2011 NFL Predictions: 6 San Francisco 49ers Primed to Disappoint This Season
Earlier this week I covered six San Francisco 49ers that are primed to break out this season. The article received a nice, albeit skeptical response.
Today I am going to take on the other end of the spectrum, allowing my skepticism toward a select six 49er players to come to the forefront.
Every team in the NFL has at least one player that continuously underperforms. Expectations run rabid in regards to them progressing and taking the next level. But it doesn't ever seem to happen.
Considering that the San Francisco 49ers have been stuck in mediocrity for almost a decade, they have had their fair share of these characters on their team.
From Jim Druckenmiller and Rashaun Woods, to Kentwan Balmer and Alex Smith; these players continue to frustrate coaches and fans alike.
These player also set franchises back years because they end up becoming busts and a waste of a high draft pick.
The 49ers have a number of players that have failed to live up to previous performances that set the proverbial bar high for them.
These players include rookies, draft picks and veteran additions.
Today, I am going to take a look at six San Francisco 49ers players primed to disappoint this season.
6. Isaac Sopoaga Will Be Making the Transition to the Inside. Will It Work?
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Whether or not you felt former nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin was a player that performed well only in contract years, his loss is going to have a huge impact on the 49ers defensive line in 2011.
Now, under Vic Fangio's new defensive scheme, the 49ers are going to be relying heavily on a relative unknown, Isaac Sopoaga. He has been a member of the 49er defensive line rotation for the last six seasons, only missing one game during that span.
The former Hawaii defensive tackle has been, if nothing else, consistent for San Francisco.
But he has yet to take that next step in becoming an impact player in the league. Sopoaga's career has been a mix of solid play and utter disappointment.
His career highs are as follows:
Not exactly eye-popping numbers. That said defensive tackles in a 3-4 defense usually don't rack up gaudy tackle or sack numbers. They're glorified space-eaters, occupying two offensive lineman in order to allow the linebacking core an easier path to the quarterback or ball carrier.
What worries me the most about Sopoaga's ability to take the next step is the fact that he has been injured most of training camp while trying to get accustomed to the new position.
At 300 pounds he is the perfect physical fit at nose guard for the 3-4 defense. But that doesn't mean his skill set fits the position. Sopoaga tends to get pushed back at the line, isn't great against the run and doesn't get consistent pressure on the quarterback.
All essential performance traits of the top nose tackles.
The San Francisco 49ers have been extremely strong in rush defense over the last few seasons, but the loss of Aubrayo Franklin may have a larger impact than people think.
If Sopoaga doesn't perform up to expectations, there does remain a possibility that either Ricky Jean-Francois or undrafted rookie Ian Williams could take over in the middle of the line.
Either way, this would seem to be a make or break season for Sopoaga in San Francisco. And I am not completely sold on his ability to improve.
5. Shawntae Spencer Continues to Prove Skeptics Right.
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After a breakout first couple of seasons in the NFL, Shawntae Spencer has regressed a great deal in terms of coverage. It seems that his confidence is lacking, and injuries are starting to catch up with the former second round pick.
I can only assume that the San Francisco 49ers attempted to find a replacement for Spencer as their No. 2 corner this offseason, but came up empty.
He is a liability in coverage, takes bad angles on the ball and isn't the surest of tacklers. Three deficiencies you don't want to see in a starting NFL corner.
Spencer had his best season as a pro in 2005 season that saw him: start 14 games, record four interceptions and defend a whopping 19 passes. Those are near Pro Bowl level statistics for a corner.
He has started all 32 games over the last two seasons but has recorded 19 passes defended combined. Definitely not awe-inspiring numbers from a starting corner in the NFL who had once seemed on a sure-fire track to success.
The former Pitt Panther tends to get turned around a lot on hitches and slants, which enables opponents to pick on him easily.
Additionally, Spencer is better in off-coverage schemes rather then the press-coverage that Vic Fangio likes to utilize with his 3-4 defense.
Another aspect of Spencer's inability to revert back to old-form is that fact that he has missed the entire training camp. This is not a good sign for a player that is attempting to impress new coaches in a completely new scheme.
The San Francisco 49ers have a couple of younger corners who could step into the starting role is Spencer continues to falter. Both Tramaine Brock and Tarell Brown, who started against the Oakland Raiders last week, played pretty well.
The 49ers also have Phillip Adams and Chris Culliver on the roster, who are young, talented corners with a tremendous amount of upside.
4. Dashon Goldson Comes Back to San Francisco as a Last Resort.
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I am not sure that most NFL observers are as high on Dashon Goldson as he is on himself.
