to rehab his career. #49ers— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 14, 2013
28. Kyle Williams, WR
Drafted by the 49ers in Round 6 in 2010, Kyle Williams has shown flashes of brilliant play here and there.
Even though it’s been a rollercoaster start to his career, the quick-footed receiver from Arizona State has showcased enough potential to endure a regime change, remaining on of the most competitive rosters in the league.
Entering his fourth season, Williams has very real potential to emerge as a downfield threat in this new-look offense. The insertion of Colin Kaepernick makes him a legitimate candidate to take over for the injured Michael Crabtree in 2013.
As a slot-type receiver, Williams uses his quickness to create separation and make plays after the catch. He also has the ability to get vertical, which may occur more often now that San Francisco has a passer that looks downfield.
27. Glenn Dorsey, DT
After five seasons spent in Kansas City, which included 65 starts, Glenn Dorsey is looking to breathe new life into his career with the 49ers. The former No. 5 overall pick from 2008 first entered this league with a world of potential but has failed to see it thus far.
As a new addition, he will only add to a strong defensive line, looking to replace the void left in the middle by Isaac Sopoaga (Eagles) and Ricky-Jean Francois (Colts). As the team’s first offseason acquisition, he is the favorite to start in Week 1.
At 6’1”, 297 pounds, Dorsey will be the two-down nose guard, playing the gaps, absorbing protections and stuffing the run. As a wide-bodied lineman, he excels at boxing in the play and taking up space.
Given the one-dimensional nature of his game, though, the lack of pass-rush ability keeps Dorsey out of top-20 consideration.
Glenn Dorsey (good): Only played 4 games in 2012, but was 2nd among 3-4 DE in Run Stop % in 2010 (behind J. Smith) and 6th in 2011. #49ers— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) March 13, 2013
26. Eric Reid, S
Hailing from LSU, Eric Reid joins the 49ers as a hammer of a safety, only adding to this tenacious defense. He is one of the top defensive backs to have played in the SEC, making plays and setting the tempo for a consistently strong Tigers unit.
While Reid is unproven, he figures to have a prominent role in the defense as a rookie with Dashon Goldson now in Tampa Bay (h/t NFL.com). He boasts a similar downhill style of play, which should make for a steady transition going from one free safety to the next.
Yet Reid still needs to evolve as a coverage DB and embed himself within the defense. As a first-rounder San Francisco jumped up to acquire, hopefully he will establish himself as a top-15 player for this team by season's end.
Harbaugh: "We have real high expectations of Eric Reid…When he got here, he went right to work and started looking at the playbook." #49ers— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) May 2, 2013
25. LaMichael James, RB
Although he is new to the National Football League, James is one of the higher-rated players given his potential. The former Oregon Duck came to San Francisco as one of the most prolific backs in college history.
He is an explosive athlete possessing incomparable stop-and-start ability combined with sensational lateral quickness.
In limited time in 2012, it appears as if James’ unique skill set will translate to the next level, which gives him respectable value already. The same set of physical tools that made him so productive in the NCAA has since been problematic for pro defenders.
As he develops, James will likely become a dangerous weapon for the Niners.
LaMichael James says he's up to 205 pounds after playing at 195 last year. Says the goal was to become stronger, more explosive.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) May 28, 2013
Looking to return from a season-ending injury, Mario Manningham may assert himself in 2013.
24. Mario Manningham, WR
Given his unfortunate circumstances, Manningham did not see as much time as most had hoped. In his first season with the 49ers, the newly signed receiver spent the majority of 2012 catching balls from Alex Smith.
He only played three full games with Colin Kaepernick, who was inserted midseason, left to improvise and develop chemistry on the fly. A season-ending knee injury (ACL, PCL) was a setback to their evolving rapport on the field.
Still, Manningham looked exceptional in a short period of time, averaging 14.5 yards per reception with Kaepernick.
His awaited return to the field in 2013 may yield positive results now that San Francisco has a legitimate gunslinger behind center. With the Giants, Mario Manningham showed he can step up and now has a chance to impact this receiving corps.
23. Jonathan Goodwin, C
Jonathan Goodwin came over to the Niners as an already established Pro Bowl center, which only raised the level of play from the offensive line.
Before signing with the 49ers, he became a Super Bowl champion snapping the ball to Drew Brees in New Orleans. Goodwin has not missed a start since inking with the team, playing in 32-straight regular season games since 2011.
