This year the San Francisco 49ers continue their annual Pro Bowl party in Honolulu, sending nine of their players to the Pro Bowl and seven as alternates. The tendency for many players to cancel on this event could mean the 49ers sending even more to the Pro Bowl, provided they don’t end up going to a different Bowl (an awesome one, no doubt).
The Niners Pro Bowl selections reflect the 49ers core strengths. Their outstanding running attack is led by an outstanding offensive line (the entire line is either in the Pro Bowl or is selected as a Pro Bowl alternate) and perennial Pro Bowler in Frank Gore. The defensive side of the ball, led by a dominating front seven, continues to be amongst the leagues’ best each year.
But which of these Niner Pro Bowl selections are the best? Which ones are at the bottom? Here is my list.
1) Justin Smith- Anybody who watched the last half of the Patriots game and the entire Seahawks game knows how vital Justin Smith is to the best defense in the NFL. With him the Seahawks put up just six points in a Week 7 win. Without him, the Niners gave up 42 points in a blowout loss. Get well and God speed, Justin.
2) Navarro Bowman- Bowman over a future Hall-of-Famer and a man who could break the NFL season sack record? Allow me to explain. I chose Bowman over Willis based upon the fact that Bowman has led the team in tackles both this year and last year and also the fact that Bowman, not Willis, plays in coverage in the nickel package. With much of their games being relatively equal, Bowman gets the edge because his pass coverage is superior. As for Aldon, despite his gaudy sack totals, his effectiveness relies too much on Justin Smith for me to put him over Bowman.
3) Patrick Willis- Years in the NFL: 6. Pro Bowl Selections: 6 First-Team All Pro Selections: 5 (it is not six yet because All Pros have not been chosen yet). Willis has done more in his early career than most linebackers do in the entirety of their careers. And it is only getting better from here. Being put below Bowman is not a knock on Willis’ abilities but a reflection of how far Bowman has come.
4) Aldon Smith- 19.5 sacks and he is the fourth-best 49er Pro Bowler. It’s a tough life being a San Francisco 49er. Smith is the best pass rusher San Francisco has seen since Charles Haley and he’s still only in his sophomore season. Smith has work to do in pass coverage, but as long as he keeps rushing the quarterback, I am sure the 49ers can look the other way.
5) Frank Gore- The classic chicken or the egg dilemma here: Do you rank Gore above or below his lineman for the way he still runs the ball? I give Gore the edge. If Gore goes down, who takes over for him? I believe it would be harder for the 49er team to replace Gore’s vision, patience, and toughness as a runner, thus making him more valuable.
6) Joe Staley- There is no position more valuable on the offensive line than the left tackle, and for the second consecutive year Staley has been recognized as one of the League’s best. While the Niners have given up a fair amount of sacks this year, their offensive line remains a tremendous strength. Having a dependable tackle in Staley is vital to that strength.
7) Mike Iupati- Despite what some have viewed as a regression in play, Iupati earns his second Pro Bowl nod and thus ends up 7th on this list. Iupat’s immediate success and tremendous athleticism has been lauded throughout the league as he has become one of the NFL’s best guards rather quickly. Still his impact this season has not been felt like in his rookie year, although that might be a result of more pass plays and elite line play overall.
8) (tie) Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner- While some might point to the fact that Free Safeties are generally more valuable than Strong Safeties, I believe these two play off each other well enough to call it a draw. These two are rock solid at the back end and their bottom ranking only reflects how ridiculously talented the 49ers are.
Even after the devastating loss last week, the San Francisco 49ers still are one of the best teams in the NFL and the Pro Bowl selection shows just how talented the team is. While they have breakdowns to address on both sides of the ball, these 49ers will undoubtedly wreak havoc in the playoffs.