Who are the top-five athletes on the 49ers?
This is an interesting question – people ask me all the time who is the Niners best athlete. My answer is a little subjective because we don’t have access to the data the team has. These are my sideline impressions from hours and hours watching the team. I base my rankings on speed, quickness, strength and endurance.
- Patrick Willis – One of the fastest players in the NFL, Willis ran a 4.37 at his Pro Day in 2007. He’s strong enough to knock big, tough, inside runners like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch on their backs, and he’s fast enough to beat speedsters like Darren Sproles to the sideline. He’s also fast and skilled enough to cover any tight end, probably even some wide receivers, too. Oh, and he’s an excellent blitzer. He’s elite at everything an inside linebacker could be elite at, and he’s only 27-years-old. He truly is the Willie Mays of linebackers.
- Vernon Davis – One of the strongest players on the team, Davis might be the best blocking tight end in the NFL. He also ran a 4.38 at the NFL combine in 2006, which makes him about as fast as Willis. I rank Davis behind Willis because Davis isn’t as quick – he’s more of a straight-line runner.
- Justin Smith – Off-the-charts strength and endurance. When the Niners signed Smith in 2008 he was a 275-pound defensive end. Now he’s a 295-pound defensive tackle-end hybrid, he played a higher percentage of snaps than any other defensive lineman in the NFL last season, he plugs the run, he hits the quarterback and he chases down much smaller players from behind. Defensive linemen have the most tiring job in football – hand-to-hand combat with 300-pound offensive linemen followed by a chase of whoever has the football. Justin Smith is the best at those things. He seems to get stronger and faster as the game goes on. The most famous example of this was when he chased down the Philadelphia Eagle’s wide receiver Jeremy Maclin from behind and stripped the ball out of his arms to seal the victory.
- NaVorro Bowman – As strong as Patrick Willis and almost as quick. Bowman might even be a better blitzer. He’s not quite as good in coverage because he doesn’t have the same top-end speed and he can’t jump as high – Willis almost has a 40-inch vertical, Bowman’s is closer to 30 inches.
- Ted Ginn Jr. – The undisputed fastest 49er. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, but he had sprained his left foot a few months before and he wasn’t fully healthy. There are rumors that Ginn Jr. ran in the 4.2s at Ohio State spring practices. In high school he was the 110-meter hurdles national champion his junior and senior years. He’s one of the best punt and kick returners in the NFL.
If there’s anybody I left off the list, please don’t be offended. To be an NFL player is an incredible achievement and they’re all good athletes.