As the center, he helped unify an offensive line in transition, turning it into one of the more highly regarded groups in the NFL. His veteran qualities were extremely beneficial to the three former first-round picks in Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.
22. Bruce Miller, FB
One can take a gander around the league and clearly see that Bruce Miller is a top-5 player at his position.
Purebred fullbacks are few and far between nowadays, but amidst the league’s evolution, Miller has grown into a first-rate blocking FB. He is equally effective in pass protection as he is in road grading, which is a plus.
He also has the aptitude to execute within an intricate, high-volume rushing offense, which features traps, toss plays, read-option, shifts, dummy snap counts and power runs, to name a few.
Miller’s athleticism also makes him a legitimate receiving option out of the backfield, which is just one more thing opposing defenses have to account for when they line up against the 49ers.
Moreover, not only can he pass block, run block and pass catch, but Millers carries out a prominent role on special teams. Truth be told, he is one of San Francisco’s best overall utility players.
21. Kendall Hunter, RB
Entering his third season, Hunter is the complementary No. 2 running back behind front man Frank Gore.
As a two-time first-team All-American from Oklahoma State, Hunter took on a sizable responsibility as early as his rookie year, which many have failed to do under the Jim Harbaugh regime.
He is essentially a starter for San Francisco, carrying a featured role on offense while also contributing as a kick returner. Hunter has been dependable and shows great promise for the future.
In 2011, he finished with 473 yards and two touchdowns behind Gore. In his follow-up sophomore campaign, Hunter was averaging 5.2 yards per attempt before suffering an Achilles tear in Week 11, via PFR.
In 27 total games played, he has 209 touches for 1,099 yards from scrimmage (5.25 average). With his all-purpose utility, and capacity running inside and outside the tackles, Hunter will likely become a more prominent player for the franchise down the road.
Andy Lee is progressively making a bid for one of the greatest punters in NFL history.
It may be a surprise at first, but in all fairness, football is a three-phase sport and Andy Lee is arguably the best in the game at his respective position.
This past year, he led the league in net punting with 43.1 yards per attempt, while knocking 36 of his 67 punts inside the 20-yard line. This won Lee All-Pro honors for the fourth time since the 2007 season.
The 10-year pro is two years removed from a career-best season, having finished third all-time in yards net punting average in a single season (50.9 yards in 2011).
His career net punting average makes Lee seventh in league history (45.9)—No. 2 all-time behind players that have played for six seasons or more, ranking only behind Oakland’s Shane Lechler.
Since he first arrived in the Bay Area, Andy Lee has greatly helped the 49ers win the field-position battle. His ability to punt offenses in a tough spot has silently contributed to one of the league’s top-ranked defensive units.
And ultimately, it gives the offense more opportunities, which only goes to show the ripple effect caused by Lee’s performance.
As San Francisco's starting right cornerback, Tarell Brown is one the most underrated defensive players in the league.
One of the more unheralded starters on the 49ers defense is starting right cornerback Tarell Brown.
As a primary cover corner, Brown allowed zero touchdowns in 2012, holding quarterbacks to a 73.9 rating during the regular season. He also managed a pair of interceptions and 13 pass breakups in that timespan.
By those numbers, Brown is statistically the second-best cover corner on the team.
While he is not a true lockdown corner or a flashy route-jumper, he might be the most dependable defensive back San Francisco has on the roster. He is another player that does not receive enough credit for this team’s success.
Point of reference from @pff, opposing passer ratings vs. last season: Tarell Brown 75.2, Carlos Rogers 92.9, Nnamdi Asomugha 120.6.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) March 15, 2013
Donte Whitner has emerged as a leader for the 49ers' secondary since signing in 2011.
In San Francisco’s hard-nosed defensive unit, Donte Whitner has surfaced as one of the best downhill safeties in the league.
There have been several occasions of Whitner closing on the ball carrier, where all that was heard was a loud crack of the pads followed by the concerned woes of the crowd. It is that kind of intensity that characterizes this 49ers defense.
From the beginning, Whitner fit right in, thriving in this pressure-generating 3-4 scheme rather than the dormant Tampa 2 system he performed in during his time with the Buffalo Bills.
In a unit that utilizes his strengths, Whitner finally became a Pro Bowler after six years in the NFL.
While he has had lapses in coverage, his overall ability has outweighs his deficiencies. Most notably, Whitner embraced the role of a vocal leader on the back end of the defense, which the 49ers have not had in quite some time.
