With a new era of football beginning in San Francisco, the 49ers will be reliant upon stars like Colin Kaepernick and NaVorro Bowman to lead the way. While those key cogs need to carry a significant amount of weight, there are some role players that can make a difference as well.
Here’s a look at some under the radar names to keep an eye on who could end up being game changers at some point this upcoming season.
Because he was out of football last year due to off-the-field issues, many swept the signing of Simpson under the rug. Still, despite missing a year of action, Simpson could provide big dividends to the 49ers’ passing attack.
While he won’t start as long as Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are healthy, Simpson has a chance to take a strangle hold on the number three receiver role if he has a strong camp.
Simpson was targeted 100 times in 2013 while with the Minnesota Vikings, and caught 48 passes for 726 yards. While he only caught 48 percent of his targets, his 15.1 yards per catch average ranked him in the top 20 in the NFL at his position.
He’ll give Kaepernick another option who can stretch the field, and also allow players like Boldin and Vernon Davis to do more damage underneath. In addition, having speedsters like Simpson (and Smith) will give the running game more room to operate, as defenses have have to honor their presence on the outside.
It’s hard to say that a brand name player like Bush could fly under the radar, but at this point in his career it makes sense.
Bush is coming off an injury riddled campaign that saw him gain only 297 yards rushing on 76 carries with the Detroit Lions. Now, on a one-year deal in San Francisco, Bush has the opportunity to resurrect his career.
Considering he’ll have to compete for carries with the likes of Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter and Mike Davis, Bush’s impact won’t necessarily be felt in the running game. Instead, the 49ers will likely use him as a receiver out of the backfield, and a threat on special teams.
Even while having a down season in 2014, Bush still caught 40 passes in 11 games. No 49er running back had more than 12 last year. As far as special teams, he hasn’t returned punts since 2011, but expressed an interest to do so recently. Bush has a 7.9 career average on punt returns, and has brought four back for a touchdown.
Kenneth Acker/Keith Reaser
Despite the fact that most saw cornerback as major need to for the 49ers entering the draft, the team didn’t take one with any of their picks. One of the major reasons why is the fact that they had Acker and Reaser in their back pocket.
Both young prospects missed the 2014 season as they recovered from injuries. They are expected to be back at full strength entering 2015 however, and will have every opportunity to surge up the depth chart.
If healthy, Tramaine Brock looks to be locked into on of the starting spots, but after that nothing is guaranteed. Acker and Reaser will have to compete with Shareece Wright, Chris Cook, Dontae Johnson and Jimmie Ward for snaps, but none of those players are a sure thing at this point.
If I were a betting man, I would feel good about wagering on at least one of these two promising players to make a major jump into regular playing time.
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