The folks at Pro Football Focus are putting together a countdown of the 101 top ranked players and it has already drawn some fire. Thus far they have released spots 21-101 and I'd imagine at some point today they will release the top 20 players. As their list currently stands, the 49ers have two representatives. Patrick Willis ranked 24th and Aubrayo Franklin is ranked 59th (101-81, 80-61, 60-41, 40-21)
24. Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers
It says something that even in a down year (in comparison to his 2009 anyway) Willis still ranks so highly. You can blame that on injury primarily as his end to the season was weak by his standards, but before that he'd put down another claim to being the best linebacker in the league. Dominant in run defense, and a much improved blitzer, Willis didn't make the plays in coverage a guy of his athleticism is used to, but by no means was he a liability. Injury really is the only thing that brings anyone close to this guy.
Best Performance: Week 10 versus St Louis (+6.7)
Key Stat: Picked up 20 QB disruptions. A 35% increase on 2009.
59. Aubrayo Franklin, NT, San Francisco 49ers
He's one of those prototypical nose tackles that teams search for but never seem to find. If he hits the open market then he's a guy who really should get a big deal as possibly the best zero technique in the league at the moment. Yeah I said it. Not just a guy who eats up blocks, Franklin showed a real ability to make plays on the ball carrier with 42 tackles.
Best Performance: Week 2 versus New Orleans (+5.4)
Key Stat: Had the fourth highest amount of tackles of all nose tackles / defensive tackles. The three above him played over three hundred more snaps to do so.
In looking over the list, I'm assuming that Justin Smith will be ranked in the top twenty. While this list has a variety of question marks, if Smith is not included there will be hell to pay. I'm not going to overreact yet because as this list currently stands I just can't see how there can be any reason not to include him there. We'll just have to wait and see.
Beyond that, potential remaining candidates are Frank Gore and Vernon Davis. Since it's a list of the top 101 players in 2010, I'd imagine Gore isn't included since he missed a chunk of the season with his hip injury. As for Davis, in looking through the list, your ranked tight ends are:
47. Mercedes Lewis, Jacksonville
57. Antonio Gates, San Diego
60. Rob Gronkowski, New England
99. Anthony Fasano, Miami
Considering they only have twenty spots left, it seems like just the tight end spot is all over the place. They included Fasano because of his blocking. Given that, wouldn't they need to include Vernon Davis? Am I overrating Davis in this sense? It seems to be a pretty subjective ranking system, so I guess I really can't tell what is going on right now. It's not exactly some kind of valuable science we're looking at in this list, but rather just one tidbit of offseason discussion. It might be bat-[site decorum] crazy, but it's a little something to ponder over for now.