The San Francisco 49ers are on the right track after back to back victories against the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans. Fighting through a slough of injuries that include Patrick Willis, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, the 49ers demonstrated depth, versatility, and desire to be postseason contenders so far this season.
However, depth only goes so far, and some players on the current roster are vital to the team’s success; this article will examine key 49ers currently suiting up for game day and settle on an irreplaceable player (determined by yours truly) who the team simply can’t afford to loose given their situation this season.
Some teams in the league have truly indispensable players. The Detroit Lions thrive on Calvin Johnson’s ability to succeed under double coverage, and the openings for other players that the focus on Johnson creates. The Minnesota Vikings lean heavily on Adrian Peterson’s elite running game. The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos would be in deep trouble without Tom Brady or Payton Manning.
Entering this season, I would have predicted that Collin Kaepernick was the 49ers key guy. However injuries upon injuries to wide receivers have limited Kaepernick’s play. Kaepernick is still a key piece of the 49ers because opposing teams need to gameplan for his running ability. Further, teams know that they have to cover Anquan Boldin (mostly) and company or else Kaep has the arm to make them play. Kaepernick should have Mario Manningham back by Week 10, and possibly could reunite with Michael Crabtree this season . As of right now, Kaepernick is a key 49er, but so are the majority of starting quarterbacks in the league, given his lack of passing options and the 49ers dominant running game he isn’t the most irreplaceable.
Now I know what you might be thinking: “could Frank Gore be the 49ers key player?” No, he is not. Frank Gore’s running has dictated the 49ers win/loss record so far this season. Last week I wrote about the correlation between Gore’s carries and the 49ers’ wins. Simply put, Gore has roughly double the carries/game in wins compared to losses. Gore is another key piece to the team, but with backups Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James the team could go on without Gore.
On the defensive side, the 49ers have lost key players due to injuries and off the field activities. Hopefully, Aldon Smith can overcome his off-field issues and become a model citizen. Right now it is very uncertain what his future holds, but Aldon Smith possesses the ability to be one of the best pass rushers in the league. Justin Smith was responsible for Aldon’s incredible rookie year, and is another important piece to the 49ers team. Justin’s strength and motor cause trouble for opponents, even whithout Aldon. He clogs up running lanes, occupies multiple blockers, and has the drive bullrush his blocker into the quarterback.
It was difficult not picking Justin Smith as the 49ers most irreplaceable player, but NaVorro Bowman’s leadership and play in the wake of Patrick Willis’s groin injury solidified his importance in my mind.
While he only ranked 85th in the NFL’s top 100 players poll, keep in mind that he was overshadowed by Patrick Willis. Willis has been in the league for seven dominating years, compared to Bowman’s four.The duo will go down in history as one of the 49ers very best middle linebacking duos. Bowman demonstrated his capability in the past when Willis was injured, but NaVorro’s leadership in Willis’s recent absence makes him irreplaceable in the immediate future for the 49ers.
Bowman can stop the run, pressure the quarterback and cover wide receivers, comment if you feel someone else on the team is more important at this point in the season.