Examples in the recent past were Boone and Williams (both PS players) and Brock and Wilhoite and Skuta (some UDFA's).
My original dark-horses where as follows: Two dark-horse guys I'm keeping a close eye on are OT Luke Marquardt (placed on I.R. again) b/c we need a real swing T and he's described, "He's 6-8, 315 pounds with nary an ounce of fat" and RB Jewel Hampton (obviously Hyde erasing his chances here) who had a great pre season and is hungry (he'll surprise b/c of all the talk about Gore, Lattimore, Hunter and James). He seemed to have some Gore in him but also has the speed to get outside. Another guy on the cusp that may surprise people is DE Lawrence Okoye with a year of training under his belt under Tomsula coaching him up.
Updates: Given the additions via FA and the Draft, I will reassess to the following. I have to be honest, in the past, I had a good eye for some surprise players but this year, it's very difficult given the known starters and depth behind them. So I'll go with some long-shots in Ian Williams, Darryl Morris, L.J. McCray, Lawrence Okoye, Quinton Dial & Derek Carrier. First, Williams was the forgotten man but he clearly won the starting NT job and was slashing through gaps while being strong enough and stout enough to hold the point. He'll regain form and be even stronger/quicker and will stand out on film. Morris is my Cooper this year. While he may not have a ton of opportunities with Ward playing Nickle/Slot, when he gets on the field in the slot, you are going to see lightning out there helping to shut down Harvin and Austin and all the other electric slot WR's. Reports are he looks bigger and stronger and even faster which is scary. He's also returning kicks as well which is ideal plus he's already our best gunner on coverage units. McCray. Who? This kid is not only going to make the 53 as a backup S but as a dynamic returner. Keep an eye out for this guy. Okoye and Dial. Okoye will have come miles from last year and is going to surprise many (longest shot though IMHO) and Dial can now play NT and DE which is critical in our front 3 and in making the 53. Carrier is going to become that H-back we've missed since Walker left and is going to surprise quite a few in here.
Other guys I expect to now become "starters" or key "role players:"
CB Culliver to win the opposite spot opposite of Brock.
CB Cook is going to push Culliver VERY hard as is the rookie D. Johnson.
CB Morris is going to win and earn that slot-CB position to start the year over Ward.
NT Williams is one determined dude and don't be surprised if he pushed Dorsey hard for the starting spot again (and wins it). Health is the concern.
NT/DE Dial should also push for a significant rotational job this year at both DE and NT but don't count out TJE either.
OLB Lemonier is a guy who got used less and less but I have a feeling he'll earn a spot in a more serious rotation with Brooks/Aldon-Skuta
OLB Skuta played great last year and was ahead of Lemonier and now if Aldon is suspended, he'll get extended time.
C Kilgore is primed and ready and experienced but Martin could be the future.
G Looney (don't count him out at C either) but with Boone's holdout, he could surprise many here. Watch out for Seymour as well.
DE Carradine is healthy and ready to play and should start to split time with Justin/McDonald on a serious basis.
RB Lattimore (Harbaugh was already prepping fans for this move right after the NFCCG) but Hyde may be the future.
TE Carrier is intriguing and I would not be surprised to see him used more in the more traditional "Walker role" on certain sets.
PS: Last year I had some guys named in Hampton, Cooper, Morris...some others like Williams, Kilgore and FB Jason Schepler.
[ Edited by NCommand on Jul 17, 2014 at 9:47 AM ]