The SFI Top 10
1. LB Julian Peterson: The sixth-year veteran says that he'll enter the season 90 percent of his pre-injury form. Is 90 percent of Julian Peterson better than 100 percent of any other player on the 49ers? It might be. Peterson was clearly the team's best player when he tore his left Achilles tendon last year in an Oct. 10 game against Arizona. The team's new 3-4 defensive scheme is built for his versatile talents, enhancing his star potential and ability to make a difference for both the defense and team. 2. DE Bryant Young: Some have been claiming for years that Young is slowing down, but last year he was only named the team MVP in two separate votes of coaches and players. Young seems to be having a career surge as he enters his 12th NFL season, and he has looked as good this summer as he did last season. The big question for Young is if he can be as effective as a 3-4 outside end as he has been as a 4-3 inside tackle. Young had the best season of any 49er last year, and he gets his props here if he continues to produce as the longest-tenured player on the team. 3. SS Tony Parrish: The eighth-year veteran ranks this spot on merit. After outstanding seasons in 2002 and 2003 – his first two years with the 49ers – Parrish started slowly last season but came on strong at the end of a season that already had long ago been lost. Parrish has 20 interceptions for 470 yards in returns in his three seasons in San Francisco. He's a ballhawk who also can be an aggressive, punishing hitter. He occasionally gets caught out of position when he takes bad angles on plays, but at age 29, he is a complete strong safety. 4. WR Brandon Lloyd: He was the offensive playmaker of the summer. Lloyd is a much better receiver this year after a spring and summer of tutelage under new receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, and he also has displayed more of a commitment to his craft. His improvement in releases and route running will allow him to get open more often, and he has the leaps to get to a pass and the hands to catch it. He'll start here in the rankings until another offensive playmaker can pass him. 5. OT Jonas Jennings: Maybe you weren't impressed with Jennings during the exhibition season. Well, he's playing for the money now. And that, by the way, is a lot of money the 49ers are paying him to protect their quarterback's blind side. Jennings' job is as important as anybody's on the team, and he needs to produce immediately for a rebuilt offensive line to be successful. Jennings ostensibly was good enough to get the big money, so he must make sure not to let it appear he's being overpaid. 6. LB Derek Smith: He's not flashy. He just produces. It looks as though the 3-4 defensive scheme will funnel even more tackle opportunities his way this season, not that he hasn't had enough the last four seasons while leading the 49ers in tackles every year and collecting 620 total during that span. He is consistent and makes plays. 7. FB Fred Beasley: He virtually disappeared as a force in the offense last year, but that wasn't necessarily a reflection on him or his skills. We'll see this year if Beasley – in the team's return to a version of the West Coast Offense – can become the productive and valuable WCO fullback he was before Dennis Erickson swept in and out for two years, diminishing Beasley's role, even though the first of those seasons ended with him in the Pro Bowl. He still can make an impact and will get an opportunity to prove that. 8. RB Kevan Barlow: As Beasley goes, so goes Barlow, or so it would seem. Barlow was a big disappointment last season, but he's starting a new year as the featured back in a system that wants to lead with a power running game. If Barlow produces, he'll be fed the football, and Frank Gore still will get his carries while giving Barlow a blow. Barlow has the talent, as he displayed every year of his career up to last year. But he has to start quickly, and perform a lot more like he did in 2003 than in 2004. 9. LB Jamie Winborn: Jamie Winborn or Jeff Ulbrich? They'll both be visible players in the team's 3-4 scheme. Winborn probably will be doing more running around as an outside backer, and he has been a playmaker in waiting since he joined the Niners. It will be interesting to see how much time he'll share with Andre Carter, but Winborn's a proven producer when he can stay healthy and remain on the field. 10. QB Tim Rattay: He's the 49ers' starting quarterback. How many thought earlier this year that Rattay would be there when the 2005 season started? And Rattay earned it, showing he could be patient and remain healthy, and also showing more mobility while displaying the passing skills that have been evident in the past. Rattay has a lot to prove, but he can move the offense if he gets protection, and perhaps the tribulations he faced last year will make him a better and wiser QB this season. ON THE BUBBLE: LB Jeff Ulbrich, C Jeremy Newberry, FS Mike Rumph, WR Arnaz Battle, CB Ahmed Plummer NOT CONSIDERED (INJURED): TE Eric Johnson
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