San Francisco 49ers: Power Ranking the 5 Most Indispensable Players of 2011
For the first time since the 2002 season, the San Francisco 49ers are bound for the playoffs. At 10-3, the 49ers have run away with the NFC West division title and are now playing for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Their defense is one of the best in the league. While the offense won't light up the scoreboard, they possess the tools to move the ball and keep the game close when necessary.
As they prepare to make their first playoff run in nine seasons, let us take a look at the players who have played the biggest roles in getting the Niners back to the postseason.
5. Vernon Davis
The 49ers drafted Vernon Davis No. 6 overall in 2006. After a slow start to his career, he finally broke out in 2009 totalling 965 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Although Davis' yardage totals are down in comparison to 2009 and 2010, his versatility makes him a force to be reckoned with.
He possesses the size and strength to work as a run blocker. He can catch screens and short-yardage passes, turning them into big gains. His size and speed also make him a mid-range to deep-receiving threat against undersized defenders.
4. David Akers
David Akers is conceivably the 49ers most important free-agent acquisition in recent years.
Akers has a career 82.3 percent field goal success rate—13th all time among active kickers—and spent the majority of his career kicking in the swirling winds of Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.
He brings playoff and big-game experience along with the ability to be successful in bad weather. His league leading 135 points has been critical this season, given the team's consistent ineffectiveness in the red zone.
With the potential of traveling to Green Bay in the playoffs, Akers will certainly be called upon to perform.
3. Ted Ginn, Jr.
Football is a battle of field position. This is especially true with an offense that has struggled at times to move the ball down the field.
Originally a No. 1 pick by the Dolphins in 2007, Ted Ginn has made a huge impact on special teams for the Niners. His 28.1 yards per kick return is ranked second in the NFL, and he is ranked fourth in yards per punt return with 12.3 yards.
Ginn's speed and ability to gain yardage after the initial hit gives him the opportunity to make big plays. The offense will benefit from the short fields given to them by Ginn and the special teams unit when facing tough playoff defenses.
2. Patrick Willis
Four Pro Bowl selections, four All-Pro selections and a 2007 Defensive Rookie of the Year award tells you how important Patrick Willis is.
In just his fifth season, Willis has become the field general and backbone of this stingy defense. From 2007 to 2009, Willis ranked in the top two in tackles each year and finished 10th in 2010. He is on pace for his fifth season of 100 tackles or more.
Willis' ferocity and sideline-to-sideline mobility is among the best in the league. He controls the middle of the field and has been the primary reason that the 49ers' defense has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season.
Willis' ability to control the middle of the field will be vital to the 49ers' success against dangerous offensive units like that of the Saints and Packers.
1. Frank Gore
Frank Gore is the engine in this offense and has been for most of his career. He passed the 1,000-yard mark this season for the fifth time in his seven-year career.
In Coach Harbaugh's West Coast offense, Gore gets the offense going, running between the tackles. He opens up the offense's ability for play-action passes and for throwing the deep ball.
While he won't burn you with his speed, he evades would-be tacklers and avoids being taken down upon initial contact. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and serve as an outlet on check-downs by quarterback Alex Smith.
Staying healthy has been Gore's Achilles' heel in recent seasons. Barring injury, Gore should be able to keep this offense moving deep into the postseason.