Grading Every San Francisco 49ers Starter's 2013 Regular Season

Dylan DeSimoneCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2013

Grading Every San Francisco 49ers Starter's 2013 Regular Season

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    "The team, the team, the team" is how the San Francisco 49ers get wins, or at least that's what coach Jim Harbaugh would tell you. He would know, too, having led the once-desolate franchise to three straight double-digit-win seasons and playoff appearances, which is a club record.

    With Harbaugh and the staff he has assembled, San Francisco has done its best to squeeze optimal performances out of this talent-laden roster.  

    This season, despite the obstacles, the 49ers achieved a 12-4 record and put on several dominating displays and last-minute thrillers. A lot of the star players took their careers to new heights, while other players emerged from the depths. 

    And of course, there were those who didn't quite live up to their potential. 

    Now that the regular season is over and we finally have a chance to exhale and put things in perspective, it's time to take a look at who really showed up and who didn't. Here is a season-in-review for the San Francisco 49ers of 2013, complete with individual analysis and grades.  

     

    Grading criteria:

    1. Expectations: Some players can look really good out there, but how much did they leave on the field?
    2. Statistics: If you were blanked, booming or something in between, this plays a significant role as to how a player is graded.
    3. Impact: Stats are great and all, but did those yards come in garbage time or on a 3rd-and-long? The clutch value factors in here.
    4. Consistency: One big play can change a game, but consistency down to down can make sure you win it. Who was bringing it on every play?

     

    Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference and the San Francisco 49ers, unless specified otherwise. (*) Denotes a Pro Bowl selection.

Quarterback

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    Colin Kaepernick: A-

    We saw two versions of Colin Kaepernick this season, which throws a kink into this grading system.

    But if you are one who accounts for variables such as poor play-calling, injuries and an evolving system, as well as missing a featured piece in the offense in wide receiver Michael Crabtree, you’ll understand the fairly exceptional grade the 49ers quarterback receives here.

    He faced adverse circumstances on a weekly basis and still led the 49ers to a 12-4 record. 

    In Kap’s first full season, the NCAA’s all-time dual-threat quarterback (the only FBS quarterback to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards in his college career) planted his flag in NFL history, becoming only the 12th player to throw for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in the same season, via the team's official Twitter.

    And mind you, his stats were watered down in the first 10 games without Crabtree. 

    In the last stretch of regular-season games, Colin Kaepernick threw 10 touchdowns to just one interception, winning six straight and posting QB ratings of 108 or higher in five of those contests. It was an impressive display and reassuring of his ability as a playmaker in the postseason.

Running Back

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    *Frank Gore: A+

    For most of the season, Frank Gore was the one constant in the offense, ranking as one of the league’s top rushers. The 49ers' star tailback was able to rumble for his seventh 1,000-yard season in 2013, building on his illustrious legacy with one of the all-time franchises known for offensive football.

    His nine rushing touchdowns were the second most in a season in his career (10 in 2009, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News). He also achieved 60 rushing TDs in his career this year. When the passing attack couldn’t lift off, it was Gore who was the source of production.

    His numbers, accolades and contributions go far beyond the box score, too. He was also the NFL’s best pass-blocking back this season, slugging attackers that threatened his quarterback. It was also impressive to see Gore run down the field with Kaepernick as a run-blocker, paving the way.

    At the end of the season, the 30-year-old die-hard was voted to the Pro Bowl—his fifth.

     

    Kendall Hunter: B+

    Kendall Hunter had his worst statistical season with the 49ers in terms of total yards, but that has a lot to do with scheme and his manner of utilization. He still had a career high in touchdowns, contributing three to the pot, and he had several explosive runs as a relief back to No. 21.

    When it was all said and done, Hunter averaged over 5.0 yards per carry for the third straight year in red and gold.

     

    LaMichael James: B+

    We’d like to give LaMichael James a grade here, even though his role on offense was non-existent for his second straight season. The fact is, James has been patient and has capitalized on the opportunities that have come his way.

    The most prominent example of which, outside his multiple long outside runs, is the role he solidified for himself as the team’s primary return specialist. Since Kyle Williams was cut, it gave the 49ers reason to get James in the lineup each and every week, and he has made it so he won’t be inactive again.

    He is getting closer to being a bigger part of this team on game day.

     

    Bruce Miller: A+

    Fullback Bruce Miller had one of the best seasons for any player at his position this season, really growing into a complete player. According to the metrics at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was the NFL’s fourth-rated run-blocker, having done an exceptional job clearing lanes for the tailbacks and Colin Kaepernick.