As a tackler, he is strong at the point of attack, an asset in run support and a key tempo-setter for this team.
On a a weekly basis, 49ers DT Ray McDonald holds his own in a talent-laden defensive front.
A former defensive prospect from Florida, Ray McDonald’s journey to the starting job is a perfect model for how teams want to build a roster. After being drafted in Round 3 of 2007, the ex-Gator was second-string for four years.
As a backup, McDonald learned the ropes of the NFL, which included training, schemes, tempo and fundamentals. He took mental reps under the guidance of Justin Smith and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, which prepared him for action.
Once his opportunity arose in his fifth year, McDonald had built a callous and was ready to hit the ground running. In 2011, he accepted a five-year deal and asserted himself as the left defensive tackle in the 49ers’ attacking 3-4 scheme (via Spotrac).
He is a balanced player that both holds the edge and pushes the pocket well.
Veteran DB Carlos Rogers lists as the No. 1 cornerback on San Francisco's top-ranked defense.
After six disappointing seasons in Washington, Carlos Rogers has since found success on the West Coast.
The No. 1 cornerback on San Francisco’s depth chart quickly developed into a Pro Bowler, racking up six interceptions and 19 pass deflections in his first season with the team.
This inspiring performance would earn Rogers a four-year, $31 million contract extension to remain in red and gold, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. He has earned his money manning the nickel on game day.
He allowed an 86.7 passer rating in the slot, while surrendering a 115.6 passer rating outside the numbers. It is clear where his strengths lie, though; this is not to say he is not a valuable member of the defense.
His veteran presence on a fairly young defense—particularly in the secondary—is a tremendous asset. He has been model for the other players, showing them how to prepare, treat their body and play sound, technical football.
Ahmad Brooks is a high-caliber player that often gets lost in a sea of All-Pros.
Ahmad Brooks was another individual that emerged from the depths of the roster to become a high-quality starter.
For how good he is truly is, Brooks is a fairly underrated linebacker around the league. People tend to forget he holds his own with three All-Pros standing beside him in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense.
He has also helped the 49ers finish games, holding the clutch factor for the group, which Alex Espinoza of 49ers.com can corroborate. In back-to-back postseasons, Brooks came up big in the fourth quarter, most notably against the Saints (2011) and Falcons (2012).
At 6’3”, 259 pounds, Brooks is a strong, stocky player that can execute all the charges of an outside linebacker, and then some. He is a very balanced athlete that can rush the passer, set the edge, stop the run and drop in coverage effectively.
In 2012, Alex Boone stepped up to become the final component linking this offensive line.
As the final component solidifying this offensive line, Alex Boone has had an immense impact on this team.
After spending two seasons on the roster as a backup, Boone transitioned from swing tackle to starting right guard in 2012. Despite the incongruities of kicking a 6’8”, 300-pound edge protector to interior line, his conversion was a total success, to say the least.
In his first year as a starter, he performed at as high a level as any guard in the league.
Boone’s emergence launched this line into what is now one of the premier units in professional football. He went on to start all 16 games for the 49ers, and three more in its playoff run.
In 97 postseason pass-blocking snaps, Boone allowed no sacks, no quarterback hits, and only one hurry, per Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus. This is only a small sample size illustrating his consistency and performance on the field.
A scary thought: Taylor Price of 49ers.com reports that Boone bulked up for the 2013 season, adding an estimated 10-15 pounds of muscle. He is becoming one of San Francisco’s most valued assets and may be in line for a contract extension.
Justin Smith on #49ers O-line: "I think getting Alex Boone in there -- that group was already good -- but getting Alex Boone cemented it."— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) January 30, 2013
The 49ers are thrilled with Chris Culliver's on-field performance since he was drafted in 2011.
It may be hard to believe but San Francisco’s youngest featured cornerback is perhaps their best.
From a statistical outlook, Chris Culliver is the No. 1 cover corner on the 49ers today. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks averaged a 71.82 passer rating when throwing at Culliver in 2012.
This translated into a team-best 48.6 percent catch rate during the regular season (h/t Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat).
At 6’0”, 199 pounds, Culliver uses his size, speed and strength to bully receivers and control the catch zone. He has all of the tools to be a perennial Pro Bowl corner in this league.
