Today I’m ranking the 11th through the 15th best players on the roster. I’m eager to read your lists.
11. Ted Ginn Jr., PR. – Averaged the 2nd most yards per punt return in the NFL last season (12.3) of all players with more than 25 returns. He was also an excellent kick returner, averaging a career-best 27.6 yards per attempt. The Niners offense had the best average starting field position in the league last year, and Ginn was a big reason why. On the Niners, the special teamers are just as important as the guys who play offense and defense, and Ginn solidifies the Niners special teams as elite.
12. Joe Staley, LT – Pro Bowler and Associated Press Second-Team All Pro in 2011. Six sacks allowed, six false starts, but most of those blunders happened in the first half of the season as he was learning the system. The best player on an improving offensive line. A good pass protector and run blocker who’s athletic enough to run and pull. He even caught a pass for a 17-yard gain. Was the lead blocker on Alex Smith’s touchdown run against the Saints in the playoffs, and made a key diving block 20 yards downfield on that play.
13. Frank Gore, RB: Earned his third Pro Bowl selection last season. Rushed for 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns on 282 attempts. Carried the offense the first half of the season, rushing for more than 100 yards five straights games. Caught just 17 passes for 114 receiving yards. Dropped seven passes. Turned 29 years old in May. Slower than he used to be. At this point in his career he’s more effective rushing up the middle than around the outside, and he’s most effective with a limited amount of carries. In 2011 he averaged 5.0 yards per carry his first 10 rushing attempts every game. But he averaged 3.9 yards per carry on his second 10 carries, and 2.4 yards per carry on this third 10. Greg Roman will likely limit Gore to 10 to 15 carries a game this season, with Kendall Hunter getting around 10 to 15 as well, Brandon Jacobs playing in short yardage situations and LaMichael James playing on third down.
14. Dashon Goldson, FS – Six interceptions and Pro Bowl appearance No. 1 last season. Hard hitter who who’s fast and has very good range as a free safety. Occasionally whiffs on tackles but he’s cutting those down. Made a spectacular interception in the playoffs against the Saints.
15. Donte Whitner, SS – Tough and fast. Made the best hit of the Niners season in the playoffs on Pierre Thomas. Good in coverage, but he’s a bit short (5-10), so he struggles with the taller tight ends, naturally. Still, he’s a near-Pro-Bowl-caliber safety, and he was a Pro Bowl alternate last season.