Nearing kickoff to the 2013 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers have plenty of captivating players who expect to come charging out of the gate—and many of whom are on the verge of making a career statement.
Whether it is on the defensive or offensive side of the ball, there is no shortage of talented players eager to prove themselves in a highly competitive environment cultivated by head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The following will breakdown individual awards, honors and designations for members of the 2013 49ers.
In less than a full calendar year in the limelight, 49ers star quarterback Colin Kaepernick convincingly emerged as the undisputed front man for the organization, as well as the primary source of the team’s points on Sunday.
Operating as the dual-threat mechanism that he is, statistically, it is not out of line to discuss the likelihood of Kap eclipsing 5,000 all-purpose yards for San Fran in 2013 (passing and rushing).
Given the brisk pace he was on, Kaepernick could be in line for staggering numbers in what may be remembered as a landmark season, legitimizing the archetype of the dual-threat quarterback. His profound ability as a rusher and passer—and more importantly his decisiveness discerning between both options on a play-by-play basis—could lead to a monster stat line by season’s end.
Looking at what is possible, Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III finished with 836 rushing yards in 16 games played in 2012 (6.8 YPC). In the regular and postseason, Kap averaged 7.7 yards per carry. Mind you, the coaches did not unleash him until the divisional round game versus Green Bay.
With his current average, if Kaepernick carried the ball as many times as RGIII had as a rookie, the 49ers quarterback would have 962.5 yards. That being said, the third-year pro and first full-time starter could conceivably throw for 4,000 and rush for 1,000, which would place him in an elite class of signal-callers to have seen such a grandiose level of production.
There is also the prospect of Kap scoring more total touchdowns than New England’s Tom Brady did in his MVP-winning season in 2007, wherein the Pats QB finished with 52 total scores (50 passing, two rushing). He is a viable candidate to set a new all-time mark for this position.
Therefore, not only will this proficiency as an all-purpose weapon lead to most valuable honors by his team, but it may also thrust Kap to the forefront of the conversation for the 2013 NFL MVP award, of which he is already a 10/1 favorite to win, according to Bovada LV.
WINNER: Colin Kaepernick, QB
Under the guidance of general manager Trent Baalke, the San Francisco front office has continued to collaborate and draft extremely well. In their last go-around in 2013, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. graded Baalke and Co. out with a ‘B,’ as they went on to land several flagship players, finding value in each round.
That being the case, the 49ers have several candidates on both sides of the ball who can contend for “Rookie of the Year” honors.
The easiest player to give this award to is first-round pick Eric Reid, who will be filling in for departed All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson. Chances are he is worthy, but expectations were for the LSU bad boy to come and plug into a defense that was already stout.
Moreover, given a recent headline transaction by the 49ers, there is now a new eligible candidate to steal the show…
The #49ers have traded WR A.J. Jenkins for Chiefs WR Jon Baldwin.— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) August 19, 2013
In the wake of A.J. Jenkins’ exile, rookie WR Quinton Patton is now in the driver’s seat to become a glitzy weapon in San Francisco’s ever-evolving passing attack. By casting out last year’s underachieving first rounder, the ‘Niners cleared the road for one of the more hyped rookie receivers in the NFL.
Subsequently, Patton’s 2013 ceiling now outranks all other 49ers rookies, including Reid.
Seeing how it is an offense in flux—desperately in need of contributions from a battered receiving corps—Patton can emerge as the savior the 49ers have been clamoring for since wide receiver Michael Crabtree went down with an Achilles tear.
A very affluent footballer, Patton steps into the lineup as one of the top-three featured receivers, blossoming in this innovative West Coast offense with Colin Kaepernick.
WINNER: Quinton Patton, WR
One player anticipating a much heftier workload is second-year man LaMichael James, a high-profile tailback out of the University of Oregon. While most know he is the final cog to solidify this three-headed rushing attack—complementing Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter—James will wear many hats for SF.
This offseason, coach Jim Harbaugh gushed over No. 23’s improvements, citing progress in virtually all areas (per 49ers.com):
Great improvement. Vast improvement from one year to the next. You talk about it, and you say that usually players from the end of their first year to the start of their second year have the chance to make the greatest amount of gains that they'll ever have in their career. Just like college players who are freshman that go from their freshman year to their sophomore year. LaMichael's a real, living example, current example of that. And it's noticeable in all areas.
