With the 2012/13 NFL league year coming to a close next week, it's time to take a look back at the 2012 campaign a look ahead to 2013 by handing out some 49ers awards.
Team MVP: The Quarterbacks
Alex Smith/Colin Kaepernick: For the first time in over a decade, the quarterback position in San Francisco is solidified. This was evident by the play of BOTH starting quarterbacks and my choice for team MVP(s), Smith and Kaepernick. Alex Smith started off the season by playing some of the best football of his career. In a statement game to start the season, he outplayed 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers leading the 49ers to a win at Lambeau Field. He followed up that game by outplaying another standout quarterback from the previous season, 5,000 yard passer Matthew Stafford. Alex hurt a finger on his throwing hand in a route of the Buffalo Bills and followed with two subpar games in a 3 interception loss to the Giants and a sloppy Thursday night win against the Seahawks. Other than that, Smith was the same consistent and clutch quarterback that rose from the ashes of being a first round bust the previous season. The team was 7-2-1 in his 9 starts. Smith threw 13 touchdown passes to only 5 interceptions with a QB rating of 104.1. His completion percentage was 70.2 which would have led the NFL had he thrown enough passes to qualify over the entire season.
Colin Kapernick was a revelation in his first start taking over for the injured Smith. On a Monday night, he shredded the Chicago Bears defense that had been a turnover machine. To the surprise of many, he did so using his arm instead of his legs. The quarterback controversy had begun. After Kaepernick went into New Orleans and beat a hot Saints team in the Superdome, it was starting to become apparent we had seen the last of Alex Smith. Kapernick played the same brand of smart, mostly mistake free football Smith did. The difference was Kaepernick's ability to make a huge play at any moment. This was never more evident than on a rainy night in New England when he threw touchdown passes of 24, 34, 27, and 38 yards to beat the Patriots at Foxboro. In the end, he finished with 10 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions and threw for 1814 yards. The team went 5-2 in his starts and he finished with a rating of 98.3
Combined Smith and Kaepernick were 289/436 for 3,551 yards and 23 touchdown passes. Kaepernick added another 5 touchdowns on the ground. Their 66 percent completion rate put them 4th in the league and their 8.2 yards per attempt was tops in the NFL.
Offensive Player of the Year: Frank Gore
You could make an argument here for Michael Crabtree given his second half of the season but this one goes to Gore. There is simply nothing Frank Gore cannot do on a football field. The 49ers rely on him to get tough yardage and be the focal point of the offense almost every week. Even in limiting his touches, Gore rushed for 1214 yards and 8 touchdowns. His 4.7 yards per carry ranked sixth amongst back with over 200 carries. As complete a back as they come, Gore added 28 catches for 234 yards with a touchdown and continued to be one of the better blocking backs in the league.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aldon Smith
In his first season as a full time starter, Aldon Smith was flat out dominant in 2012, making offensive lineman look silly at times. When he got a role he was unstoppable recording 2 or more sacks in five games including a 5.5 sack effort against the Bears. His 19.5 sacks set a new 49er's record. Although Smith struggled to end the season (possibly due to a shoulder injury) it can't take away from what he meant to the team over the whole season.
Biggest Surprise: Alex Boone
Right guard had been a weak leak on the 49ers offensive line in 2011. The play of Chilo Rachel and Adam Snyder stuck out like a sore thumb at times. When the team let Snyder walk in the offseason and failed to sign anyone to replace him, it was assumed that they would take a guard early in draft. They didn't. Instead they gave swing tackle Alex Boone a try. The move helped the 49ers offensive line go from very good to dominant. At 6'8 and 300 pounds, the once troubled Boone mauled people and made the only weak link on the line a huge strength. Seeing as this was his first year at the position, Boone will only get better which is a scary though for the rest of the NFL.
Most Disappointing: David Akers
Coming off one of the best years a kicker has ever had that saw him make 44 field goals, David Akers would start 2012 by kicking a 63 yarder. It was pretty much downhill from there. Akers made only 29 of 42 kicks dropping his field goal percentage from to 84.6 in 2011 to 69 in 2012. His was miserable from over 40 yards, missing 10 of 19 kicks. By the end, his confidence was shaken and he was almost aiming his kicks instead of driving the ball. An injury may have factored in but regardless, he should be thankful Harbaugh showed the faith to keep him around through the entire season.
Player on the rise in 2013: Michael Crabtree
Crabtree set career highs in catches (85) yards (1105) and touchdowns (9) in 2012. He finally emerged as the go to wide receiver people thought he would be after a dominant career at Texas Tech. But the numbers didn't tell the whole story. Crabtree was invaluable to the team in a situation they struggled with in 2011: Converting 3rd downs. But numbers may tell a lot more of his story going forward. Crabtree quickly became Colin Kaepernick's go to receiver. In the last 5 regular season games, he caught 35 balls for 538 yard and 4 touchdowns. In 2013, Crabtree could jump into the top tier of wide receivers. It's not out of the question to expect Andre Johnson type numbers from him next season as he could eclipse 100 receptions, 1400 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Could he decline in 2013? Frank Gore
It pains me to even write that name here but it's a real question mark as Gore enters his "30 year old" season. Gore has been one of the most consistent players in the entire NFL since 2005 and has carried the 49ers offense for years. But he has 1911 regular season carries in his career. He's had knee and hip issues. He is coming off of the longest season of his career that saw him play 19 games and carry the ball 321 times including the playoffs. He has to slow down at some point. Will it be 2013? His carries dipped this past season (282 in '11 to 258 in '12) and should continue to drop as Hunter AND James start to become more engrained in the offense and the team starts to throw a little more with Kaepernick.
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Handing Out Some Awards and Looking to 2013: What 49er Legend Could be Headed for a Decline?
By Al Sacco
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