After a roller coaster start to the season, things have slowed down for the 49ers. They’ve returned to their physical domination, and now find themselves in the middle of a division race, currently holding a wild card spot as well. They are relevant once again, and teams are now fearing a matchup with the defending NFC Champions.
After a 27-7 loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts in Week three, there was worry everywhere, with the masses wondering if this team was worth all the preseason hype. It was a tough climb back to success, but with the help of some key players, the 49ers are again Super Bowl worthy. Here are my Top 5 49ers of 2013 through the first six weeks of the NFL season.
1.) Anquan Boldin
Season: — 29 Receptions — 421 Yards — 2 Touchdowns
Projected: — 77 Receptions — 1,123 Yards — 5 Touchdowns
Where would the 49ers be this season without Anquan Boldin? Boldin has been the most important part of the 49ers offense this season, and is the sole reason the team didn’t start 0-3. Boldin put together one of the greatest 49ers wide receiver performances of all-time against the Packers in Week one, racking up 208 yards on 13 receptions, adding a key score in the game on a crossing route.
Boldin is more than a pass catcher, also providing key blocks for the now thriving run game. He is an ageless wonder, and improves his play in crucial moments. Should the 49ers fulfill their quest for six in 2013, it will be due to the outstanding play of their veteran leader.
While tight end Vernon Davis’ stats are more eye-popping, his play has benefited greatly from the double-teams that Boldin faces instead of himself. It is never easy to narrow down a field of quality players to just one, but to this point, Boldin has to be considered the top 49er of 2013.
2.) Frank Gore
Season: — 103 Carries — 477 Yards — 3 Touchdowns
Projected: — 275 Carries — 1,272 Yards — 8 Touchdowns
There isn’t a more intelligent running back in the NFL. Frank has the best vision in the league – continuing to defy age – as his ability lies with his heart and savvy, not physical prowess. Gore is currently the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL, and had only 60-yards total in the first two games. He has carried this team on his back of late, and is a 49ers legend.
It was difficult choosing between Gore and Boldin, but I believe that the 49ers are deep enough at the running back position to still win games without Gore. That is by no means recommended, but I believe the Niners would suffer more as an offensive unit without Boldin.
There isn’t a player on this team that embodies the 49ers competitive spirit as much as Gore, and without an injury hampered 2010 season, Gore would have seven straight 1,000 yard seasons, with his rookie year as the only sub 1,000-yard performance. Look for Gore to run hard well into the playoffs this season.
3.) Vernon Davis
Season: — 22 Receptions — 404 Yards — 6 Touchdowns
Projected: — 66 Receptions — 1,212 Yards — 18 Touchdowns*
*Davis missed the Week three game against the Colts, so I’ve taken his averages over a five-game stretch and extrapolated it so.
Randy Moss should apologize to Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick, as it is glaringly obvious that the two have excellent chemistry. Davis is on pace to break Rob Gronkowski’s record 17 touchdown season in 2011. While it is unlikely to occur, it gives us a barometer for gauging just how important Davis has been this season for the Red and Gold.
Davis is impossible to defend, as he blends power and speed better than any player in the league. He is one of the best blocking tight ends in football as well, and is contributing to the success of the 49ers offense even when he is not catching the ball. I expect his numbers to dip when the 49ers eventually return Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree. Regardless, VD is a man among children, and is carving out a hall of fame career by the bay.
4.) Navorro Bowman
Season: — 53 Tackles — 2.0 Sacks — 4 Pass Deflections — 2 Forced Fumbles
Projected: — 141 Tackles — 5.0 Sacks — 11 Pass Deflections — 5 Forced Fumbles
Navorro Bowman is the best middle linebacker in the NFL. Much of his rise can be credited to Patrick Willis, as there is no better example to learn the skills of the trade from. If Bowman continues to make tackles at this pace, he will surpass 140 for the third-straight season. That is, by all accounts, ridiculous.
Bowman is good at everything. According to Pro Football Focus, Bowman is the best pass rushing inside linebacker in the NFL, having 13 quarterback pressures on only 33 blitzes, getting to the quarterback an amazing 39.4% of the time. Bowman rarely blitzes, but this stat goes to show that Bowman is good in all facets of linebacker play.
Bowman has speed, power, and the drive to win. He is only 25-years-old, and will easily make the hall of fame if he continues to play at this level. Bowman single-handedly beat the Rams in Week four, playing well enough to fill the void created by Patrick Willis’ groin injury. He is a quiet leader, and when your team is struggling, leading by example is key. He has risen the level of his entire squad, and will wind up with votes as Defensive Player of the Year. #53 is as good as it gets.
5.) Eric Reid
Season: –27 Tackles — 3 Interceptions — 5 Pass Deflections — 1 Fumble Recovery
Projected: — 72 Tackles* — 8 Interceptions — 13 Pass Deflections — 3 Fumble Recoveries
*Reid missed the entire second half in Week two against Seattle. Had he played and produced two tackles, he would project over 100 tackles.
There have been plenty of gems produced in the draft by Trent Baalke, but this one has Harbaugh written all over it. Harbaugh recruited Reid at Stanford to no avail, but will happily settle for having him on his 49ers. Reid is the early front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and should also involve himself in Pro Bowl conversations should he continue to play at such a high-rate.
Picking #5 was extremely difficult (see honorable mentions below). Ultimately, I went with Reid because of his impact on the entire secondary. Via PFF, the 49ers have five players in their secondary above a +3.4 rating (PFF has a plus/minus rating system. Above 3 is solid). This is a direct result of Reid’s addition to the secondary.
In the 2012 playoffs, the 49ers secondary allowed over 300-yards passing per game. This year, they have trimmed 100-yards off that total, and now sit at only 206-yards passing per game. People will state that there are better teams in the playoffs, but I thoroughly disagree. The 49ers have faced the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson this season – all playoff quarterbacks from 2012.
Reid’s coverage skills have allowed strong safety Donte Whitner to once again blossom, with Whitner yet to allow a touchdown in 2013, conceding a measly 44.5 quarterback ranking when targeted.
Certain unnamed sources have stated that Reid misses plays due to his cautious style, and I couldn’t disagree more. Reid is learning the game, and doing an excellent job while he does. The more he learns, the more aggressive he will become. He is smart enough to realize the talent surrounding him, no longer having to carry the defense like he did at times with LSU.
Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Tramaine Brock, Glenn Dorsey, Mike Iupati, Joe Staley, Anthony Davis.