Highlighting San Francisco 49ers' Best Preseason Performers so Far

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst IAugust 19, 2014

Highlighting San Francisco 49ers' Best Preseason Performers so Far

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    Tank Carradine has been one of the 49ers' best players this preseason.
    Tank Carradine has been one of the 49ers' best players this preseason.Associated Press

    Lost in the San Francisco 49ers' two blowout losses in the preseason have been a few standout performers. 

    And most have come from the defensive side of the ball. 

    That's because San Francisco's offense has scored just three points and turned the ball over seven times. With the struggles of the running game, you won't be seeing an offensive linemen on this list. And it goes without saying that the quarterback play, especially from the backups, doesn't warrant any inclusions. 

    Among the few who just missed the cut are Michael Wilhoite (14 tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss), Chris Cook (one interception) and Jimmie Ward (nine tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed). 

    Wilhoite has been productive, but he hasn't consistently shed blockers or taken proper angles to ball-carriers. Ward and Cook have both had their moments, but one other defensive back has been even better. And that's whom I'll start with.

Kenneth Acker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Late in Sunday's game against Denver, Bay Area Sports Guy wrote that Acker has been the "49ers exhibition season MVP."

    The sixth-round pick was one of the lone bright spots against the Denver Broncos

    In the third quarter, Acker expertly defended a Greg Wilson post pattern and broke up Zac Dysert's pass (shown in the picture above). 

    Four plays later, he picked off a deflected Dysert pass, but the interception was nullified due to an offsides penalty on Aaron Lynch.

    Overall, Acker was given a plus-2.3 coverage grade by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which is the highest grade a 49ers defensive back has earned in the preseason. Meanwhile, Dontae Johnson, who was drafted two rounds before Acker, was burned by Cody Latimer on a 33-yard touchdown pass. 

    Another strong performance against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday should earn Acker a spot on the 53-man roster. 

Carlos Hyde

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Hyde has looked the part of a starting-caliber running back through two preseason games. 

    Against the Baltimore Ravens, he rushed for 39 yards on five carries. Twice he showed explosive burst to get to the outside. He also demonstrated his power by breaking an arm tackle for a seven-yard gain on his first NFL run. 

    All it took was those five carries to prove to me that he's ready to be Frank Gore's primary backup. 

    Against Denver, he was bottled up for 11 yards on four carries. But he looked comfortable catching a Colin Kaepernick pass in the flat for a nine-yard gain. 

    He has the potential to be an every-down back. His versatility will be very valuable if Frank Gore, 31, misses time due to injury or loses a step this season. 

Tank Carradine

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Carradine is simply too explosive to leave off the field. 

    In two preseason games, he's notched two tackles for loss and a sack. He nearly had another sack against the Broncos, easily beating Denver's left guard with a quick move to the outside and slamming Brock Osweiler to the ground, But the third-year quarterback got rid of the ball to his check-down receiver at the last second.

    In the regular season, the 49ers are going to use Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks to rush the passer in their 4-2-5 nickel package. But there's one defensive tackle spot open for pass-rushing situations. 

    Carradine has the potential to take Ray McDonald's spot in those situations.

    And with Aldon Smith expected to be suspended for the beginning of the regular season, Carradine may get some reps at defensive end, where he played the majority of his snaps at Florida State.

    If Carradine lives us to his predraft billing, the Niners would have an argument for the best pass-rushing front four in the NFL.

Quinton Dial

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dial was San Francisco's defensive star in the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, accumulating 10 tackles. Pro Football Focus rated him a plus-3.4, which is the highest grade any 49ers defensive player received in the team's two exhibition games. 

    Against Denver, he was far less effective, notching just three stops. However, he was one of just three defensive players to total over 50 snaps, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee

    With Glen Dorsey out for the season, Dial has a chance to play a significant role as a rotational defensive linemen. 

    Rookie Mike Purcell has also shown flashes of talent, but to this point Dial looks to be ahead of him in the pecking order. 

Bruce Ellington

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Ellington has earned his spot on this slideshow for his returning performance. 

    He's averaging 29.5 yards per kickoff return on his four attempts. He also had a 21-yard punt return against the Ravens negated due to a holding penalty. 

    LaMichael James recently ditched his elbow brace, as CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reported. James should be ready for game reps soon. He and Ellington are competing for the punt return duties.

    At the very least, Ellington gives the 49ers offensive coaches options. If James isn't getting the job done, Jim Harbaugh can turn to the rookie with confidence. 

    “(I) thought Bruce Ellington had a heck of a good game,” Harbaugh said after Sunday's loss, per Tyler Emerick of 49ers.com.

    The rookie wide receiver has also chipped in offensively. He's leading the team in catches (seven) and receiving yards (59) in the preseason.