Pro Football Focus is currently running a series of articles call "Secret Superstar." The idea is to break down a player on each team that quietly put together a big year. Not every team had success last season, but this secret superstar was a key reason for any positives they did have in 2011. PFF released the 49ers secret superstar (h/t Coretete), and they went with outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
This is not a surprising pick, but there are plenty of discussions to be had about other considerations. Although Brooks has been in the league since 2006, this was his first season as a full-time starter. Previously he worked in more of a rotational role, but this past season he earned the starting job. Brooks has always been considered a guy with considerable raw talent, but there were concerns about the totality of his game. In 2011, Brooks showed that he could handle all aspects of the game.
Arguably the strongest alternative would be defensive end Ray McDonald. He was also starting for the first time this past year, and he stepped up big for the 49ers. McDonald did get knocked out of the Browns game and missed the following week, but otherwise he was a key contributor all season long. Maybe co-"secret superstars", or is Brooks the clear-cut choice in this award? If you have other suggestions, I'm all ears.