    He also developed his West Coast niche, evolving as a pass-catching option out of the backfield. For much of the season, he was the team’s third-leading receiver and its most important blocker. Overall, Miller had a tremendous campaign in red and gold. It's too bad it was cut short by injury.

     

    Anthony Dixon: C

    Anthony Dixon does two things: special teams and short-yardage runs. He is only good at one, moderately at that, which chops his grade down. Though he is a prominent figure on the Tony Montana squad and in the locker room, when asked to get the short yards, he is far from a sure thing.

    The reason this isn’t a C- or worse is because he has been able to fill in at the fullback position, helping to bail the team out in its time of need.

Tight End

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    *Vernon Davis: A+

    This season put Vernon Davis over a career hump, thrusting him into all-time talk at his position. He hit several milestones in 2013:

    • With 53 career touchdown receptions, Davis is now tied for sixth in NFL history for the most TDs by a tight end.
    • Davis now has the most receiving yards by a tight end in 49ers history and moved into No. 7 all-time in the franchise’s receiving list.
    • Davis is the only tight end in NFL history with multiple 13-plus-touchdown seasons

    He had several dominant performances, proving to be one of the best players at his position in the league and one of the NFL’s most prolific freaks on offense. The 49ers were also 0-3 when he had to leave a game or didn’t play, demonstrating his importance to the team (both as a blocker and a receiver).

    It has been quite a career for Vernon Davis so far, and it seems as if he is just getting warmed up.

     

    Vance McDonald: C-

    Second-round draft choice (No. 55 overall) Vance McDonald, a tight end from Rice, did not live up to the hype in his first season.

    At 6’4", 267 pounds, with big mitts and a 4.69 40-time, his upside as a receiver seemed endless. The Niners could’ve certainly benefitted from a big rebounding tight end to complement Vernon Davis. Unfortunately, McDonald could not find a rhythm with the quarterback and had a bit of a hands problem.

    Nevertheless, he avoids a failing grade here because of his contributions in the run game. 

Wide Receiver

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    Anquan Boldin: A+

    If not for Anquan Boldin, it’s difficult to imagine where the 2013 49ers would be right now. If San Francisco hadn't made that trade, and No. 15 had still gone down, it might be a done deal. That injury might’ve sealed the team’s fate.

    But Boldin, at 33 years young, was able to yield the No. 1 production that most critics doubted he could.

    It was one of the more inspiring performances of any 49er in 2013, as he set an example on the field, kept the chains moving, set the tempo and scored points. His 85 receptions and 1,179 receiving yards were both team highs, giving San Francisco its second 1,000-yard receiver in as many years.

     

    Michael Crabtree: A

    Well, it is safe to say that Michael Crabtree is back from his Achilles and has exceeded expectations for a player returning from that type of injury. He looks faster, stronger and more aggressive.

    Moreover, his chemistry is certainly flowing with Colin Kaepernick again, which has this team back on track offensively. He was its savior and came through when the team was really counting on him to deliver at the end there, restoring balance to the offense.

    He did as well as anyone could’ve anticipated and looks ready for the playoffs.

     

    Mario Manningham: N/A

    Wide receiver Mario Manningham did not have the ideal impact on the offense once he returned from the PUP list, and it appears he did not fully recover from his double-ligament tear from last December. This was an unfortunate turn for Manningham, who was in a contract year and hoping to have a big postseason.

     

    Quinton Patton: N/A

    The 49ers notoriously do not give their young players a chance to get involved. It is a philosophical approach by the organization. Very rarely do they get their young players involved (apart from 2011, when they were rebuilding). On top of that, Patton sustaining a foot fracture and missing most of the season did not help.

    He can redeem himself in the postseason, but as for the season, Patton receives an incomplete grade. (Note: When he did see action, he looked sharp. This could be a player on the rise).

     

    Kassim Osgood:

    As a special teamer, 49ers veteran free-agent signee Kassim Osgood definitely lived up to his billing. He had 10 tackles on the cover team this year and also recovered a muffed punt for a touchdown versus the Tennessee Titans.

Offensive Line

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    *Joe Staley: A+

    Joe Staley had his best season as a 49er, which is saying something, since he was already a perennial Pro Bowler.

    The team’s blindside tackle successfully blanked some of the NFL’s better pass-rushers in 2013, including Bruce Irvin, Calais Campbell and Robert Quinn twice. He’s leaner, quicker and more locked in the zone than ever before. The super-athletic Staley was also a very real presence in the run game, particularly helping on the long perimeter runs down the field.

    He is one of the club’s most important players, particularly on offense.

     

    *Mike Iupati: A-

    Mike Iupati had a Pro Bowl year, earning honors a second time in as many seasons, but it was not his best showing.

