The San Francisco 49ers brought some much needed clout to the NFC West in 2011. Below is a list of the top players by position throughout the division.
QB- Alex Smith – San Francisco 49ers: Honestly here by default considering the division itself doesn’t have a franchise QB within it. But Smith did prove last year at the least he could maintain an offense without giving up the ball.
RB-Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: Gore is a no-brainer here for me. He’s literally been the only consistent RB in the division for years. Gore has been named to the Pro Bowl 3 times and has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in 5 of the last 6 seasons.
WR-Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals: He is arguably the best in the league, let alone the division. Fitzgerald is a 6-time Pro Bowler and has put together 5 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. He has topped the 100 receptions mark twice in his career (2005, 2007).
WR-Michael Crabtree – San Francisco 49ers: Strictly because of his production does Crabtree make this list. Quietly he amassed 874 yards receiving while missing one game. With an average of 58.3 if he played 16 games his total would’ve been 932 yards. Pretty good in an offense full of short tosses and running the ball.
TE-Vernon Davis – San Francisco 49ers: Davis has emerged as one of the best players at his position in the league. It was only a couple years ago that Mike Singletary threw him off the sidelines during a game. Now he is a captain and leader of the 49ers offense.
LT-Joe Staley – San Francisco 49ers: Consistent blocking put Staley on this list. Run or pass he rarely misses an assignment on the field. Though the 49ers offense did give up a lot of sacks last year it wasn’t on Staley. More on Smith for not getting rid of the ball quicker.
LG-Harvey Dahl – St Louis Rams: He is a tough, hard-nosed player who helped pave the way for Michael Turner while he was in Atlanta. Now a Ram, Dahl is plowing running lanes for Stephen Jackson. In addition to being a good run blocker, he is also a stout pass blocker.
C-Scott Wells – St Louis Rams: Newly acquired from the Packers, Wells kept MVP Aaron Rodgers clean all last season and earned a Pro Bowl selection along the way.
RG-Mike Iupati – San Francisco 49ers: 49ers guard Mike Iupati has been the anchor of the their offensive line since being drafted. Using him in multiple ways they pull him out and let him hit the edge on occasion and also let him just run through people clearing the way for Frank Gore.
RT-Jason Smith – St Louis Rams: Jason Smith of the Rams has been great since entering the league. The team as a whole hasn’t but he doesn’t control everything. What he does control is his side of the line. Drafted 2nd overall out of Baylor, expectations were high and in my opinion he has delivered.
DE-Justin Smith – San Francisco 49ers: No explanation needed right? Best DE in any 3-4 scheme in football to me. He seems to be everywhere on the field. Or at least always around the ball. Because of his dominance other players, like Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, have reaped the benefits.
DE-Chris Long – St Louis Rams: Being Howie’s son isn’t enough for him. He wants to make his own name. That’s what makes Chris Long unique. He wants to be better than his old man, and everyone else in football. After starting off slow he’s been a beast the last couple years. Now with the team adding pieces to that defense look for bigger and better things from this rising star.
DT-Calais Campbell – Arizona Cardinals: He’s a monster. The only other DT in football who can compare in brute size and strength is Vince Wilfork. Campbell’s unblockable on just about every play.
DT-Brandon Mebane – Seattle Seahawks: Seattle’s big on the defensive line. Mebane is a different kind of animal though. He has the speed of most DE’s in 3-4′s but is stronger than most all NT’s out there. No doubt about it he is a dominant force in this division.
OLB-Sam Acho – Arizona Cardinals: Acho tallied 7 sacks last year in Arizona’s 3-4 scheme. His youth and speed are why he’s on my list today. This season should be a big one for the 2nd year player from Texas. He’s looking to build on a solid rookie campaign.
MLB-Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers: The best in the game period. So good that offenses literally avoid going his way. Willis has been named to 5 Pro Bowls. “Nobody in the NFL plays their position better than Patrick Willis, and that is saying a lot,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc prior to the 2011 season. “He is as good a linebacker as Peyton Manning is a quarterback, as Andre Johnson is a receiver, as Adrian Peterson is a running back. He has no weaknesses.”
OLB-Aldon Smith – San Francisco 49ers: As a rookie in limited snaps playing as a situational pass rusher Smith got a crazy 14 sacks last year. I compare him to Terrell Suggs. But not even Suggs tallied 14 sacks as a rookie. It’s possible that after only one season, and because of the fact he had limited snaps compared to others that he’s the best pass rusher in football off the edge.
CB-Patrick Peterson – Arizona Cardinals: Peterson came a long way through the season last year, as a cornerback that is. As a returner he excelled pretty much from day 1. But as a CB after watching how their defense finished the season I put him in the top 10 in the league – not just this division. If he’s healthy he’s going to be shutting down whoever is in front of him.
CB-Carlos Rogers – San Francisco 49ers: Hard not to pick the best CB on what I think is the best defense in football. Rogers came in from the Redskins with a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove he could still play and he did just that. Rogers tallied 6 interceptions last year, after having only 8 his whole career in Washington. He also earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2011.
SS-Adrian Wilson – Arizona Cardinals: Wilson just inked a deal that will keep him a Cardinal forever, and my All NFC SS for years to come. He plays like a linebacker, always in the box and chalking up tackles for a loss. He was Troy Polamalu before there was one. He took the safety position and used his abilities to make his team better. A great player.
FS-Earl Thomas – Seattle Seahawks: Remember the Taylor Mays and Pete Carroll beef after Carroll passed on Mays for Thomas in the draft? Well, Mays is now on his second team and Thomas just made his first Pro Bowl. Thomas is a ball hawk. In just 2 years, he is already developing into one of the league’s best. He should continue to thrive in that defensive unit for long time.