It goes without saying that the 49ers are a contender to win it all in 2012. Nevertheless, whenever the discussion comes into play regarding what may restrict the 49ers from reaching their goal, the quarterback gets mentioned.
The so-called experts want to say that you can't win a championship in a passing league when your starting quarterback averages less than 200 yards per game. Now, even if I did believe that to be true, I don't believe Alex Smith's numbers will be near where they were in 2011.
San Francisco's receiving corps in 2011 was as depleted and unbalanced as any starting receiving corps in the league. This year, they've loaded up on offensive talent and the star players that are returning could be in for career-years with such a supporting cast.
In this piece, we'll break down four players that will help Alex Smith's numbers spike in 2012.
Randy Moss, WR
San Francisco's addition of Randy Moss will provide a much needed depth threat, as well as experience at a position group that really needed it. Moss is ultra-athletic with a history of making some of the most stunning catches the league has ever seen.
Moss is a huge target - someone who is open even when he's technically covered. Smith has never had a receiver like this in his career. The future first ballot Hall of Famer should be able to bail Smith out of trouble; helping to reduce the sacks he takes this year.
Moss was also added to drastically upgrade the red zone and third down categories where San Francisco struggled mightily. By making the tough, acrobatic catches, Moss will help keep the 49ers offense on the field and thus providing more opportunities for Smith to inflate his numbers.
LaMichael James, RB
With an already loaded backfield featuring Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs, San Francisco surprised people on draft day when they selected LaMichael James with their second pick in 2012.
Coming out of Oregon, James is one of the most prolific ball carriers in NCAA history. It is widely known that James is a speedster with game-breaking ability on any given touch. With his ability to make plays in space, it's easy to envision San Francisco using him as a Darren Sproles-like option out of the backfield.
The Niners passing offense adds a whole new dimension with James. His cutback ability is unparalleled, and as Smith's outlet receiver in the West Coast offense, James could be in for a superb rookie showing.
Vernon Davis, TE
Vernon Davis is not new to the Bay but his role should be slightly tweaked this year. Davis has selflessly contributed as a run blocker, and to some people's dismay, he probably blocks too much.
Last year's playoff round showed the nation what Davis can do as a receiver. He has that rare combination of size and speed that make him a nightmare for defensive coordinators. He is one of a few elite tight ends in this league that can take teams vertical and hurt them with the big play.
Alex Smith and Vernon Davis have been known to find each other on the deep ball -- the opportunities just were not that often in 2011. With Randy Moss attracting double coverage and the attention of the safeties, Davis may break loose more frequently.
Davis has been Smith's go-to guy in the 49ers offense, as their chemistry has been off the charts lately. In this system, the tight end also excels at running the underneath routes that occasionally go for big gainers and clutch first downs. Smith hits the high percentage passes underneath, and Davis uses his raw athletic ability to make his QB look good.
Brandon Jacobs, RB
First off, it looks like his injury is not season-ending and Jacobs will be a 49er in 2012. Jim Harbaugh and Frank Gore both said on Monday that it's possible Jacobs will be back for Week 1 of the regular season, and his injury should only keep him out a couple weeks.
Jacobs is a mountain of a man when he steps in the backfield. At 6'5", 260-pounds, he provides a real presence for San Francisco. And for a team that has struggled with pass protection, Jacobs may prove to be a major upgrade for that particular nuance.
In 2011, the Niners found themselves in apparent passing situations like 2nd or 3rd and long. In those situations, the 49ers would have Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter picking up blitzes as the last line of defense. Jacobs is a much more suitable option for such an assignment, and it will likely show on game day. He has the ability to physically manhandle pass rushers because he's not outmatched in terms of size.
He will be able to provide Smith with more time and ultimately make him feel more comfortable in the pocket knowing Jacobs has his back.
As an option out of the backfield, Jacobs also provides a threat. He is in the best shape of his playing career and with his size, Jacobs is dangerous once he's picked up a head of steam. As a blocker or check-down option, Jacobs adds value to the 49ers starting quarterback.