Six 49ers made Scouts Inc.’s list of the NFL’s top 200 players: Linebacker Patrick Willis (No. 11), defensive end Justin Smith (No. 25), tight end Vernon Davis (No. 111), running back Frank Gore (No. 114), safety Donte Whitner (No. 117) and left guard Mike Iupati (No. 129).
These aren’t fantasy-football rankings. They’re evaluations based on watching games and film – and they came out Tuesday on ESPN.com’s Insider section.
The biggest surprise, at least to me: Davisis the seventh-ranked tight end, with a grade of 82. He checks in behind San Diego’s Antonio Gates (28th, 89 grade), Dallas’ Jason Witten (29th, 89), Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley (58th, 85), Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark (73rd, 84), Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (81st, 83) and Houston’s Owen Daniels (107th, 82).
Willis, with a grade of 92, is the second-highest ranked defensive player. New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was rated third behind New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is No. 4 (with the same 95 grade as the trio ahead of him) and coulda-been-Niners quarterback Aaron Rodgers is fifth (94 grade).
Also worth noting are the rankings of two former 49ers who landed elsewhere in free agency: New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (120th) and San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes (157th).
Here is what Scouts’ player-analysis takes are of the 49ers’ six pack:
On Patrick Willis:
Willis has been a very productive starting linebacker since Day 1. He has started every game he has played in since his rookie season and has missed just one game in the past four seasons. He is an instinctive player who is quick to locate the level of the ball and takes good angles to get there.
He does a good job of using his hands to keep blockers off him and keeps working his way to the play. He has the speed to make plays near the sideline and a knack for filtering his way to the ball when attacking the inside run.
He gets good depth in his pass drops but still needs some work on route recognition and reading the quarterback’s eyes from zone coverage. He is an intense competitor who leads the team on the field as well as in the locker room.
On Justin Smith:
Smith has been a consistent producer and brings an excellent combination of size, speed, athleticism along with a high level of intensity and effort. He has lost a step over the years, but compensates with excellent technique and the ability to key and diagnose while reacting to blocking schemes.
He feels and fights through pressure and is quick to locate the level of the ball and leverage his way to the action. He is a solid performer who may lack premier pass-rushing speed or the bulk to be a dominant run defender, but is an excellent combination of the two.
On Vernon Davis:
Davis has made monumental strides since coming into the league as a first-round draft pick in 2006. He is an exceptional athlete with a very quick release and rare downfield speed. He has become a quality route runner who can drop his hips to get in and out of his breaks with quick feet and a burst to separate from defenders.
He also has the speed, agility and quickness to be an elusive runner after the catch. He has a wide receiving radius that allows him to reach out and pluck the ball away from his body and maintain his speed through the catch. He is an adequate blocker who will work his feet to maintain position and can seal off the edge with a decent anchor.
On Frank Gore:
Gore is a compact, explosive runner with excellent running skills and good vision. He is a patient runner who gives his line time to create the run lanes and shows a good burst as he hits the hole.
He runs behind his pads with excellent balance on contact, allowing him to break tackles and finish runs off. He does not get enough credit for being a very good blocker when asked to stay in for pass protection. He is quick to pick up blitzes and does a good job of squaring up and making solid contact. He does have some durability issues and has played in all 16 games only one time in his career.
On Donte Whitner:
Whitner is a little undersized but plays bigger than he measures. He has an excellent nose for the ball and understands angles in run support and in deep coverage.
He has great route recognition and does an excellent job of reading the quarterback’s eyes from deep zone. He has good range and shows good ball skills. He may not blow ball carriers up, but he will wrap up and get the job done.
On Mike Iupati:
Iupati is a massive guard with excellent short-area quickness and overpowering strength. He is a little raw when it comes to blocking techniques and hand use, but he has a natural feel for angles and leverage that allows him to get the job done.
He lacks great lateral range in pass protection but does a good job of keeping his feet under him and can react and adjust to movement in a limited area. He is a good knee bender who can roll his hips and blow opponents off the line when he keeps his pad level down.
He is a good effort blocker who works hard to finish his blocks off and will keep his feet alive and active to sustain blocks. He has long arms that help him to control and steer opponents by the pocket and can get a quick re-fit when defensive linemen slap his hands aside.
He shows the kind of potential that could easily enable him to have a long, quality career.
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Three 49ers made the NFL Network’s Top 100 this summer: Willis (23rd), Davis (88th) and Gore (94th).