    Over the course of the schedule, Iupati did show that he could be a little injury-prone, having to leave games with dents and dings and then missing a slate of games toward the end of the season. But that is just something you get with a player as physical as he is.

    He was also exposed in pass protection at times.

    But overall, Iupati was still that big wrecking ball of a pulling guard, obliterating everything in his path. His role is very important within the confines of this particular offense. This staff loves power football and Iupati makes it work, which demonstrates his importance to this team.

     

    Jonathan Goodwin: B-

    The 35-year-old center looks to be past his prime of a very sharp NFL career—one that saw him win a Super Bowl and participate in another. He is still a dependable starter but he is not the strength of the 49ers O-line. The center allowed the most pressures in his three-year tenure with San Francisco.

    And for a team that likes to pound the football between the hashes, he doesn’t have as much bite as you’d like.

     

    Alex Boone: A

    Alex Boone has been a force in the trenches for the 49ers, finally balancing out the offensive line from left to right.

    He’s a bully, consistently knocking guys off the football and grinding out the tough yardage, even down the field. Not only is Boone a remarkable physical specimen at guard (6’8”, 300 lbs), but he’s also technically sound and he’s an effort guy. He’s brought a lot of value to this offense.

     

    Anthony Davis: A

    First-round talent, veteran polish and an attitude: that’s right tackle Anthony Davis in Year 4. He’s really come together. Even though he’s often forgotten out on that island on the right side, Davis is doing his job as well as anybody on the line. It’s almost a shame he didn’t get Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition.

    He’s dealt with some wily pass-rushers and bruisers in J.J. Watt, Cliff Avril, Dwight Freeney and Chris Long.

Defensive Tackle

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    *Justin Smith: A+

    The man, the myth, the legend: Justin Smith.

    “The Cowboy,” as they call him, had another dominating season for the 49ers at that right defensive tackle spot.

    He led the team in quarterback pressures by a mile and racked up a whopping 7.5 sacks as a 3-4 end, which was the second most in his six-year tenure with San Francisco.

    On top of getting in the quarterback’s grill, Smith remained the run-clogging dynamo up front. He was constantly crashing down on the run and closing lanes before they even had a chance to open up for the running back. Smith also allowed the linebackers behind him to roam free and make plays on the ball-carrier. 

     

    Glenn Dorsey: A

    The 49ers defense was the only unit in the NFL not to allow a 100-yard rusher in 2013, and Dorsey was its most consistent force versus the run. Transitioning to a 3-4 defense, his first season in red and gold was better than anyone could’ve anticipated. He really was a standout in a group of elites.

    As a natural run-stuffer, he fits right into coach Jim Tomsula’s scheme and has really learned to play well in the box that is the 0-technique.

     

    Ray McDonald: A

    49ers left defensive tackle Ray McDonald is one of the unsung heroes on the defensive side of the ball, but his presence matters. Of the Niners defensive linemen, he sets the edge better than anyone, really playing in tandem with outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

    On top of freeing up others, he had a great year collapsing down on the run and rushing the passer (3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles).

     

    Tony Jerod-Eddie: A

    Considering what he is, the 49ers could not have gotten much better results.

    Second-year defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie, an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, absolutely shocked with his performance this year. He stepped up at nose tackle when both Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey were incapacitated, and he made tackles, rushed the passer and even had an interception.

    When Ray McDonald was out and the rookie defensive tackles couldn’t go, Jerod-Eddie started at end and played well in wins. He’s rightfully earned his spot on San Francisco’s active roster.

Linebacker

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    *Patrick Willis: A+

    Inside linebacker Patrick Willis earned Pro Bowl honors for a seventh consecutive season since being drafted in 2007. His 104 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles came despite missing time with injuries (groin). Willis also fractured his hand before the season and kept on grinding.

    He's become synonymous with great NFL linebacking. 

     

    *NaVorro Bowman: A++

    Starting all 16 games, 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman is the team’s MVP of 2013 and arguably a favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. In his third season as a starter, he picked up from where he left off last year and improved, if you can believe it. Bowman’s 145 tackles were the fifth most in the league.

    His big-play and closing ability shined through this year, more than ever, showing why he is so valuable. On top of running down the ball-carrier, Bowman had five sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions, including an 89-yard pick-six to clinch playoff berth.

     

    *Ahmad Brooks: A+

    Another guy stepping up to help fill the void, and in the process taking his own game to new heights, was left outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. His attacking presence was felt nearly every game, as No. 55 was chasing and dragging down quarterbacks, stuffing tailbacks inside and batting down quick passes.

    It was truly a multidimensional performance from the reigning second-team All-Pro.

