5 Potential Breakout Players for the San Francisco 49ers in 2013
Of course, this is the slowest part of the offseason, so expect some topics to spill away from actual football. This article, however, isn't one of them.
With the 49ers boasting one of the more talented rosters, this was a hard list to assemble. Inside and out, the 49ers have such pure talent at almost every position.
Credit should be given to both Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke for continuing to replenish an already stacked talent base.
Without further ado, I present five potential breakout candidates in 2013.
Ian Williams (NT)
Ian Williams was signed to a two year contract extension in the hopes that he could fill the shoes of former 49ers lineman, Isaac Sopoaga (PHI) and Ricky Jean-Francois (IND).
For a nose tackle, Williams is on the light side but that's how defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes his interior lineman. He loves players who are more agile and athletic at nose, and Williams fits the bill.
The question is if Williams will receive the necessary playing time. Competition shouldn't be tight, but new addition Glen Dorsey could certainly push for playing time.
A.J. Jenkins (WR)
A.J. Jenkins is known around these parts in San Fran, however, it isn't because of his production. As a first round selection last season (29th overall), Jenkins produced next to nothing in his rookie season with the 49ers.
When you consider the injuries to the 49ers receivers last year, in collaboration with Jenkins lack of playing time, fans questioned if Jenkins long term future was stable.
Now, with Michael Crabtree's potentially season ending injury, the 49ers are in a somewhat dire situation at receiver.
With Anquan Boldin entrenched as the "Z" receiver, the 49ers must now rely on Jenkins to live up to his first round billing as a potential "X" receiver.
Jenkins has always had the speed to play out wide in the NFL, but lacked the upper body strength and girth to create consistent separation.
Luckily, Jenkins dedicated a big chunk of his offseason in the weight room and the results have showed a much more mature body that's ready for the constant beating and bruises that come with facing physical corners.
Look for Jenkins to make an impact as both a deep threat and in the YAC (Yards After Catch) department.
Vance McDonald (TE)
Yes, a rookie was selected to the list. McDonald hasn't played a single snap yet, but I expect the former Rice player to make a huge impact in the receiving game.
We've all heard about the potential for Vernon Davis to play out wide, but in the 49ers multiple formation offense, they usually employ a ton of 12 personnel packages (1 RB 2 TE), meaning no matter what, the tight-ends will be featured a lot in this offense.
With the recently-departed Delanie Walker, the 49ers were able to use his ability as both a blocker and a receiver. McDonald isn't up to par when it comes to blocking at the NFL level, but as a receiver, he brings more versatility to the table than Walker.
McDonald can line up in the slot or out wide, and because of his big body, expect offense coordinator Greg Roman to employ him as a red zone threat.
We may even see McDonald duplicate Rob Gronkowski's excellent rookie season. Gronkowski was a touchdown scoring machine, recording ten in his rookie year.
Parys Haralson (OLB)
Parys Haralson isn't the best breakout candidate, considering he'll come in the 2013 NFL season as a situational rusher, unless injuries emerge, of course.
Some don't remember, but Haralson was the starter at OLB opposite Ahmad Brooks in 2011 before Aldon Smith took over towards the end of that season.
Now, Haralson was never a flashy player, but he proved effective as a run stopper and a speed rusher off the edge. He was a perfect situational rusher for the 49ers before an injury ended his hopes of duplicating another strong season in 2012.
With Haralson back in the fold in 2013, I expect him to be one of the best situational pass rushers in the league this season
Remember, the 49ers run defense struggled numerous times last season, even with the presence of a healthy Justin Smith.
Now, I directed most of the blame to the middle of that defense, but believe me, a healthy Parys Haralson coming off the edge will provide an instant edge to their run defense.
Even Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio agree that Haralson would have made an impact last season if he was available to play.
LaMichael James (RB)
Last year everyone was complaining about the 2012 rookie class seeing little to no playing time. That is, of course, until LaMichael James burst on the scene during the playoffs last year.
The injury to Kendall Hunter was the reason for James' increased playing time, and man did he make an impact as both a runner and kick returner.
James still has troubles with fumbles, but you can't teach speed, and this little guy has plenty to burn. Even with the return of a healthy Kendall Hunter, expect to see James emerge as a big play type of back in the 49ers read option packages.
More importantly, look for Hunter to stand out as a returner on special teams. Besides Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis, James is the only skill player who can turn a five-yard-run or catch into a potential 70 or 80 yard touchdown.
Look out for James in 2013, especially early on in the season.