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49ers 2011 Roster Confidence, Defensive End: Ice, Ice, Baby

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So yesterday we took a look at our confidence level in quarterback Alex Smith. Needless to say, the results were pretty varied, though you can still vote and impact the final result at this point. Now we go to another criticized position, but one that was, at the very least, vastly improved in 2010 in comparison to 2009. The left defensive end position and Isaac Sopoaga.

Aside from being a favorite player of my sister, Sarah, Sopoaga is big, ridiculously strong, a very funny guy, and someone that Florida Danny described as "dead weight," prior to last season. Danny brought up a good point in one his posts and asked a very good question:

What has this guy ever done in a Niner uniform besides perennially being 1 or 2 years away from being an impact DE/DT/waterboy?

The answer, at the time, was "nothing." Absolutely nothing, the only thing we knew about Sopoaga was that he was strong. Actually, that's not true, we also knew that his strength didn't translate to the football field and he got pushed around and bullied a lot. Like, a whole bunch. Massive amounts. He got pushed around so many times that, if you were to create a tangible representation of him getting beat in 2009 and gave it properties such as mass and weight, he probably wouldn't be able to bench it.

But that was 2009 and post-2009, and when 2010 came around, Sopoaga was, at the very least, a factor on the football field. Did he reach that level of impact defensive end? No, he honestly did not, but with Aubrayo Franklin and Justin Smith next to you, and Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes behind you, how much opportunity do you have to make an impact as a 3-4 defensive end?

His stats don't say much - 1.5 sacks and 25 tackles, but the position isn't a glamorous one stat-wise. You had to pay attention to see it, but there was definite improvement there and I see him as a starter going forward. He's not going to be in the top-half of the league, but his play in 2010 makes the position a luxury. Will he beat a guy we take in the first two rounds? Probably not, but for now he's the starter and how do we feel about that?

Rating him a '10' implies that he will become an impact defensive end and clearly be a force out there. I'm going to say a '7' indicates a little improvement over 2010, but mostly is just a solid starter that the 49ers do not need to replace. '5' would indicate that you're alright with Sopoaga as the starter, but don't consider him necessarily the best option. Below that is varying degrees of thinking this guy is awful.