    In 2013, Brooks also hit career highs in sacks with 8.5 and tackles (60) and had dozens of pressures.

     

    Aldon Smith: B

    All-Pro rush linebacker Aldon Smith only played in 11 games this year and was used very little in games against Indianapolis and Carolina. It wasn’t exactly a model season for the 49er. Nevertheless, in those games, he did manage 8.5 sacks, which is impressive given the circumstances.

     

    Corey Lemonier: B+

    Rookie pass-rusher Corey Lemonier burst onto the scene in Aldon Smith’s absence, constantly wreaking havoc in the backfield. In Week 6 versus the Arizona Cardinals, Lemonier officially introduced himself to the NFL, sacking quarterback Carson Palmer for a safety.

    He’s a natural edge-rusher with potential to be a featured weapon on defense.

     

    Dan Skuta: A-

    Once Aldon Smith had to take a leave of absence, it was veteran special teamer and free-agent acquisition Dan Skuta who was thrust into the starting lineup. It was shocking to see how well he played as a bench player that heard from one team in the offseason. Skuta did an exceptional job in Smith’s absence.

    He was run-stuffing and pass-rushing and even held down a role on special teams, accumulating 28 tackles this year.

Cornerback

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    Carlos Rogers: C-

    By now, it seems safe to assume that this will be Carlos Rogers’ last season with the 49ers.

    When the opposing team generates plays in the air, No. 22 can usually be seen in a trail position in the frame, wobbling and trying to regain his balance while attempting to make the tackle.

    It is a sight all too familiar.

    Granted, Rogers started for a top-three pass defense, but it wasn’t hard to see that he was its weakest link. He was burned several times this year, missed tackles and dropped multiple would-be interceptions. It is really difficult to commend his performance, especially when compared to that of his peers.

     

    Tramaine Brock: A

    Developmental cornerback Tramaine Brock officially broke onto the scene in 2013, which was a big story in San Francisco. This is a player who carried over from the old regime, filling in as a strong depth player, but never really had an opportunity to have a featured role.

    However, once Chris Culliver went down and Nnamdi Asomugha burned out, there was an opportunity for him to shine—and he did. Tramaine Brock was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated cover corner (subscription required) in the NFL this season, playing his way into a new deal and perhaps a starting gig in 2014.

     

    Tarell Brown: B

    Tarell Brown had a very up-and-down season, which was unusual for him given how consistent he’s been over the years.

    Still, he was the team’s second-best cornerback on game day, making the fewest mistakes and displaying his versatility by covering all types of receivers. Brown also displayed his toughness, playing through multiple injuries this year. The Niners DB finished with 32 tackles and 11 pass breakups.

     

    Eric Wright: B

    Eric Wright was a low-risk signing, expected to be an insurance plan or Band-Aid if the 49ers needed it.

    After riding the non-football injury list, he was eventually activated, answering the call to duty and making it so this secondary didn’t miss a beat. He let up a few catches this year, but it was a great debut for the San Francisco native. Wright, 28, has a very good chance of returning in 2014.

Safety

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    Eric Reid: A+

    First-round pick Eric Reid, the banger safety out of LSU, exceeded expectations as a rookie in 2013.

    Coming in to fill in for a departed All-Pro at free safety, Reid plugged in and wound up looking like one himself, causing folks to say, “Dashon who?” In his first season, the roughhousing defensive back finished third on the team in tackles with 77, only behind Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

    Demonstrating his playmaking ability, Reid was also second on the team in interceptions with four. And playing the deep part of the field, Reid was nearly flawless, allowing only one touchdown to get by him all year, and that was in a late-season win over the Atlanta Falcons.

    Eric Reid is a superstar defender in the making.

     

    Donte Whitner: A+

    Hard-hitting. Dependable coverage. In 2013, Donte Whitner was the uber-safety, playing his best ball to date. It was noted in the offseason that he trimmed down and worked on his coverage skills again, going back to fundamentals, but it actually shined through this season.

    Donning a fine-tuned game, Whitner played like a top-five safety this season.

Special Teams

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    Andy Lee: A+

    If there was a special place for punters in the Hall of Fame, Andy Lee would be at the top of the list of current players and perhaps one of the all-timers when it was all said and done.

    He had another spectacular campaign this season, helping the 49ers win the field-position battle in several tight games.

     

    Phil Dawson: A+

    In his first year with the 49ers, place-kicker Phil Dawson set a franchise record with consecutive field goals made (27). He also had four boots from 50-plus yards out (53, 55, 52 and 56 yards). Dawson has been nearly perfect this year, stabilizing a position that plagued the Niners in last year’s playoff run.