The San Francisco 49ers welcome the Chicago Bears to town this Sunday for the regular season debut of Levi's Stadium. The Bears are coming off a rather surprising 23-20 overtime loss at home to the Buffalo Bills. To get ready for the game, I spoke about a variety of topics with Kev H over at Windy City Gridiron. Today, we take a look at under the radar players for both teams. Tomorrow, WCG will post our reasons why each team might lose, and Friday we'll have 5 questions with the opposing blogger on each site.
The Bears returned virtually all of their starters on offense this year, so I'm not sure who you could necessarily say is "under the radar" in the traditional sense. Pressed to pick a guy, I'd say Martellus Bennett.
While clearly a veteran with a color social media profile, Bennett maybe doesn't get the attention that Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, or Matt Forte do in this offense. However, Jay Cutler showed a distinct comfort with Bennett in the game against the Bills, targeting him ten times, with eight completions. The other two targets were the two interceptions that Cutler threw. Those eight completions net the Bears 70 yards and a TD. With Jeffery currently questionable (hamstring), Bennett could really be asked to step up and try to keep the 49ers honest over the middle of the field Sunday night.
That said, I'm going to sneak another guy in here, and he's also a vet. Santonio Holmes has only been with the team a few weeks, but as he gets more comfortable with the playbook, he could do some damage out of the slot. His success is much more predicated on having Jeffery, Marshall, and Forte available to draw the bulk of attention.
The Bears defense is a little easier to pick a surprise person from, for a couple of reasons. The first reason being that there are three brand new faces in the starting lineup (DE Lamarr Houston, DE Jared Allen, SS Ryan Mundy), but also one familiar face playing in an entirely new position (former 1st round DE pick, Shea McClellin.) The second reason is that last year this unit played like hot garbage, and they gave up a lot of ground yardage to the Bills last weekend. Any positive performances, to a degree, would be surprising.
The player I think could have the most suprise impact, though, is another newcomer to the team. DE Willie Young comes to the Bears from Detroit. Young currently slots in as a situational pass rusher, but he was maybe the best looking defensive end on the team against the Bills. In his limited snaps, he generated good pressure as well as garnered the only Bears sack in the game. If the Bears can get to a situation where they can attack Kaepernick in a clear passing down, he could have some good success with fresh legs off the edge.
Most weeks, Vance McDonald is the guy I pick as the under-the-radar 49ers player of note. I do think he remains under the radar, but if you want to read more about that, head HERE.
To mix it up a bit, I'll go with Anquan Boldin. 49ers fans, and plenty of national fans might disagree that he is under-the-radar, but I think he still manages to exceed expectations. Boldin had eight receptions for 99 yards, and six of those receptions resulted in a first down. Boldin is getting older, and has never been the fastest receiver on his team, but he continues to make key catches. He stepped up in a big way last season when Michael Crabtree was injured, and this year he is right back at it. He won't get huge numbers every week, but somehow he will make things happen week in and week out.
Another guy that is a bit more under the radar is offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. He moved into the starting lineup to start the season due to Anthony Davis's hamstring injury. Davis is expected back sooner rather than later, but with no update for this week, Martin would seem likely to get another start at right tackle. His preseason got off to a tough start, due in part to weight loss from mono earlier in the summer. However, Martin picked up steam as camp moved along, and has been playing fairly well lately.
Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch is a guy to watch. Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta split a lot of the work in place of suspended Aldon Smith, but Lynch got in 20 snaps, and managed a hurry and a pass deflection. He is up over 270 pounds with incredible power, and will likely come at the right tackle. Lemonier is likely to get more of the pass rush work, but he was unable to get much done in Week 1, so it could open the door for Lynch. Lynch had a solid performance against the Cowboys, which followed a great preseason. This very well could earn him a few more snaps in Week 2.