As a lengthy speedster, Culliver operates best as a boundary corner, locking down imposing receivers like Julio Jones (Falcons) and Calvin Johnson (Lions). His natural instincts and physical ability allow him to compete with even the most athletic pass-catchers.
Even though he is listed as the No. 3 corner, Culliver spends a great deal of time outside the numbers, handling the opposition’s top receiver. In two seasons, the 24-year-old from South Carolina has amassed three interceptions and 23 pass breakups.
In all likelihood, the 49ers will move forward with him as their primary cornerback.
Anquan Boldin is riding a hot streak that he will look to carry over to San Francisco.
Most fans residing in Northern California do not need to be told how good this player is. Anquan Boldin spent a good part of his career terrorizing the 49ers, but in 2012, he will finally be part of the tribe.
After a three-year hiatus away from the NFC West, Boldin was traded back to the division to which he was drafted, having played for the Arizona Cardinals from 2003-2009.
One of the most notable aspects about Boldin’s career is the longevity, having consistently produced for more than a decade. As a three-time Pro Bowler and reigning Super Bowl champion, he is one of the most decorated players on the 49ers roster.
As one of the league’s great active receivers, Boldin was the quickest player in NFL history to accrue 400 (67 games), 500 (80 games) and 600 career receptions (98 games), via Ravens PR.
Boldin joins the 49ers following a commanding playoff performance where he finished with 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis, Denver, New England and San Francisco. He is an ultra-physical pass-catcher with great focus and veteran savvy.
Best trade of the offseason looks far, far better for SF now: Anquan Boldin from Ravens for a sixth-round pick.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) May 22, 2013
Anthony Davis has been an anchor at the right tackle spot for San Francisco.
The insertion of Anthony Davis at right tackle has helped this line blossom into one of the league better units.
He entered this league as a valued investment, having been taken at No. 11 overall in 2010. Davis immediately plugged in at the tackle spot and has not missed a start yet, performing in 48 regular season games in three seasons.
Davis has done a brilliant job protecting the width of the pocket, and in doing so, really balanced out the line as a complement to Joe Staley. He has also enabled San Francisco to run to the right side with a degree of proficiency.
Competing with a lot of grit, Davis has a bit of a mean streak and does not back down. He also has the confidence and technical proficiency to sit back in his stance and knock guys around.
As an offensive skill player, Vernon Davis is a team leader and one of the faces of the 49ers franchise.
On a more pass-heavy team like Green Bay or New England, Vernon Davis might be in Hall of Fame talks by now. In actuality, the physical tools and dominating ability he has demonstrated at times is truly at that level.
Six years of run-of-the-mill quarterbacking coupled with a heavy blocking role have greatly limited his career receiving numbers. But when Davis is properly integrated into the passing game, he is unstoppable.
Games like the 2011 Divisional Playoffs against New Orleans exemplify his talent, where he racked up seven grabs for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In fact, in his four best postseason games, Davis masterfully accumulated 502 yards and five TDs.
This is largely why San Francisco originally spent a high first-rounder on him in 2006.
In the Bay Area, however, he’ll disappear for games at a time—on the stat sheet at least. Davis fulfills a prominent role as a blocker, utilizing his strength to blow guys off the ball and create lanes for the running backs.
He is easily one of the most effective blocking TEs in the entire league, which is exhibited through the 49ers’ top-ranked rushing offense. This type of self-sacrifice has aided in his emergence as a team leader.
A rare breed, Vernon Davis’ ceiling is as high, if not higher than any tight end in the NFL.
Vernon Davis has eight 100-yard games in 104 career regular-season contests. In five playoff games: 4 100-yard performances. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) February 8, 2013
Mike Iupati has solidified his place as one of the top players on this 49ers roster.
With arguably the fiercest disposition of any offensive lineman in the league, Mike Iupati is a force in the trenches for the 49ers. As an individual that has an unquenchable thirst for hitting, Iupati ritually thumps defenders.
Carrying that mentality in a 6’5”, 331-pound body, it is no surprise that Iupati thrives in a contact sport. In 2012, he was finally named to his first-ever Pro Bowl, making him the first guard drafted by the team to do so since Jesse Sapolu (1994).
At his foundation, Iupati is a power guard who excels as a road grader. And the fact that he can execute within San Francisco’s complex run system makes him one of the best interior linemen in the NFL.
Moreover, he is quite durable for a player at a position that endures contact on every down. After being drafted in the first round four years ago, Iupati has not missed a start, having been entrenched at left guard for 48-straight games.
