The SFI Top 10
Previous ranking in parentheses 1. (1) JULIAN PETERSON: The All-Pro linebacker obviously ended his summer holdout just in time to be ready for the regular season. He created the kind of game-altering havoc in the opener against Atlanta that gave the Niners some prime opportunities to take control of the game. They'll need that a lot this season from Peterson and the defense. As he displayed in the opener, he's ready to deliver. 2. (3) KEVAN BARLOW: His first-play fumble was an egregious error to begin the season, but that doesn't detract from the progress Barlow made this spring and summer and what he means to the team. He still is the Niners' key player on offense at this point, and though his first game as the full-time regular at tailback was unimpressive, he still made something out of nothing with a couple of 20-yard bursts. 3. (5) FRED BEASLEY: The Pro Bowl fullback finally is back after the high ankle sprain that has put him on the shelf the past six weeks, and his return is none too soon. The Niners' early struggles on offense last week and their problems establishing a running game made it obvious how sorely he was missed. 4. (4) TONY PARRISH: After missing the final two preseason games with a calf injury, he had some trouble shaking off the rust in the opener, and his missed tackle on Alge Crumpler in the flat was a key mistake that cost the Niners and resulted in Atlanta's first touchdown. But he's still the playmaking stud of the secondary, and now he has had a full game to get back in the flow. 5. (9) DEREK SMITH: A defense shall lead them, and Smith continues to show what an important, determined leader he is of this defense. After spending most of the summer keeping Peterson's left outside LB position warm, Smith displayed in the opener how comfortable he is in the middle after sliding back to his regular position. He had a game-high 11 tackles and was key in bottling the Atlanta rushing attack. 6. (10) AHMED PLUMMER: He made some big plays in coverage in the opener and displayed what a vital role he'll have in the success of the defense this year. If opponents continue to test him this season, he must produce like he did against the Falcons. 7. (OTB) BRANDON LLOYD: He did a lot of promising things this summer to establish himself as the team's No. 1 receiver and one of its top playmakers and deserves to be this high in the first regular-season rankings. But he must prove immediately he can get open down the field to remain here. Cedrick Wilson was better in the opener and he has a chance to supplant Lloyd in the Top 10 with more strong performances. 8. (8) SCOTT GRAGG: He's the stalwart of the offensive line now, and the Niners need him to step up in a big way now that Newberry is out, particularly after the way that unit struggled in the opener. 9. (NR) KEN DORSEY: Dorsey didn't make our original list in June even though he was occupying the No. 1 quarterback role at the moment. But, since he's taking over the starting role this week after displaying some nice things when he replaced Tim Rattay in the opener, he makes the Top 10 for the first time and has a chance to stay there depending on his performance and how long he remains in the starting job. 10. ERIC JOHNSON (OTB): Johnson was the game's leading receiver against Atlanta with eight receptions for 86 yards, including a nice 16-yard grab for a touchdown that put the Niners in a position to tie the game in the final minute. Johnson also led the Niners in receiving during the preseason and, as the opener suggested, he will be an integral part of the team's 2004 passing plans. ON THE BUBBLE: Andre Carter (6), Tim Rattay (OTB), Bryant Young (OTB), Anthony Adams (NR), Jamie Winborn (7), Cedrick Wilson (NR).
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