4 San Francisco 49ers Who Will Exceed Expectations
The San Francisco 49ers are jam-packed with talent, but they aren't a perfect team.
On paper, the 49ers probably have the best team in the NFL. They have a great quarterback, a stellar defense and a solid running game. The team won the NFC last year and made the NFC Championship in 2011, so it isn't just good on paper.
While the 49ers made significant improvements this offseason, others did as well. The Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are among a handful of teams with a realistic chance of winning the Super Bowl, and those teams appear to be stacked as well.
To overcome those teams and hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season, the 49ers will need some players to positively surprise everyone. Who will those players be?
Nnamdi Asomugha's stint with the Philadelphia Eagles definitely didn't go as planned, but he's ready to make a splash with his new team.
Asomugha and the Eagles struggled in 2011 and 2012, as Asomugha failed to live up to his five-year, $60 million contract. Asomugha was cut just two years into his deal, and the 49ers scooped him up at a cheap price (Asomugha's base salary for 2013 is $1 million).
San Francisco has depth at cornerback, as it already has Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers. However, Rogers was a liability in 2012, Culliver wasn't extremely successful in the playoffs and Brown isn't exactly a star.
If Asomugha could do that, it would make everyone's job easier. It may seem like a stretch to say that someone who failed to meet expectations in Philadelphia can come in and completely shatter expectations in San Francisco, but it's possible.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio employs a lot of Cover 2 looks, and that could benefit Asomugha. Asomugha is best when he can line up close to wide receivers and use his 210-pound frame to bump wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, and he can do that in San Francisco.
James Dudko of International Business Times noted that the 49ers employ a lot of Cover 2 looks,and that works fairly well for Asomugha. Dudko noted that Asomugha thrives when he is able to pin his receiver to the sideline, and he can do that to prevent wideouts from getting over the middle on intermediate routes.
Asomugha may have struggled in Philadelphia, but a change of scenery may be exactly what he needs. The physical tools are there, as he is 6'2" and has a 4.45 40-yard dash to his credit. He isn't the fastest corner on the planet, but he'll benefit from safety help.
In addition, Asomugha has always played for a losing team, and the 49ers aren't a losing team. He didn't have much time to prepare and adjust to a different scheme with the Eagles, as he signed after the lengthy 2011 NFL lockout.
Playing in a good environment should allow Asomugha to rekindle his dominance. Asomugha, who defensed 12 passes in 2012, is poised to step up and take on top-flight wideouts, which is something the 49ers secondary failed to do last season.
Asomugha isn't expected to transform the secondary, but he could. Asomugha is a top-tier corner, and the 49ers got an absolute steal when they locked him up.
Don't be surprised if Asomugha brings back memories of his Oakland dominance, and don't be surprised if he commands more money when he becomes a free agent next offseason.
Tank Carradine tore up opposing offensive lines in 2012, but he suffered a devastating ACL tear near the end of the season.
Carradine's draft stock fell, and he was available for the 49ers early in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. With the 40th pick in the draft, the 49ers took Carradine.
While his ACL injury doesn't help, Carradine's success with Florida State will translate to the NFL. Carradine registered 11 sacks in 11 games, and he could have led the nation in sacks had he not been injured.
And that's exactly what the 49ers need.
Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are penciled in as starters in San Francisco's primary package (the 3-4), and Carradine could steal the final spot. If the 49ers do run more hybrid (4-3 and 3-4), Carradine would likely sit behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks at defensive end in 4-3 packages.
Carradine should be ready to go for the season, and if he is, he'll make an impact. With Brooks and Aldon Smith playing outside linebacker in the 3-4, the 49ers need a good edge-rusher. That's where Carradine comes into play.
With Justin Smith taking on defenders for Carradine and Aldon Smith, the 49ers defense would be lethal. A big reason why the secondary struggled was because the pass rush couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback, but that could change with Carradine.
Aldon was shut down at the end of the 2012 season, as he failed to register a sack in his last six games. Carradine will make Aldon more effective, and that would help the team as a whole.
If Carradine bulked up, he could rush the quarterback and two-gap, which is basically creating rushing lanes for blitzing linebackers. Players who two-gap don't get a lot of credit, but they help the team greatly.
