3 Players That Need to Make an Impact in 2012

As we approach the coming season (102 days and counting) I thought it best to take some time to discuss a few players on the 49ers roster that will need to make an impact this season in order for the team to be successful. We all know the story lines going in to this season in regards to the QB situation and how Alex Smith needs to take the next step in his progression, we know about the new receivers and how much the 49ers brass has addressed the holes in the Niners receiving core and the rest of the offense during this off season, and we know about the rookies (most notably A.J Jenkins and LaMichael James) that are sure to make an impact this year. While all those story lines are in fact pertinent to the 49ers achieving continued success this season, I want to focus a little more on some lesser known players that are going to be vital in not only the success of the team this year but the long term viability of the 49ers and players who should be crucial in the 49ers’ quest for a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

#1 Linebacker Navorro Bowman

Navorro definitely took a huge step forward in 2011, playing in all 16 games for the 2nd straight season and recording 143 tackles. This year however, it is apparent that #53 will be asked to step up even more and make a bigger impact this season. While the 143 tackles might be impressive, Navorro only recorded two sacks and zero interceptions in 2011, numbers that need to come up should he want to take the next step in his maturity as an NFL linebacker. Playing opposite the best linebacker in the world should help right? Navorro definitely has the right mentor in Patrick Willis and should be following #52 around every where during OTA’s and mini-camps to soak up as much information as he can from Willis. So what are the expectations for a player like Navorro Bowman in 2012? This will be his 3rd season in the NFL and this is the year he should break out and become a top flight LB in this league. His skill and drive to excel at his position are apparent now more than ever and I hope/expect to see #53 be a big part of the 49ers defense this year.


#2 Tight End Delanie Walker

Delanie has been living in the shadow of Vernon Davis since Vernon came in to the league and blew every one’s socks off with his skill, he hasn’t caught more than 30 passes in a single season in his career and there are a lot of reasons for that, mainly the fact that the 49ers offense has been struggling to get the ball to anyone but Vernon Davis for some time now. That should change this year with the addition of many offensive weapons during this offseason. The problem is, Delanie could easily get lost in the shuffle in regards to getting looks from Quarterback Alex Smith. This is where Delanie needs to step up and make an impact, he needs to be sure that when he is on the field that he gets open and Alex Smith looks his way. Now, I don’t expect the 49ers to run an ton of two tight end sets this season but when they do, look for Delanie Walker to be a factor. Another area the Delanie has shown much improvement is his ability to get loose in the Red Zone. He scored three TD’s in 2011 and all three were inside the scoring zone, look for him to be a good target inside the 20 yard line this season as well.


#3 Defensive Tackle Ray McDonald

On nearly every account, Ray McDonald had a stellar year in 2011, surpassing his previous seasons numbers in virtually every category, oft overshadowed by Justin Smith, he has quietly become a strong player on an even stronger defense. His 5.5 sacks last season were good, but he needs to perform at a higher level if he wants to become one of the top DT’s in the game. He definitely has the skill set, and size to be an even bigger threat both in the pass rushing game and stopping the run on the edge, in order for him to do this, he will need to become a more versatile player and become better at knowing where the ball is once it is snapped. If I had one negative thing to say about Ray’s game it is that he sometimes seems out of place once the ball is snapped. Some call it field vision and if you want to see an example of it on the 49ers defense look no further than McDonald’s line mate Justin Smith, that guy seems to be in/on/around every tackle and that is exactly what you want from your defensive line. If Ray can improve that aspect of his game, he can surely make a profound impact and stand out on a defense full of top notch talent.

Obviously it is well known the lofty goals the 49ers organization has and no one has been more vocal about those goals than the 49ers coaches and players. That being said, in order for those goals to be reached, all the players need to step up and pitch in but in looking at the entire roster and the players at each position, these three players need to take the next step in their evolution and help this team succeed when they are on the field. If Bowman, Walker, and McDonald can make the shift from nondescript, role players to every down player or at the very least play maker when they are on the field, then the 49ers defense should be (believe it or not) better than they were in 2011.

