Their probably isn’t a deeper roster in the NFL than the one the San Francisco 49ers have assembled for the 2013 season. That should make finding potential hidden gems who could step up all the more fun since there are so many options. Which ones have the best chance to do just that?
Offense – Quinton Patton
Strange as it may sound, things lined up really well for Quinton Patton. At first it appeared he was destined for the bench his rookie season what with a loaded group of receivers in front of him. However, with Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams all battling injuries his window is open to show the coaches he is worth far more than the 4th round pick they gave up for him. Patton went into the draft with tags as not an overwhelming athlete but highly productive with great hands, route running skills and toughness. His good height and acceleration will also benefit him. The last part is work ethic, which he clearly showed when he arrived for off-season activities ahead of schedule. That speaks to a player with a chip on his shoulder and the determination to prove everybody wrong.
Defense – Ian Williams
Addition by subtraction is the story for Ian Williams. San Francisco took a big hit in the middle of their defensive front when both Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois signed with other teams. That thrusts third-year man Williams to the top of the depth chart. Given how deep the 49ers are it is easy to miss him in the programs but there is no question Williams can have an impact. His stats don’t tell the story since he has barely played but scouts saw a quality run stopper coming out of Notre Dame who is quick off the snap and has the size to eat up double teams. Pass rushing isn’t his strength but that isn’t a big problem from the nose guard spot. If Williams lives up to what he does best the 49ers should miss Sopoaga or Jean-Francois too much.
Special Teams – LaMichael James
Like Williams, team depth made it difficult for LaMichael James to see opportunities on offense, but that didn’t stop him from making some noise on special teams. In just 14 attempts during the regular season he had 417 return yards. That and an impressive showing in limited action during the playoffs helped his case. Now that Ted Ginn Jr. is gone and Kyle Williams is hurt, the door is wide open for him to take over as the full time returner. James is compact, strong and very fast with the ball in his hands. If he can’t crack the running back lineup on offense, his value on special teams cannot and should not go unnoticed.