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As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for the grueling season ahead, many Forever Faithful have the highest expectation for the defending NFC champs. Back are the glory days, where a season is no longer deemed a success unless the Lombardi Trophy sits in Santa Clara’s headquarters. A mentality that was bred in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the golden standard has simply been Super Bowl or bust.
With the 2013 season upon us, the 49ers have unfinished business as they were upset in Super Bowl XLVII by the Baltimore Ravens. So with a tough schedule and a long road ahead, how will the 49ers fare in 2013? It all comes down to injuries. Every NFL team experiences heart-breaking injuries during the course of the season, however the show must go on, and whichever team can overcome those losses will be sitting atop the mountain when it’s all said and done.
After evaluating my predicted 53-man roster, I have identified five players the 49ers absolutely can not afford to lose to injury, as they try and make their “Quest For Six,” a reality. And although some would argue for RB Frank Gore or LB Patrick Willis, there is considerable depth there, leaving me to pick other positions. So without further ado, let the countdown begin.
5. WR Anquan Boldin
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Boldin’s leadership is invaluable to the 49ers offense. He has the football IQ, hands, and production to be the go-to receiver when times get tough, especially on the road. If the 49ers have any hopes of making it back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl, they will need a healthy Boldin in 2013. And although he may be one of the toughest players in the game today, he is also one of the oldest at age 32. The 49ers should spell Boldin with younger receivers to ensure he has fresh legs heading into the playoffs.
4. TE Vernon Davis
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Regarded by me as the best all-around tight-end in the game, Davis will be instrumental to the 49ers post-season success. A player that was also ranked by his peers No. 38 on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2013, Davis has been a freak during post-season play. In five career playoff games, Davis has amassed five touchdown receptions while averaging 109 receiving yards per game. A player similar to former Pittsburgh Steelers WR Lynn Swann, in terms of regular season verse playoff statistics, Davis’ steps up his play in the game’s most crucial moments, making him a true-gamer and one you absolutely can not exclude from this list.
3. DE Justin Smith
Arguably the heart and soul of the defense, the player known as “Cowboy,” is what I like to call the “glue” to the 49ers defense. A player that was ranked No. 29 on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2013, Cowboy allows others to thrive, like the great OLB Aldon Smith. The 49ers pass rush was sorely lacking once Cowboy went down to injury, and it became even more apparent during the Super Bowl, as Smith was gutting it out. If the 49ers have any chance of making this Super Bowl run worthwhile, they will need to have a healthy Cowboy saddled up and ready to draw his guns.
2. OT Joe Staley
There is a reason why left tackles command top dollar in the free-agent market. They are one of the most important positions in football and protect the team’s most valued asset, the quarterback. Staley has done an admirable job protecting QB Colin Kaepernick’s blind side and should continue to be the security blanket for Kaepernick. If Staley should go down to injury, who will replace him? Would you move OT Anthony Davis over to the left side, while plugging OG Adam Snyder to the right? And if so, how will that shape up? When you think about it, Kaepernick’s clock (in his head) would be exponentially sped up, and he would surely make rushed decisions. In addition, Staley has the athleticism to pull making him invaluable to the offensive line. A player that was ranked No. 78 on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2013, Staley gets my nod as the No. 2 spot.
1. QB Colin Kaepernick
I think we are all in agreement on Kaepernick being the top player the 49ers can’t afford to lose. If he goes down, say bye to the Super Bowl run. No offense to backup QB Colt McCoy but he won’t cut it. In addition, the renowned pistol offense will be no more, losing a percentage of the team’s playbook, while allowing defenses to catch up to the offense. It will be a disaster if Kaep is unable to get back on the field due to injury. A true dual threat, Kaepernick makes my list at the top player the 49ers can not afford to lose.