His game is defined by his attitude and fundamental technique. More often than not, off the snap, Iupati does not wait to be contacted—rather, he prides himself on being the aggressor.
His biggest contribution since arriving in 2010 is the fact that he gave this offensive line the teeth to bite back. It was an infectious attitude that translated to him making the players beside him better on game day.
After a prolific career at Texas Tech, the former two-time Biletnikoff Award winner has finally broken through at the pro level.
Following a breakout campaign in 2012, Michael Crabtree was conclusively validated as the No. 1 playmaker in the passing game (85-1105-9). This statistical eruption made him the first receiver in franchise history to have a 1,000-yard season since Terrell Owens (2003).
After four years of steady development—not to mention several adjacent personnel upgrades—Crabtree is now one of the most balanced wide outs in the league. At his respective position, he is the total package and a rising star.
A lot of wide receivers are one-dimensional, but Crabtree does it all.
As a receiver, he prides himself on catching the ball away from his body, demonstrating both a high level of concentration and confidence. By nature, No. 15 has sticky hands, catching virtually everything thrown his way.
Jim Harbaugh was spot-on describing Crabtree’s game, saying he “catches passes like a frog eats flies,” per CSN 49ers on Twitter. If the ball is in proximity to him, he will reach out and snatch it in the blink of an eye.
On top of his natural receiving skills, he is one of the best overall players in the league after the catch. Crabtree’s recorded 543 YAC was fourth best among all wide receivers in 2012, per Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus.
That being the case, nearly 50 percent of his total yardage came once he had possession of the football. He is a true playmaker and his budding rapport with quarterback Colin Kaepernick has pushed him up the list.
Note: Unfortunately, the 49ers’ No. 8-ranked player will miss the bulk of the 2012-13 NFL season with an Achilles tear, per USA Today’s Mike Garafolo on Twitter.
As one of the most athletic tackles in the league, Joe Staley gives the 49ers great flexibility in their creative offensive.
It took San Francisco quite a while to get its offensive line up to league standards again, but the initial catalyst that sparked a resurgence up front was none other than left tackle Joe Staley.
Hailing from Central Michigan, the former first-rounder has been the team’s blindside protector since 2007. He brought athleticism and toughness to the trenches, which the 49ers had been without prior to his arrival.
Staley’s versatility, sound technique and protective instincts have since been a real asset to the organization. Now, with the innovative schemes under the new regime, the value of that skill set is at an all-time high.
On a weekly basis, Staley rarely blunders, and he is asked to handle the best pass rushers in the league. Yet he consistently wins his match-ups, showing incredible footwork, sliding and keeping himself in position.
He is a franchise tackle for the 49ers and a bona fide leader for the OL.
Steve Young is very impressed by 49ers O-line. He said it's the best he's seen since 2000 Rams and '92-'93 Cowboys.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) January 31, 2013
NaVorro Bowman is a top inside linebacker in the National Football League.
In two years starting in the NFL, NaVorro Bowman arose as a unanimous two-time All-Pro inside linebacker (2011-2012). It did not take the 25-year-old very long to establish himself as a dominant defensive player in this league.
After taking over for the departed veteran Takeo Spikes two seasons ago, Bowman has accrued 294 tackles, 14 pass deflections and four sacks. He has exemplified superb instincts on the field, constantly flying to the football with tenacity.
He is an all-around tough football player, doing several things well on the field.
Bowman can play downhill against the run, successfully blitz the interior gaps and run downfield with athletic tight ends. This wide-ranging skill set gives him immense value and keeps him on the field in the nickel and sub-packages while Patrick Willis watches from the sidelines.
Aldon Smith is preparing for his second year as the starting ROLB for the 49ers.
In the 2011 NFL draft, the 49ers made one of their best personnel decisions in the new era, drafting Missouri DE Aldon Smith at No. 7 overall.
The pick gave San Francisco a much-needed element in this league: a full-blooded pass rush specialist. The ability to get after the quarterback in an aerial-based league is invaluable and, in that regard, Smith is a gem.
In virtually no time at all, Smith (6’4”, 258 lbs.) ultimately revamped a defense in the Bay Area that was already very good. In two NFL seasons—which included only one as a starter—Smith has piled up an astonishing 33.5 sacks.
In 2012, the second-year outside linebacker officially exploded onto the scene with 19.5 sacks, falling merely three-and-a-half sacks shy of breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season record (22.5 in 2001).
