10. Patrick Willis, LB, (20th)
The gap between where Willis was taken and when the last inside linebacker went should give you a pretty clear indication as to how much better he was than the rest. Still the benchmark at his position, he's a true do-it-all type of defender who can handle any role the 49ers ask of him. Exceptional against the run and with the physical talent to make the kind of plays in coverage you don't expect from a linebacker.
Key Stat: Missed just four tackles all year.
16. Joe Staley, LT, (Unranked)
Staley is a little bit different compared to all the left tackles that have come before him. He's not quite the pass protector of some, but his impact in the running game is so much greater that he cruised to our highest overall grade of any tackle in 2012. A real nasty streak in the run game isn't something that often stands out about left tackles, but Staley has it and then some.
Key Stat: Run blocking grade was 10.9 points better than any other tackle.
37. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers (Unranked)
Before the season Crabtree was looking like something of a disappointment relative to what he cost the 49ers. It turns out that was less about him, and more about his quarterback, with Crabtree taking his game to another level when Colin Kaepernick came into the lineup. Cutting back on the drops, Crabtree continued to look like one of the most impressive after-the-catch receivers in the league, forcing 19 missed tackles (including the postseason) while also adding 12 touchdowns.
Key Stat: His 2.66 Yards Per Route Run (including playoffs) were the fourth-most of any receiver.
39. Vernon Davis, (Unranked)
It was something of an up-and-down year for Davis in 2012. He started off the year playing as well as anyone, even if he wasn't seeing the targets he would perhaps expect. Then he became something of an afterthought in the offense, and it was only really a fantastic slate of postseason play that propelled him up the rankings. A player you feel would benefit even more if he was a more profiled part of the offense.
Key Stat: Averaged 1.3 Yards Per Route Run during the regular season, and 2.9 during the postseason.
50. Alex Boone, RG, San Francisco 49ers (Unranked)
Boone just about takes the honors in the battle between the 49ers guards, thanks in large part to a stronger finish to the year. An impactful run blocker, Boone did give up some pressure, but when you are as consistent in the run game as he is you can live with it.
Key Stat: Had the highest run blocking rating of any right guard.
53. Mike Iupati (Unranked)
Would likely have finished higher but for being hampered by an injury he picked up during the playoffs. Never to be confused with the best pass protecting guards, Iupati is an agile linemen who can manhandle you head on or wipe you out as he pulls to the second level. A punishing blocker.
Key Stat: Earned a positive run blocking grade in 14 of his 16 regular season appearances.
57. Aldon Smith (64th)
Some will think Smith should be higher based on his sack numbers alone. However, for that to be the case there needed to be some quicker developing pressure. That doesn't mean Smith didn't have a great year, just that there's room for him to do more. Coped reasonably well with an expanded role.
Key Stat: His 70 quarterback disruptions were the most of any 3-4 outside linebacker.
59. NaVorro Bowman (14th)
While there are those who want to crown Bowman the best linebacker in football, he's not even the best on his own team quite yet. Nonetheless, he's still a pretty special player and if you weren't buying into that you need only have watched him get back to his best in the playoffs. A fine every-down defender, Bowman has already proved well worth his big extension.
Key Stat: Allowed 0.59 yards per snap in coverage, lowest of all inside linebackers.
63. Anquan Boldin (Unranked)
There's a lot of talk about Boldin being a guy that can't get open. Be that as it may, he's still a guy who (with defenders all over him) makes tough catches that move the chains. And it was that ability that was one of the key differences in why it was the Ravens, and no other team, that won the Super Bowl last year. Really stepped it up in the postseason and that's why he makes the list.
Key Stat: Including the playoffs, dropped only three passes all year long. Key Stat: Graded negatively in just three of 19 games all season long.
71. Frank Gore (Unranked)
The 49ers bell cow was expected to see his role diminished as San Francisco brought in a powerful veteran (Brandon Jacobs) and explosive rookie (LaMichael James). It didn't. Instead, Gore walked away with a healthy 1,214 yards at 4.7 per carry, responding exceptionally well to the blocking ahead of him. What's more, he saved his best football for the postseason where his three games saw him return with a +7.3 grade. Nice work all round.
75. Tarrell Brown (Unranked)
Much has been made of the performance of the 49ers' cornerbacks as they struggled in the playoffs, but bemoaning the defensive backs doesn't do justice to the year Brown had. Three picks were never going to grab the attention of the masses, but here's a player who was targeted a massive 113 times and yet gave up only 69 receptions and just one touchdown. The former fifth-round pick really came good this year.
Key Stat: The 17 combined interceptions and pass deflections were seventh most of all defensive backs.
80. Anthony Davis, RT, San Francisco 49ers (Unranked)
If we're completely honest, we didn't see this coming from Davis. He had some big problems his first two years in the league, but it all came together for him in Year 3 as he played his part in the 49ers' dominant offensive line. There are the occasional meltdowns (such as against the Giants), but for the most part you rarely noticed Davis in the passing game, and couldn't help but be impressed by his punishing blocks in the run game.
81. Colin Kaepernick (Unranked)
It's not often you see a sophomore quarterback come in during the middle of a season and replace a quarterback who is not only winning, but playing well. But Kaepernick did, as he electrified the masses when he stepped it in for a concussed Alex Smith and made it impossible for the team to go back. The only reason he didn't feature more highly is because of a lack of playing time, with the athletic quarterback proving extremely effective and handling the pressures of the postseason like a tried and tested veteran. Only injury can prevent him finishing higher next year.
Key Stat: His 55.1% Adjusted Accuracy percentage on deep balls was the highest of all quarterbacks in the league. Key Stat: His 16 runs over 15 yards were sixth-most in the league.
87. Justin Smith (2nd)
As good as Justin Smith has been, he couldn't reproduce his brilliance in 2011 this season. Injury certainly impacted him, but it was evident that he wasn't anywhere near the productive pass rusher he was a year ago. Still, you need to play really well to make this list and the impact of Smith in the run game was still something to behold, even with him drawing increased attention.
Key Stat: Finished second in our 3-4 defensive end Run Stop Percentage Signature Stat with a defensive stop on 11.8% of his running plays.
[ Edited by buck on Jun 19, 2013 at 8:14 AM ]