Last season, a couple players on the roster "turned the corner," so to speak. One player in particular was wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Everyone has their own opinion of Crabtree -- mine has always been one of slight disappointment, and at the beginning of last year, I was beginning to have my doubts about him in the NFL.
But Crabtree came out of the gate running, and though he didn't snare a touchdown reception until Week 5, he made up for it with three multi-touchdown games in the regular season. In the end, Crabtree had nine touchdown grabs, 88 receptions and 1,105 yards, all of which were career highs.
Next season, Crabtree will have all the expectations of a player who has turned the corner and joined the NFL's elite. Who could be that player this season? There's plenty of players on the 49ers who are good, or have high potential, or are people we just really want to succeed. But who is likely to turn the corner? I've got a few.
CB Chris Culliver
I wasn't a HUGE fan of the Chris Culliver pick when it was made, but hey, most of us weren't, to begin with. Culliver has had something of a weird career thus far. A lot of people found a few particular stats from Pro Football Focus and ran with them and Culliver got this weird reputation as being this incredibly good corner on the deep ball, when in actual practice, Culliver showed a pretty big liability when the pressure was on in those situations.
That said, he's incredibly quick and a competent cover corner in most situations. Him getting totally lost in the secondary is something that can be worked on, and if he's going to put it all together and become a great starting corner in the NFL, it might just happen this season. I'm a fan of Culliver, despite his flaws (both character and on the field) and though I count myself among his more negative critics, I do believe that he will put it together this year.
RT Anthony Davis
While the 49ers have the best offensive line in football, right tackle Anthony Davis hasn't necessarily had that career-defining, dominant season on the right side. Alex Boone is already there at right guard, and Davis looked a bit better than he actually was last year. He struggled against the speed rushers on the outside, once again, and that remains his biggest flaw to date.
But Davis has already proven a lot of doubters wrong, and has been surprisingly solid given his lack of seasoning since entering the league. We'd like to see him come out of the gate and go post to post without having any major breakdowns, though, and maybe this is the year it all goes right.
RB Kendall Hunter
I firmly believe this season will be the most important season in recent memory when it comes to the running back position. Provided Marcus Lattimore returns to form, the 49ers have three running backs that I believe can be starters on the roster. LaMichael James was pushed onto the field before the 49ers wanted him there last season, but had Kendall Hunter not been injured, we'd all be sitting here wondering if he'll ever play, much like we do with wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.
That's because Hunter looked like he might have been turning the corner last season, before getting injured. He had 371 yards off of 72 attempts, good for a per carry average of 5.2 yards. For reference, that was a higher average than any running back in the NFC West. By all accounts Hunter will be back in time for next season, and I firmly expect him to take over the primary backup duties and, accordingly, wow the rest of the league.
Who are your choices?