The defensive end is currently about 275 pounds, and if he adds some extra weight, he would be able to overpower offensive linemen and open up holes for blitzing linebackers. Even if he doesn't, Carradine could make an impact as a pass-rusher.
Expectations are low for Carradine because of his ACL, but he has the potential to become a star. His ACL recovery has gone well, as he managed to run a respectable 4.75 40-yard dash fewer than five months after his surgery.
When he's healthy, Carradine is a force. He'll prove that this year, and he'll wreak havoc on opposing offenses on his way to becoming a star.
A.J. Jenkins was expected to produce in 2012, and he did absolutely nothing.
Jenkins, who was picked in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, was targeted once, and he didn't catch a pass. The speedy wide receiver from Illinois helped carry Illinois' passing attack in his senior year of college, but he didn't do that in his rookie season.
The 49ers managed to make it to the Super Bowl with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree serving as quarterback Colin Kaepernick's primary targets, but with Crabtree injured, someone else needs to step up.
Jenkins can be that person. The speedster hauled in 90 passes for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season, and he averaged 14.2 yards per catch. If Jenkins could put up those kind of numbers in San Francisco, it would change the offense.
Kaepernick and Jenkins worked out (according to Yahoo Sports), and the chemistry between the two players is better than ever. That's going to be key for Jenkins, who didn't benefit from great quarterback play at Illinois.
According to the article, Jenkins has turned heads this offseason, and he's doing everything right. Expectations are fairly high for Jenkins because of Crabtree's injury, but he's on pace to shatter them.
The physical tools are there for Jenkins, who bulked up by adding 10 pounds to his frame. Jenkins displayed his incredible speed in the 40-yard dash with a 4.39 time, one that beat all but five participants at the 2012 NFL combine.
With his speed and added strength, Jenkins will be a matchup nightmare for opponents. He produced in college and has an opportunity to shine again, which he can do easily with Kaepernick at the helm.
Expect Jenkins to break out and show everyone why the 49ers drafted him 30th overall in 2012.
Kaepernick already has Anquan Boldin to throw to, and Boldin should deflect attention away from Jenkins. Boldin will be guarded by opponents' top cornerback, and that will allow Jenkins to take advantage of favorable matchups.
If Jenkins can do what he did in college, he'll be a force. Everything is in place for Jenkins to put up gaudy numbers and have a successful year, and all he needs to do is continue working hard and make the most of his opportunity.
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The 49ers already have an outstanding tight end, but they would benefit from another good one.
Vance McDonald can catch passes and make an impact for the 49ers immediately. He has turned heads this offseason and is poised to shatter expectations, which shouldn't be too hard. McDonald was picked late in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Rice.
Delanie Walker, who served primarily as a tight end last year, left in free agency, and the 49ers need Walker's hole to be filled. Walker caught some passes and was a key blocker last year, and he played a fairly important role in the offense.
McDonald has already showed promise, and he's going to do well. The 267-pound tight end is the biggest pass-catcher on the roster, so he should have no problem going across the middle and taking hits.
If McDonald could do that, it would open up passing lanes for other intermediate routes. Offenses with two tight ends have become more common since the New England Patriots started to thrive with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in the offense, and it could work in San Francisco.
McDonald, who led all tight ends with 31 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the 2013 NFL combine, caught 36 passes for an average of 12.7 yards per catch last season. McDonald can catch passes and block, which is exactly what the 49ers need.
Davis and Boldin will be focused on, so McDonald can fly under the radar and catch passes. If he can assert himself as a threat, it would also help Boldin and Davis get open.
Kaepernick dominated with Crabtree and Davis as his primary targets last season, but defenses have had time to adjust to Kaepernick. It's going to be harder for Kaepernick to get by without Crabtree, and McDonald would help greatly.
McDonald can block and catch, and he's going to help the 49ers in multiple ways. Even though McDonald has shown potential, he's not expected to transform the 49ers.
He won't do that, but he will have no problem filling Walker's hole. McDonald is reliable and athletic, as evidenced by his 33.5" vertical leap and 4.69 40-yard dash. The physical tools are definitely there, and if McDonald keeps impressing, he'll make his presence felt.
Davis and McDonald will likely find success reminiscent of the dominance of Hernandez and Gronkowsi, and McDonald will assert himself as one of the NFL's best tight ends. Expectations for McDonald are fairly low, but they'll be a lot higher next year.