In recent seasons 49ers players, coaches and the front office had not done well enough to earn any NFL end of the year awards. In the last decade the 49ers received two season awards with the most recent accolade by Patrick Willis in 2007 when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year. With the 49ers having an 8-1 record this season the team is back to its old winning ways and could possibly receive as many as four awards when the season is all said and done. There are still seven games left to be played and a lot can happen but here are the possible awards for the 49ers this season:
Jim Harbuagh: Coach of the Year
Jim Harbaugh came to the 49ers with high expectations and we knew he would be the coach to finally turn the team around. But, did you think that turn around would come this season? I would have bet my money on no with the lockout and Alex Smith at quarterback. I guess that is what makes Harbaugh such a strong candidate for coach of the year. He has taken basically the same roster as last season and made them into contenders.
In Harbaugh’s first season in the NFL as a head coach he has coached up Alex Smith to levels the two previous regimes could not, installed a pounding running game to take pressure off Smith and one of the most physical defenses. Most importantly Harbaugh has instilled confidence and erased the culture of losing in the 49ers lock room.
Last Niner coach of the year was Bill Walsh in 1981
Alex Smith: Comeback Player of the Year
The on-again, off-again starter is finally showing in his seventh season signs of a franchise quarterback. Smith gets criticized the most for only being a game manager. If last week’s win over the Giants did not silence the game manager detractors, nothing will. Opinion or not, the stats and 49ers record show Smith has not only greatly improved over last season, but is having his best season of his career.
Smith injured his left shoulder in week seven last season and would only start at quarterback three more times. Fast forward through him re-signing, the lockout, Camp Alex, the preseason to week 11, and we have seen a completely different player. Smith never really had a great season before 2011 so I am not sure what he is coming back from, but the stats speak for themselves. Smith appeared in ten games in 2010 and he has played ten games in 2011.
2010 stats: 204 of 342, 2,370 yards, 14 TDs, 10 INT, 82.1 rating
2011 stats: 151 of 236, 1,709 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INT, 95.8 rating
Last Niner to win comeback player of the year was Garrison Hearst 2001.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aldon Smith
As the seventh pick in this years draft Aldon Smith was a below the radar selection that many criticized because he was drafted too high. Through ten games Smith has proven those skeptics wrong with 6.5 sacks, 15 tackles, one forced fumble and a safety. Smith is mainly being used as the outside rushing linebacker on passing downs utilizing his 6-4 frame and speed to get to the quarterback. Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller does have 38 tackles and 10 sacks but keep in mind that Smith only started playing consistently in week four and is not a starter.
Last Niner to win defensive rookie of the year was Patrick Willis in 2007
Trent Baalke: Executive of the Year
49ers GM Trent Baalke has been rebuilding the 49ers since last years draft. Many of those players like Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVarro Bowman have been instrumental in the 49ers 8-1 record. Harbaugh was the one that still saw potential in Alex Smith and Baalke agreed. In his first season as a general manager Baalke could have easily said no and moved on from the quarterback moving the franchise in a different direction.
Baalke showed his eye for talent again this season by drafting Kendall Hunter who is a good backup to Gore, Bruce Miller who was converted from defensive end to fullback and possible defensive rookie of the year Aldon Smith. During the shortened free agency integral players left for other teams while it seemed like the 49ers were not making any moves. Baalke showed patience because he had a plan laid out for filling holes on offense, defense and special teams.
On offense Baalke signed WR Braylon Edwards who is not having a big season because of a knee injury but is still a receiving threat defenses have to account for. On defense Baalke shored up the secondary with CB Carlos Rogers who entered the season with only eight in the previous six seasons and is having a career year with five interceptions. Another signing on defense was strong safety Donte Whitner who is having a strong but silent season. Whitner does not always show up in the highlights but his stats this season show why Baalke signed him: 37 tackles, six pass deflections, one interception and one forced fumble.
Of all the acquisitions made by Baalke during the off-season the best one and the MVP for the 49ers so far, is kicker David Akers. Akers has been automatic all season only missing two field goals and is five-for-five in FG’s of over 50 yards or more. Four times this season Akers has made four field goals in a game and was a major part of the scoring. Without Akers’ leg the 49ers might have four more losses on their record.
Baalke is gathering all the right players for coach Harbaugh to lead on the field. With the 49ers almost assured a playoff spot with their lead in the NFC West, Baalke deserves the executive of the year award.
Last Niner to win executive of the year award was Carmen Policy in 1994.