Last week I stumbled across an interesting article completely unrelated to the 49ers. A writer for the Seattle Times put together a ranking of the 15 most important Seahawks for the 2009 season. Matt Hasselbeck topped the list, followed by Patrick Kerney, Walter Jones and TJ Houshmandzadeh. I can see how those four might be your most important guys.
After reading the article, I thought, why not come up with our own list. I decided to go with just 10 guys because there will be plenty of consternation on just that short a list. When considering "importance," I look at these players as the guys the 49ers need to step up to a certain level for the 49ers to have success this year (we won't even begin to try and define "success").
I went back and forth on what to do with the offensive line: Do I list each guys individually, or go with the unit as a whole? I chose the latter. As great as Joe Staley might be, how useful is it if the entire right side of the line goes down in a heap? Fell free to argue counter to that.
No matter what, I would imagine it would be pretty unlikely anybody will agree 100% with my rankings. Looking at them, I already have my doubts. Each time I go through the list I move a man up or down.
1. Offensive line: There are plenty of important areas, but if the Jimmy Raye offense is what we think it might be, the offensive line will be key. They'll need to give Hill/Smith time to make plays, and they'll need to break up some daylight for Frank Gore.
2. Frank Gore: Frank the Tank has three straight thousand yard seasons, but the last two have been a bit of a struggle. If the offensive line steps up, maybe we'll see Frank get back to his 2006 form.
3. Manny Lawson: We know Parys Haralson is a player as a pass rusher. He needs to show consistency, but we know the pass rush ability is there in some sense. Man-Law? The 49ers need him to step up as a legit pass rushing threat if they're going to shake things up this season. He's been utilized in a variety of roles, but in 2009 he appears to be getting his chance to show his pass rushing skills.
4. 49ers QB: Given that Hill and Smith could both see starting snaps at some point this season, I'm considering them both together. I do think the QB will be important, but I think not quite on the level of Frank Gore in the Raye offense.
5. Vernon Davis: Why the Duke over any of the receivers? His combination of size and athleticism have people pondering the numerous possibilities. The 49ers receivers each have specific roles, but Vernon Davis' ability lends itself to virtually any type of route. He can burn a man deep, he can make use his speed and size on short passes, and of course he can even come flying out of the backfield on a swing pass or some such play. While the 49ers can be successful without a huge receiving contribution from Davis, a solid/strong year from Davis will do wonders for the offense.
The second half of the list, with some concluding thoughts is after the jump.
6. Dashon Goldson: Why so high for the injury-prone free safety? Because if he can stay healthy, this training camp playmaker could give them a ballhawk in centerfield, the likes which they haven't seen in yeeeeaaaarrrrssss. If the pass rush struggles, or if one of the two corners has a tough year, that kind of free safety would be huge.
7. Patrick Willis: I honestly had no idea where to put him on this list. We know he's a beast. However, even with all his success, the 49ers have still struggled. He's going to get his numbers and he's going to be a playmaker on defense. It makes him important, but definitely not the most important player on the team. Any thoughts on where Bamm Bamm belongs on this list?
8. Justin Smith: See Willis above. As long as Smith can continue drawing double and triple teams at times, the defense might actually be able to generate some consistent heat on the quarterback. However, like Bamm Bamm, he'll be solid whether the 49ers win or lose.
9. Josh Morgan: The young receiver was blowing things up in training camp before a staph infection started an injury plagued rookie regular season. When healthy (in pre AND regular season), Morgan showed some serious play-making skills, most notably on that game winning touchdown against the Rams. If one receiver is going to step up this season, I think Moran will be that guy.
10. Isaac Sopoaga: Why the guy who could reasonably be considered a relative disappointment? Well, at this point it sounds like Kentwan Balmer will be starting the season as his backup. I'd like to see Balmer break out in training camp and take the left defensive end starting spot, but I'd expect that later in the season, if at all this year. So, if Sopoaga is going to be manning the LDE, he needs to step up and give this team a viable defensive threat opposite Justin Smith. Whichever OLB is coming off the left side will need their defensive end occupying bodies. Initially, Sopoaga better be that guy.
There are obviously a lot of guys left off this list. Guys like Nate Clements and Dre Bly are going to be important. Moran Norris will be important to the success of Frank Gore. Aubrayo Franklin? Yea, he'll be an important cog in the defensive front. I had to make some judgment calls and these ten are what remain. One problem I did have is that my definition of "most important" probably changed for some of these guys. I'm thinking that at the end of training camp we'll come up with a revised top 10 list once we know the general starting lineup.
So, feel free to critique my rankings and offer your own suggestions. Any egregious misses on my part?