He's improved his technique, his base, in terms of pass protection. His knowledge of the scheme. Great improvement in his vertical running, his insert between the tackle. Running, his returning, the way he catches punts and kickoffs now, you look at him as a trusted agent back there to field punts and kickoffs.
You heard it from the horse’s mouth: LaMichael James will be San Francisco’s most improved player.
This is something that will hold true right away on game day when the coaching staff continues to call his number again and again (he’s too explosive not to). Not to mention all of the different areas and facets that the team will rely on James to contribute in. He will forge his own unique wrinkle week to week.
Operating as a change-of-pace rusher, receiving option, read-option threat and return specialist, James looks to make a quantum leap from being a red-shirt rookie to functioning as a big-time weapon. The mystery of his assignments will also make him problematic for opposing teams.
Between his rare physical abilities and the offensive intelligence of the staff—which recently added Bill Belichick disciple Eric Mangini to specialize as the new Senior Offensive Consultant—the 49ers may have one of the league’s top up-and-coming all-purpose weapons on their hands.
By season’s end, James will have his fingerprints all over this offense.
WINNER: LaMichael James, RB
An absolute bargain at No. 40 overall in the 2013 draft, San Francisco’s second pick, Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, was originally pegged as a top-five player coming out of Florida State University, via scout/analyst Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
The catalyst of his free-fall at Radio City: a late-season ACL tear, per ESPN news. This is how one of the most talented defensive prospects in the nation fell directly into the laps of the reigning conference champions.
|Height||Weight||Arm Length||Hand Size||40-time||Bench Reps|
If you’re looking for an in-between to J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, Carradine is it, yet he has received no post-draft hype. Given the nature of his injury, combined with his current non-participation in training camp, the rookie defensive tackle is flying well below the league and media radar.
And he is going to sneak up on a lot of people.
What the NFL will be reminded of, sooner rather than later, is that Carradine possesses that same brand of uncanny athleticism and physical dimensions that sets players like Watt and Clowney apart. They can do new things in the trenches, while providing match-up problems on a down-to-down basis.
Receivers typically provide mismatches—when a defensive lineman does it, it is that much more rare.
That freakish genetic makeup has only been validated through the former Seminole’s recovery process. Having suffered the injury in Nov. 2012, a 6’4” 276-pound Carradine still, remarkably, posted a 4.75 on a rehabbing knee for scouts only 135 days after his surgery, per Cecil Lammey.
Leading up to the draft, Carradine said he expected to be healthy before April, indicating he’d he ready to play this year.
In May, Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk speculated that the top defensive prospect could even be cleared for 49ers training camp (he hasn’t). The point here is, while it has been slow going, Carradine is not out for the season and will likely work his way into the D-line rotation.
As a top prospect in the form of a pass-rush specialist, Carradine may be the biggest sleeper on this entire roster. He is already a favorite to be the successor to All-Pro Justin Smith, while having an opportunity to pin his ears back and thrive in a situational role as a tender rookie.
Watching Tank Carradine tape. Great googly-moogly. That kid is going to be an unholy force if the ACL checks out.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) March 3, 2013
WINNER: Tank Carradine, DT
Originally, this spot was A.J. Jenkins’ to lose, which actually wound up happening when the 49ers stepped out of their comfort zone to deal the 2012 first-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs. That being said, his replacement on this particular slide should immediately go on notice.
So, who else is not living up to their billing?
Outside of Jenkins, it is difficult to pinpoint a player at any position who is really an outright failure, soup to nuts.
For the most part, this is a roster laced with Pro Bowlers, All-Pros, top draft picks and secret superstars. However, when you weigh his level of play against his contract and place in the system, it is easy to contend why the 49ers are not getting good value from Carlos Rogers anymore.
His breakthrough campaign in 2011 turned out to be short-lived, when the 32-year-old cornerback barreled back into a steep decline right after he put his John Hancock on a brand new four-year, $29 million deal to stay in the Bay Area.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rogers did originally earn that money fair and square, holding opposing passers to an average rating of 61.9 in 2011.
Though, the next season, that number shot up to 86.7 when he was tested in the slot and as high as a 115.6 rating when challenged outside, revealing his limitations as a contributor to a troubling degree, via Jeff Deeney on Twitter.
Judging by those stats, Rogers is almost exclusively a nickel player, if that. As if the magic fairy dust wore off, the Pro Bowler abruptly transformed back into a pedestrian corner in the span of an offseason.
