The San Francisco 49ers hope to avenge their Super Bowl loss in the upcoming season. However, has this team reached its collective potential?
How can an already great team get even better? Well, through stunning performances by unexpected players, of course.
In every season, teams have breakout players who shock the NFL world. While some are expected to improve, a handful of players come out of left field.
The 49ers are no exception.
While this is one of the more talented rosters, improvements could definitely be made.
Here are five 49ers poised for a breakout season in 2013-14.
LaMichael James had a quiet rookie season before emerging as a key contributor in the playoffs. Backup running back Kendall Hunter went down with a serious injury, which opened the door for James late in the season.
While James played well in the latter half of the season last year, his role will be limited with the return of Frank Gore and a healthy Kendall Hunter.
With this in mind, how did James make this list? Special teams is the name of the game.
He will emerge as a fantastic returner and has already shown flashes of being an explosive playmaker in space. While the 49ers will still use him in situational downs, his role for the upcoming season will largely be based around his ability on special teams.
The 49ers have experimented with this role in the preseason with mixed results. James has had trouble with fumbles, which is concerning, but I don't foresee this to be a nagging issue.
If James is handed the role, he could provide just the jolt the 49ers need on special teams. As many people noticed last season, the special teams unit fell off a bit after a fantastic 2011 season.
In a shocking transaction, San Francisco shipped A.J. Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for Jonathan Baldwin. I still believe Jenkins is a good player; however, I'm much higher on Baldwin, who was also a former first-round selection.
More importantly, this trade opens the door for another receiver to emerge: Kyle Williams.
Williams has always been an intriguing talent in my eyes, but his small stature is concerning. Receivers who fall below that 6'0" threshold usually get banged up, which isn't a surprise.
However, if he can stay healthy, look for a solid season from the fourth-year receiver. He has the speed and smarts to be a nice complement to Anquan Boldin.
In most eyes, Alex Boone isn't a usual breakout candidate. Any Niners fan will tell you that Boone solidified the 49ers offensive line last season.
He was one of those players who came out of left field.
The right guard position was in flux after Adam Snyder departed to the Arizona Cardinals, which left the 49ers to rely on the inexperienced Daniel Kilgore or injured third-round selection, Joe Looney.
The 49ers then decided to make a position switch for Boone. Instead of playing tackle, he would make the move inside to guard.
It's been peaches and roses since the switch.
He emerged into a fantastic prospect at right guard. Some would argue that he deserved a Pro Bowl invite for his 2012 performance.
However, the best is yet to come. He has the potential to be an All-Pro at guard, which was unimaginable two seasons ago.
The 49ers have one heck of a guard combo with Mike Iupati and Boone leading the charge.
The 49ers pass rush waned toward the end of last season, but the Niners could receive a boost from a now healthy Parys Haralson.
Before Aldon Smith was terrorizing offensive linemen, Haralson lined up opposite Ahmad Brooks as the starter at outside linebacker. While Haralson wasn't a versatile pass-rusher like Smith, he was a force as a run stopper.
Haralson would have eventually lost his starting gig, but the 49ers did miss his presence along the rotation.
His return to the defensive line should give the 49ers some needed depth at end in a four-man front or off the edge at OLB. In addition, the 49ers gain another great run defender off the pine.
Haralson may not reach double-digit sacks as a sort of sixth man, but he will make a huge impact for a team in desperate need of some depth along the defensive line.
Ian Williams will look to replace both Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois at nose tackle for the 49ers. While Sopoaga and Jean-Francois brought some experience at the position, I love Williams' upside.
He is both strong and light-footed for an interior lineman, which should bode well in Vic Fangio's defense. The defensive coordinator is known for loving more agile and athletic linemen at the nose position.
At just 305 pounds, Williams fits the bill perfectly. He can hold the point of attack and give some much needed pressure up the middle of the pocket.
We saw a taste of his potential in the loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 1 of the preseason. He was fantastic at collapsing the pocket and opening up lanes for the 49ers 'backers.
Trent Baalke did a great job of re-signing Williams this offseason before a potential breakout season this year.