Of course, I am being a little tongue and cheek here, but the reality remains that Goldson is somewhat of a enigma around the Bay Area—especially in the view of 49er fans.
He broke out in 2009, recording nearly 100 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, three forced fumbles and six passes defended. This is when Goldson anointed himself "The Hawk" (see his Twitter account).
While Goldson made some big plays in 2009 the "consistency factor" was never there.
He struggled at times in coverage, took bad reads on offensive formations and seemed a bit lost in the back-end of the secondary.
These struggles were magnified last season when Goldson's game was void of the big plays that he had relied on in the past...
He forced only one turnover and put up only a pedestrian five passes defended as the starting free safety. More often than not, Goldson was a tremendous liability in the passing game and forced San Francisco to double down over the top and shadow him with another defender.
Those are major issues when it comes to having to stop that pass up the middle. Free safeties need to be able to handle tight ends and slot receivers up the middle one on one.
Goldson wasn't able to do this.
3. Parys Haralson Is Wildly Inconsistent. Can He Step Up in 2011? Not Likely
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After putting up a career-high eight sacks in 2008, Haralson has combined for only nine sacks over the last two seasons. He has been inconsistent in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback, and followers of the San Francisco 49ers are losing patience.
You cannot be a starting outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense if you don't put consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.
It really is that simple.
Parys Haralson did look good against the Oakland Raiders last weekend but he will probably follow that up with a sub-par performance against the Houston Texans this weekend. That has been is M.O. over the last two seasons.
The 49ers have Ahmad Brooks ready to take over the starting spot for Haralson, while Antwan Applewhite even seems to be a more stable presence in the front seven.
San Francisco will get a tremendous amount of pressure from rookie Aldon Smith on the other side, but they need someone to step up opposite him.
I am losing confidence that Haralson will be that guy.
2. Anthony Davis Continues to Struggle in Most Aspects of the Game.
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The San Francisco 49ers 2010 first round pick in 2010 struggled a great deal during his rookie season. These struggles included below-average pass protection and a tremendous amount of penalties.
Listen, Davis is still incredibly young at 21, but these issues need to be fixed in order for him to take the next step.
Consistency seems to be a continuing theme in this article, but it is an important aspect of a player's ability to succeed in the NFL. Simply said, Davis is far too inconsistent to be relied on to protect Alex Smith.
He has horrible lateral movement which is going to get him in trouble against speed rushers on the outside. Davis doesn't have NFL caliber technique at this point either.
Additionally, the former Rutgers standout hasn't appeared a changed man over the first two games of the 2011 preseason.
Some of that has to do with his inability to work with the coaching staff during the lockout. Five weeks of training camp really isn't going to do what Davis needs in order to improve.
The 49ers have Alex Boone waiting in the wings and he has been a much better tackle during the pre-season. so there remains a possibility that he ends up replacing Davis at some point this season.
Moving forward I believe that Anthony Davis projects better as a guard in the NFL, which isn't a great sign considering he was the 11th overall pick of the 2010 draft.
1. Michael Crabtree Needs to Show He Was Worth the No. 10 Overall Selection
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Michael Crabtree began his San Francisco career by holding out deep into the 2009 season.
That really isn't a way to endear yourself to a fan base.
He hasn't played in a preseason games in three NFL seasons due to the holdout and a combination of different injuries—the most recent a recurring foot injury.
The 49ers have been desperate to find that No. 1 receiver that they have been lacking since Terrell Owens left for Philadelphia. But Crabtree is no Owens, Jerry Rice or John Taylor for that matter.
Perhaps he could be a dependable receiver, but he hasn't shown the mentality to perform week-in, week-out.
After surprising many skeptics during his extremely solid 2009 rookie season:
—48 receptions, 625 yards and two touchdowns—
Crabtree seemed to regress a bit last season. He averaged a little over three receptions per game and took a nose-dive towards the end of the season, only compiling 24 receptions during the final half of the year.
This season Crabtree has been pushed down the depth chart at wide receiver due to the signing of Braylon Edwards and has missed the entire training camp.
These are not good signs for a player learning a new offense. He was pegged to thrive in new Coach Jim Harbaugh's West Coast scheme, which once saw Steve Young combine with Jerry Rice to devastating effect.
I highly doubt you are going to see Crabtree live up to his pre-draft potential in the NFL. It is highly unlikely that he will break the 1,000 yard barrier in 2011 and I have hard time seeing him as a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Unlike many journalists that follow the 49ers, I am not rooting against Crabtree. I just have a hard time understanding his mentality after being such a dynamic receiver in college.
Maybe the "Texas Tech Spread offense syndrome" has begun to seep from its quarterbacks in the pros onto the wide receivers.