Going forward, Smith, 23, will be San Francisco’s premier attacking rush linebacker.
Frank Gore is entering his first season as a running back in his 30s---how will he fare in 2013?
It is difficult to picture this 49ers team without Frank Gore.
Since the dynastic era from 1981-1994 faded, there have been no offensive stars on a team that once had Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Terrell Owens, Brent Jones, Roger Craig and others.
In the 2000 decade, Gore distinguished himself as one of the greats to don a 49ers uniform. Over eight seasons, the former underdog tailback from Coral Gables emerged as the all-time leading rusher in franchise history (8,839 yards).
His ultimate standing in the rushing column is even more remarkable considering this is an organization that housed a pair of Hall of Fame rushers in Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny.
From 2005-2012, Gore boasted a 4.6-yard per attempt career average and is showing no signs of slowing down. In his most recent campaign, he finished with 1,214 rushing yards on the ground, making him a top-10 rusher in yards per attempt.
Gore, 30, is coming off his second-best single-season performance.
Through the bad times and the good, No. 21 has been a bright spot for this 49ers team. Gore has proven to be the ultimate gamer, bringing consistency and determination to the RB position as San Francisco’s bell cow.
At 25 years old, Colin Kaepernick is the new face of the San Francisco 49ers franchise.
It did not even take Colin Kaepernick a full season to establish himself as a top-ranked player for the 49ers—or in the league for that matter.
Considering his exorbitant talent level, unique impact on the offense and the weight of the quarterback position, Kaepernick has already cemented himself as a marquee player for the franchise.
The 49ers have had Frank Gore on board since 2005, but as it turned out, the team required play-making ability from the QB to truly ascend. It is the nature of the National Football League, and thus, Kaepernick has more value.
After stepping in for Alex Smith in the middle of 2012, he provided the Niners with that highly coveted spark behind center. He is now a treasure in the Gold Rush state, touting a dual-threat skill set that may transcend the position.
Now the undisputed starter, the future of the 49ers rests of his successes and failures.
Colin Kaepernick is no. 81 on the NFL Network's Top 100. I'd have him in my Top 10. He was the best player in football after Week 12.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) May 3, 2013
If his injury proved anything in 2012, it is that DT Justin Smith is one of the most valuable members of this team.
San Francisco’s All-Pro defensive lineman, Justin Smith, is one of the biggest, baddest men in the NFL today. The 13-year pro has put together quite the career, experiencing his best years in the Bay Area.
Five seasons ago, Smith left Cincinnati—the team that drafted him No. 4 overall—to sign with the red and gold. In the process, he agreed to a career-defining decision, which was making the conversion from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 tackle.
Following the transition to the interior line, Smith evolved into a Pro Bowler, recognized as such in four consecutive years (2009-12). In 2011, he was even the runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, finishing behind Terrell Suggs (Ravens).
At 6’4”, 285 pounds, Smith is a bruising defender with inhuman strength.
He is the epitome of brute force, dictating his match-ups and simply pummeling entire offensive lines through the course of a game. His illustrious move is the bull rush, which enables Smith to utilize his power to shutdown plays.
He often works inside the tackle and guard, causing disruption in the middle.
As a tough, wide-bodied lineman, Smith’s value is in absorbing the protection, rushing the passer and stopping the run. He is a tempo-setter and key cog for the 49ers defense that helps all those around him play at a higher level.
It's getting redundant to point out just how ridiculously dominant Justin Smith is, but he really is. #Awesome— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 26, 2012
Patrick Willis is the undisputed No. 1 player on the San Francisco 49ers roster.
49ers perennial All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis is the undisputed leader for this organization. In six seasons in the Bay Area, he has amassed 819 total tackles, 14 forced fumbles and seven interceptions, via PFR.
Drafted in Round 1 of 2007 from Ole Miss, Willis was the first player to win the annual Butkus Award in both the NCAA and the NFL, presented to the top linebacker in the nation.
A six-time Pro Bowler, Willis is easily one of the most decorated players in the game today.
From Week 1 of his rookie year, No. 52 impacted this team, instantly changing the culture on defense for San Francisco. He has consistently been a dominant defensive player, solidifying that side of the ball for the club.
Riding a high level of play, Willis has become an iconic figure for the franchise. When all is said and done, he will be remembered as one of the organization’s all-time greats, among Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott.
If he stays the course, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers' lead columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80.