People want to know: Will Greg Roman and the offensive staff write in these auxiliary players or are they going to continue to leave them alone?
Personnel-wise, the 49ers pose the threat of not only being the most balanced, but the deepest offense in the postseason. However, the staff has made no real attempt to blend the surrounding cast in with the heroes on offense.
Their demeanor and their team philosophy suggests they are more concerned about the long-term development of these younger prospects rather than their ability to contribute right now.
Outside of San Francisco’s top two receivers, its alien of a tight end and its featured back, it is possible Quinton Patton, Vance McDonald, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are all complete non-factors.
Ideally, you’d like to see the 49ers enhance their roles, so they can function as outlets when the stars are covered, but there’s a risk/reward to having them on the field.
The upside is that they are new fiery weapons that the team has invested in.
Looking at their backgrounds, they’re all capable of making plays and are eager to do so. But they’re inexperienced and not likely to make a play that changes a game for the 49ers (at least not positively). So far, McDonald has had a minor hands issue, while James has been known to fumble the ball or get dropped at the line of scrimmage.
Then there's Hunter, the primary backup running back, who is arguably the 49ers’ best player no one sees enough of. So it's not all justified.
But even without them, San Francisco can field one of the most competitive offenses if it can consistently distribute touches and find the open man. At every key position, the Niners have a proven veteran that can carry the load on any given week. They can set the tempo and pick and choose which way they’re going to beat their opponent.
With wideout Anquan Boldin complementing the homegrown trio (shown above), there is no shortage of weapons there, as opposed to years passed.
Analyzing the totality of the skill players heading into the postseason, most other teams just don’t even compete. Here is a rough sketch of the playmakers from the current NFC playoff teams:
Panthers: Steve Smith (WR), Ted Ginn Jr. (WR), Brandon Lafell (WR), Greg Olsen (TE) and Jonathan Stewart (RB)
Saints: Jimmy Graham (TE), Marques Colston (WR), Lance Moore (WR), Kenny Stills (WR), Darren Sproles (RB) and Pierre Thomas (RB)
Seahawks: Golden Tate (WR), Jermaine Kearse (WR), Doug Baldwin (WR), Zach Miller (TE) and Marshawn Lynch (RB)
Eagles: Desean Jackson (WR), Riley Cooper (WR), Zach Ertz (TE), Brent Celek (TE) and LeSean McCoy (RB)
Bears: Brandon Marshall (WR), Alshon Jeffery (WR), Martellus Bennett (TE) and Matt Forte (RB)
Outside of the Saints, none of these teams have star power at every position—and even New Orleans isn’t equally as strong at all three skill positions.
The Chicago Bears are strong on the points, but they don’t have a very commanding presence at tight end. Carolina plays it tough, but the Panthers have been more about effort and execution than talent. Teams that can take away their running game and pressure Cam Newton can shut that offense down.
And the Eagles, well, they’re as shorthanded as it gets for a playoff team.
Who compares to the 49ers' base lineup?
But getting back to our point, not one of these teams is nearly as deep as San Francisco (even though none of them have caught a TD outside of the top three).
The word from Mike Sando of ESPN was that the Seahawks would have nabbed Vance McDonald had the 49ers not traded up to take him, probably to compete for the starting role. Running back LaMichael James was Mel Kiper’s No. 2-rated running back in the 2012 draft after third overall pick Trent Richardson.
Praised for his natural receiving ability, Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton earned a fairly unanimous second-round grade from the draft community.
Building through April’s draft, the 49ers have accrued an entire set of offensive skill players in training beneath the No. 1s—many of which are projected to have sizable roles in the future. But alas, the snag is that all of these other teams currently use their no-names better than the 49ers use their high draft picks.
Have the 49ers seen something in practice that we haven’t? Are they going to risk working these guys in when the season is on the line? Or will they snub the possible reward and take the safe route, relying on their top guys to anchor them through the final weeks and into the postseason?
This decision will reveal itself sooner rather than later.
If the targets don’t change, the 49ers are going to ride it out with the vets. However, if they begin to show new things with their scheme and work in some of the supporting players that haven’t received a lot of field time, then look out.
This may become an offense that can attack every part of the field and always find a way to gain positive yardage.