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Tags: 49ers Defense Delanie Walker Navorro Bowman Ray McDonald

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  • Tallguy

      Bowman has to step it up?!? He was first team All-Pro!  Joe Montana made it three times in his career, Roger Craig made it once. Justin Smith just made it this year for the first time along with Bowman. Bowman made it in his second year! He just had his breakout year, the AP noticed, I guess you missed it.  The only honor higher than first team All-Pro would be MVP or Defensive Player of the Year.  Nondescript role player?!? Pro Football Focus (PFF) which grades players based on every play, ranked him #14 in the NFL based on his performance last year, second on the team and just behind #13 Tom Brady (Willis was #20, but he did miss three games).
      Ray McDonald had a stellar year as you noted, but apparently he has to step it up and be like Justin Smith.  Do you have any idea how good Justin Smith is?  Not only was he first team All-Pro at Defensive Tackle, he was selected to the second team All-Pro team at defensive end.  He was All-Pro at two different positions in the same year!  PFF ranked Smith as the #2 player in the NFL last year, trailing only Aaron Rodgers.  Where did McDonald rank on their list? 4th on the team and #45 in the NFL. 
      Obviously you’re not in agreement with PFF or the Associated Press, but perhaps you might reconsider your characterization of McDonald and Bowman as role players when both the AP and PFF consider Bowman to be one of the top 25 players in the game and PFF considers McDonald in the top 50, this in a league with 660 starting players, as well as situational players like Aldon Smith. 
      Walker is an outstanding second team tight end.  He’s not going to beat out Vernon Davis (who has yet to be selected even second team All-Pro guess he’s just a role player) to become an every down player though.  He got hurt and it definitely hurt the team in the playoffs.  It wasn’t any lack of performance, it was his injury that limited him.  This year his role almost certainly won’t be any bigger, considering the team added Moss, Manningham, Jenkins, and James as targets.

    • Bill Dwinells

      Thanks to Mike for backing me up here. Tallguy I don’t think you even read my article. I would like to address your points 1 at a time, hopefully you take the time to read this and maybe I can clear things up for you.

      #1 At no point did I say that Walker would or could over take Vernon for the starting tight end spot. I also didn’t say his role would be bigger, in fact I said it would probably stay the same but that he needed to take advantage of the times when he was on the field (most likely in the red zone) because of all the weapons that got added. Also, if you watched every snap of every game as I did in 2011 then you might know what I was talking about in regards to his areas that need to improve. But apparently all you do is look at AP rankings and PFF rankings.
      #2 I am aware of who Justin Smith is and how good he is, which would be the main reason that I want Mcdonald to be like him or at the very least strive to be like him. It seems like in your opinion we can only have one star on the defensive line. Silly.
      #3 Yes Bowman needs to step it up. Again with the AP rankings, I could care less what he is ranked by AP and that he was ALL-Pro. Very nice for him but with 143 tackles and not much else, I would like to see him step up and be more of a complete LB like Patrick Willis.

      In conclusion I think you need to spend a little less time reading AP rankings and do a little research of your own. I could care less how high players are ranked on the AP list or how many All-Pro years they have, you said it yourself, Montana only had 3 and Craig only had one but that doesn’t change the fact that they were the best players at their position.

      Football isn’t about All-Pro rankings or PFF grades, it is about Super Bowls. My contention was that if the 49ers want to win #6 then they need some bigger, better performances from some players. Learn how to read sir, don’t just look at the 3 names I put up there and wig out like a kid getting his lunch money stolen.

      Clearly you have a lot to learn about football. Let me know if you need some help and I can teach you a few things, or better yet you might want to read this: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=football+for+dummies&hl=en&prmd=imvnsb&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=1600&bih=813&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=9031904206581037284&sa=X&ei=DQLJT7K3NIOZ2QXXrpTaCw&ved=0CFwQxBUwAA

      Have a good day.


  • Mikehart8

    Player ranking are great, but they aren’t the whole story. Watching the game you can see where these players need to improve (it doesn’t matter where you rank or how good you already are, you can always improve your game). Bowman and McDonald benefit from being surrounded by great players, which can make their individual performances look better than they actually are.
    As for Walker we will have to step his game up if he expects to be a weapon this upcoming season. He showed flashes last season, and this is a contract year for him. I don’t see anywhere where is says he will overtake Vernon Davis, but anyone who thinks there is a chance should go see a neurologist.
    If I had to choose 3 guys to improve/make an impact it would be Crabtree, Goldson, and Alex Smith.