The regular season isn't quite done, but we've seen enough to give meaningful grades for performance heading into the post-season. Giving a grade is a simple way to categorize strengths and weakness of our team and better envision how the Niners stack up against the rest of the playoff squads.
QB - "C"... Ok, I'll readily admit I'm not a huge Alex fan, but this is a fair grade whether you like him or don't. Whether you are measuring stats or intangibles, Alex is not an "A"...that's reserved for the Rogers/Brees/Brady's of the league. As far as a "B", that's for the Stafford/Shaub (maybe even Newton) group. No, Alex is a firm "C" in my eyes. He holds the ball too long (although he's gotten better these last two games), and has obvious issues in the red zone (hence the Akers kicking record). The good news is he was an "F" this time last year. Does he have a chance to be a "B" in the future? Sure, but he'll never be an "A" IMO.
RB/FB - "B"... Gore is a solid "B". Great runner, great blocker, soft recieving hands. His only issue this year has been his health or he'd have been up there with the elites of the league and worthy of an "A". Hunter has shown flashes of brilliance, but also flashes of futility. He needs more reps, but with Frank in the backfield most of the year he didn't get them. Hunter gets a "C". Niner fullbacks are primarily blockers, not runners or receivers so they really have no bearing on my grades here.
Offensive Line - "C-"... All I have to say...they've given up more sacks than anyone in the league as of this morning. Run blocking is good, otherwise they'd be a "D" or worse. ADavis has been making pass-rushers mouth water all year. If we have a chance of winning a playoff game, this is the group that needs to step up to a "B" or better.
Tight End - "C"... Sorry, but Vernon has digressed this year. He's dropping balls and looks a half step slow. Sure, he's still one of the better TE's in the league, but he's not been as dominant as he was for Singletary. He's still a good blocker, and provides good leadership and work ethic...but he was an "A" or "B" the last couple years, so I can't give him better than a "C" for this regular season.
Wide Rec - "D"... Crabs is the best of the bunch at a "B-". He's grabbing more balls and providing some separation - but he's not been a game changer like the Cruz/White/Welkers of the league. Blame Alex or the O-Line, but it still won't change the fact that he's really good, but hasn't show true greatness (yet, I hope). Ginn..."D+", another talented guy, but take away a handful of nice plays and his only value to the team has been as a return man. Edwards got released today, but I'd have given him an "F" - sure he was hurt, but reading between the lines he landed in Harbaugh's dog house for a good reason. Bottom line, Edwards was a bad pick up. Williams is another kid who's shown some real talent and has even reached the end zone 3 times. Again, however, 20 recs for 240 yrds this year doesn't really make a big splash...I give him a "D+".
Kicker - "A+"... I wouldn't normally include a Place Kicker and a Punter in the "Offense" category, but in a real sense, they are part of the Niner offensive scheme this year, right? Anyway, what can you say about Akers. Wow. I was a little concerned after Nedney retired, but now I'm thinking we upgraded big time. And Andy Lee - in a field position offense, this guy is a game changer. Without Akers and Lee, I think the chances we'd be going to the playoffs this year would be significantly less.
OC Greg Roman - "B" Like Bill Walsh (yes, I said that), he's created plays that focus on the skills of his players and, more importantly, eliminated plays that are beyond the players' ability. Whether or not he should be given credit for Smith's improvement, I'll give it to him here. He's done good with what he has, and done it with no training camp to speak of. Props. BUT, he still hasn't found a way to consistently score in the red zone, has allowed his offense to give up more sacks than any other team, and has at times had questionable game plans and poor mid-game adjustments (i.e., where were the roll-outs and RB screens to slow down the Raven's blitzes?). Still, the guy's got game and it makes our future brighter.
Overall, I give the Offense a "C+".
D-Line - "A+"... One rushing TD this season is all that really needs to be said here, but I'll throw in two more words for good measure: Justin Smith
LB's - "A+"... Credit these guys for the one rushing TD, too. Take anyone in the NFL...would you trade Willis for that person? Not. The man is an amazing athelete. And then add Bowman? Gasp. And as hard as it is to believe, Aldon Smith is actually a LB. OMG, what a flippin animal! And when Willis goes down, in comes Grant? I mean, come on. Who's got it better than us, right?
DB's - "B"... I know some will disagree here. Yes, Rogers has had a great year. Yes, we're among the league leaders in picks (#2, but 8 picks behind Green Bay and tied with Seattle). Still, I knocked them to a "B" because there have been times of confusion and times where we've been vulnerable to a skilled passer...and that's all we'll see in the playoffs. Still, this group is a million times better than it's been in the past decade and I'm hopeful we can re-sign them all for 2012 so we can see the "B" go to an "A".
DC Vic Fangio - "A"... The man is a stud. He's given us the best defense since 1984 (as compared to the teams of the period). Maybe better. He took some of Sing's guys and made them better, he took free agents and made them better, he took rookies and made them better. And they lead the league in most defensive categories that matter. A stud.
Overall, I give the Defense an "A"
Overall, I give the Niner Regular season a combined B+
If the offense can improve one grade, we have a shot at some playoff victories this year.