Every team has important players, and those players come together and try to bring a team a championship.
The San Francisco 49ers were carried by a few players during the 2012 season, and those players carried the 49ers all the way to Super Bowl 47. Even though the 49ers lost, they embarked on a remarkable 19-game journey with twists, turns and incredible performances.
Which players turned in big performances and which players are bound to play key roles in 2013? Here are the 49ers’ most important players.
The quarterback is always an extremely important player, and that statement is certainly justified with San Francisco’s signal-calling prodigy. Kaepernick brought a new element to the 49er offense when he took the reins, as the 49ers averaged a spectacular 28.8 points per game (PPG) with Kaepernick at the helm (including the postseason). In the postseason, the 49ers averaged a tremendous 34.7 PPG.
Oh, and Kaepernick averaged 8.32 yards per passing attempt, more than any other qualifying starter.
The 49ers offense completely changed with Kaepernick, and defenses were completely baffled by the throwing ability Kaepernick possesses (he threw for more than 230 yards in all three playoff games and completed 16 of 21 passes against Atlanta) and the exceptional running threat he is (Kaepernick shattered a rushing record with 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers).
Kaepernick is entering his third year, so he isn’t done growing (as a player). If Kaepernick can play as well as he did in 2012 while protecting the ball (Kaepernick threw five interceptions in about 11 total games), the 49ers will thrive again. However, if defenses figure him out or he struggles, the 49ers will go down with him.
San Francisco no longer runs solely on defense, and Kaepernick is the centerpiece of a high-profile offense. The 49ers are a great team, but without Kaepernick, it will be hard for them to succeed.
And without Kaepernick, the 49ers wouldn’t be the same at all.
Secondary: Tarell Brown and Nnamdi Asomugha
Defensive back Tarell Brown may not be one of the 49ers’ best-known players, but he is a very important one. And Nnamdi Asomugha will assume another critical role for the 49ers.
San Francisco’s secondary was torched during the postseason, as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan carved it up en route to six combined touchdown passes and almost 700 combined passing yards. Carlos Rogers was a liability, Chris Culliver struggled, Dashon Goldson got beaten deep and Donte Whitner didn’t make a positive impact.
Brown, on the other hand, stepped up and performed well. He surrendered one touchdown in the NFC Championship, but on that play, his coverage was stellar (Matt Ryan’s throw was better, though). Brown stayed with his man and made some spectacular plays during the playoffs, and he intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the Divisional Round. Brown had another interception taken away by a questionable call against the Packers, so he was close to having two playoff interceptions.
Asomugha struggled in 2011 and 2012 with the Philadelphia Eagles, as he failed to live up to his lucrative five-year, $60 million contract. However, Asomugha, who thrives in one-on-one press coverage, was signed to a cheap one-year, $3 million deal in San Francisco. He should thrive in his return to the Bay Area, as he was a force with the Raiders. From 2008-2010, his last three years with the Raiders, Asomugha was targeted just 98 times, showing that he can lock down receivers and force quarterbacks to go elsewhere.
If Asomugha works his way into the starting defense, Brown and Asomugha can play opposite each other. Brown, who recorded 56 tackles and defensed 14 passes in 2012, is a guy who rarely lets his receiver break free. Julio Jones racked up an incredible 182 receiving yards against the 49ers, but former safety Dashon Goldson was to blame for lots of those yards (and a meaningless desperation pass also helped boost Jones’ total). Brown gave up some short gains, but did a nice job on Jones.
Brown and Asomugha are both good defensive backs, and both can make good plays on the ball and can lock down receivers. if Asomugha, who is 31 years old, can revert to his Oakland ways, the 49ers can almost take one receiver out of the equation while stopping another one from big gains.
However, Asomugha isn’t young anymore, and Brown isn’t invincible. 14 passes defensed isn’t incredible, as Seattle’s Richard Sherman defensed 24. Brown was good in some games, and as Niners Nation noted here, Brown dominated the Arizona Cardinals and has the potential to be a top-flight defensive back. However, potential isn’t everything.
If Asomugha, who intercepted just one pass in 2012, can perform like he did in Oakland, and Brown can step up, San Francisco will have a strong secondary. The secondary was the biggest weakness during the playoffs, and the secondary struggles led to San Francisco’s downfall. However, if Asomugha and Brown step up, the 49ers’ defense can become close to perfect.
Offensive Line: Anthony Davis
And Colin Kaepernick sure has a talented offensive line.
Anthony Davis, Joe Staley, Alex Boone, Mike Iupati and Jonathan Goodwin make up San Francisco’s spectacular offensive line, one that did a great job protecting Kaepernick and run blocking. According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers’ offensive line was the best at run blocking. Their adjusted sack rate was a poor 8.5 percent, but Alex Smith, who started nine games, wasn’t exactly the best at avoiding sacks.
During the Super Bowl, the 49ers offensive line had some troubles, and Davis, who was locked up to a five-year, $37 million extension, was beaten a few times. The offensive line wasn’t the most consistent, but Frank Gore benefited from the offensive line (especially Joe Staley). Kaepernick did as well, as the offensive line did a nice job executing Kaepernick’s option plays.
Davis is the key for the offensive line. One bad player can break the whole offensive line, especially on passes. If Davis can’t live up to his hefty contract, he will cost the 49ers in money and in production. Kaepernick will obviously perform better if the offensive line steps up, and he’s going to need Davis.
Staley has been consistent, and even with an arm injury against the Packers during the playoffs, he contained star linebacker Clay Matthews. Iupati, a Pro Bowler in 2012, had a nice postseason, and Goodwin and Boone weren’t bad either. Davis had a great season and a very good NFC Championship, and he came a long way from his 2011 struggles.
According to Bay Area Sports Guy, 49er running backs averaged 5.31 yards per carry when running to the right side (without a lead blocking fullback or tight end), which was remarkably more than two yards (per carry) higher than San Francisco’s 2011 mark. This shows how much Boone, who had a stellar 97.1 pass blocking efficiency rating in 2012, has impacted the line, and how much Davis has improved.
It’s likely that the Super Bowl was just one bump in the road for Davis, and it’s likely that he comes back hungry and ready to stabilize the offensive line. The 49er offensive line is full of potential, and if the five lineman can come together and put together another great season, it will definitely be a big help for the 49ers.
But if not, it’s going to hurt Kaepernick, the offense and the team’s Super Bowl chances