Over at ESPN, the folks from Football Outsiders (including our own Danny Tuccitto) put together a breakdown of the 32 NFL organizations and how they rank on talent that is 25 years old and younger. The 49ers ranked right in the middle of the pack at No. 15:
Some teams on this list have an inordinate amount of young starters; the 49ers aren't one of those teams. However, if you were to skip over the foursome of T Anthony Davis, WR Michael Crabtree, G Mike Iupati and LB NaVorro Bowman as only "pretty good" you'd be missing the forest for the trees. DE Aldon Smith showed he could be a dynamic pass-rusher last season, Chris Culliver played early and often at nickel back and RB Kendall Hunter is going to be part of a large group of committee backs that will also include 2012 second-rounder LaMichael James. This group has a few potential stars and, perhaps most importantly, very few young starters who started purely due to injury attrition.
I think the most pertinent part of their analysis is the final line indicating few of their young starters are starting due to injury attrition. Among their potential 25-and-under starters are LG Mike Iupati (25), RG Alex Boone (25), WR Michael Crabtree (24), ILB NaVorro Bowman (24), FB Bruce Miller (24), OLB Aldon Smith (22) and RT Anthony Davis (22). Beyond that they've got numerous other players that are expected to make important contributions, even if they're not considered starters. These include primary defensive line backup Ricky Jean Francois (25), CB Perrish Cox (25), WR Kyle Williams (24), Kendall Hunter (23), Chris Culliver (23), Tramaine Brock (23) and LaMichael James (22). Even guys like OL Daniel Kilgore (24) and S Trenton Robinson (22) likely will prove to be important backups in 2012.
That's quite a compilation of young talent. This is a big year for that young as we're looking for guys to break through to the next level. If the 49ers offense takes a step to the next level, there's a good chance it will involve Anthony Davis and Michael Crabtree having the best seasons of their careers. Those aren't necessarily keys to the offense breaking through, but I do think those will be some of the results if we see a big offensive breakthrough overall.
They provided some links In looking at previous seasons, last year the 49ers ranked No. 17, and the year before they ranked No. 5. After the jump I've got FO's breakdowns each of those years. It's always interesting to see the discussion of these players earlier in their career.
The past three drafts of the Nolan-Singletary era produced no fewer than eight players whose primary impact is in the running game: 2010 first-round offensive linemen Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis and second-rounder Chilo Rachal; coverage-challenged strong safeties Reggie Smith and Taylor Mays; running backAnthony Dixon; and inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Scott McKillop.
Not seeking to be yet another modern-day version of the 1985 Bears, Jim Harbaugh used the team's first four draft picks on players who will have more of an impact on the passing game: quarterback Colin Kaepernick, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, running back Kendall Hunter and cornerback Chris Culliver. With only Alex Smith ahead of him on the depth chart, and Harbaugh's track record of developing young signal-callers, Kaepernick -- who we projected as this year'sthird-best quarterback prospect -- has a good chance to start as early as this season. What would help Kaepernick -- and Smith, for that matter -- is if Harbaugh can turn the 49ers' most talented young holdover, Michael Crabtree, into a wide receiver commensurate with his 2009 draft status.
5. San Francisco 49ers
It all starts with the best middle linebacker in the game -- Patrick Willis -- and goes from there. Behind Willis is underrated safety Dashon Goldson, a playmaker who helped contribute to the fourth-ranked 49ers' run defense a year ago. Promising corner Tarell Brown also lurks in the secondary, although he's trapped as the nickelback behind the contract of Nate Clements. Meanwhile, starting wideouts Michael Crabtree (22) and Josh Morgan (25) combine with Vernon Davis (26, and thus not included as a qualifying "young" player for these rankings) to give the 49ers one of the best trios of receiving talent in the game today. The biggest hole in the organization was on the offensive line, and the 49ers invested their top two picks this year in linemen: Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis and Idaho guard Mike Iupati. With effective 25-year-old left tackle Joe Staley returning from injury, the Niners should have one of the league's better lines by 2012.