NFL analyst Jason Cole reported that this drop off in performance has the 49ers brass deeply concerned, almost to the point of taking serious action. This remains a lingering issue since the contract Rogers signed gave him the second-highest average take-home on the team, only after bullish linebacker Patrick Willis, via Spotrac.
On a roster full of elites and budding superstars, San Fran has way too much cap tied into a fairly average ball player who appears to be past his prime. The worst part is, for all of that money, how reliable is Rogers? Not very.
Pending a miraculous turnaround by a reinvigorated and determined Carlos Rogers, the 49ers’ No. 1-listed cornerback easily finishes as the most disappointing.
WINNER: Carlos Rogers, CB
Regardless of a dinged up receiving corps, this is still a team chock-full of playmakers, spearheaded by a quarterback who brings them all to life, so there will be plenty of offensive candidates deserving of this honor.
As the heartbeat of the offense, Frank Gore is always worth a look because his impact is deep-seated, going beyond what shows up in the box score. The fact that the 49ers are 25-7 all-time when No. 21 surpasses 100 yards on the ground perfectly demonstrates his value to the ball club.
With his ability to eat up gobs of yards at a time, scat back LaMichael James is another guy who expects to be in the running. His ceiling as a deployable all-purpose threat gives him loads of promise entering this season.
One player who is just in the zone at this point in his career is newly acquired wideout Anquan Boldin. Entering his 11th season, Boldin will be leaned on to carry this young corps of developing receivers. If he becomes Colin Kaepernick’s go-to receiver, he will be a favorite for offensive player of the year.
But by the looks of the offseason, the football will belong to one player in 2013:
“Seemingly unstoppable…” –Matt Maiocco, CSN Bay Area
“By far the most consistent deep threat…” –Matt Barrows, The Sacramento Bee
“He’s really taken it up to another level…” –Greg Roman, 49ers offensive coordinator
The buildup to Vernon Davis’ 2013 campaign reads like the coming attractions to an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster. According to reports from camp, it appears as if the 49ers tight end will have a starring role alongside quarterback Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco’s version of The Empire Strikes Back.
Kap and Davis have stolen the show in the offseason, forming a vibrant on-field hook-up that is grounded on their complementary skill sets. It’s simple really: Kap loves throwing the deep ball and Davis is a physical mismatch with veteran know-how to get behind defenses on a consistent basis.
On top of that, offensive acumen and an evolution toward big-play passing will ensure that this partnership thrives from Week 1 on in 2013.
As the alpha receiver representing for San Francisco, Davis will greatly prosper from Kaepernick’s MVP-caliber season. Career-wise, No. 85 finally being in a position to utilize his one-of-a-kind athleticism could lead to personal bests across the board, which means over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Davis is a lock for OPOY.
WINNER: Vernon Davis, TE
A lot of the awards thus far have been dedicated to the offensive side of the ball, even though San Francisco’s identity is largely defensive-based. The unit is consistently ranked in the top five, and in the last two seasons, they have led the NFL in Pro Bowl selections.
It all started with inside linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive tackle Justin Smith, who arrived in 2007-08 to lay the foundation for this bunch. Those two set the standard with their heartfelt performances. Then with some fine player analysis by Trent Baalke and Co., the 49ers added pieces like NaVorro Bowman, Donte Whitner, Ahmad Brooks and Tarell Brown.
However, the marquee acquisition came in April of 2011, when the 49ers drafted and developed Missouri pass-rush specialist Aldon Smith—then a down defensive end—into an All-Pro outside linebacker in just two short years.
Now heading into his third year, Smith has a head full of steam and irrefutable knack for arriving at the quarterback. A season ago, San Fran’s premier rush linebacker piled up 19.5 sacks, navigating a remarkable campaign that was once on track to blow up Michael Strahan’s single-season record.
Smith played out of his mind in his first year as a starter, single-handedly dismantling passing attacks with his presence in the backfield. There was even a stretch from Weeks 7-14 where he was hitting on all cylinders, averaging 2.3 sacks per game until he tore his labrum.
If that dominating seven-week stretch translated to a full 16-game schedule, Smith’s high rate of efficiency would have seen him finish with 36.8 sacks, absolutely shattering Strahan’s mark set with the Giants in 2001 (22.5).
This offseason, Aldon Smith told Clark Judge of CBS Sports that 30 sacks is achievable and he wants to see how high he can go.
WINNER: Aldon Smith, LB