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San Francisco's Impending Dynasty

by Photo of Quentin Haynes

After a disappointing loss in Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers are moving forward with one of the brightest futures in the NFL.

San Francisco's Impending Dynasty

The San Francisco 49ers shouldn't believe in moral victories. After losing to Baltimore in the Superbowl (by the way, an amazing second half), the San Francisco 49ers go home disappointed. They broke through with a win over Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, but couldn't evade Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, and the Baltimore Ravens to claim Super Bowl XLVII. In the end, it was Flacco, a quarterback who claimed himself as an "elite" quarterback, who did San Francisco in. Flacco finished the game with the stat-line: 22-33, 287 yards passing, three touchdown passes, and zero intereceptions. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick finished with 16-28, 302 yards passing, one touchdown pass, and one interception. On the ground, Kaepernick added another 62 rushing yards and a 15-yard touchdown run. 

Now that the offseason is upon us; Who's a better bet to get back to the Super Bowl than San Francisco? Let me explain... 

On the offensive side of the ball, the key to all of this is Colin Kaepernick. In his first ten starts, Kaepernick has shown everything you would want in a young franchise quarterback. He showed leadership, he can make plays inside the pocket, he can make plays outside of the pocket, he could evade your pass-rush, and if you sit on him, he can run through your defense. He isn't Cam Newton in terms of overall build, but he's still 6' 4'', 230 pounds who could evade linebackers and safeties when he scrambles. Just when you think he isn't as crisp of a passer, he'll rocket a pass 40 yards downfield. 

Needless to say, I was very impressed with Kaepernick's performance in his rookie set of starts. His regular season was very questionable, but as his season continued, he was marvelous, ending the year with two great performances against New England and Arizona (secretly a great defense last season), and breaking the spirit of both Green Bay and Atlanta fans as he amassed a 94.7 and 92.6 QBR against them in the playoffs. Does Kaepernick have room for improvement? Of course he does, but he's also shown the ability to make passes at each level, he's found his way to torture opposing defenses, and he's made the 49er offense much more explosive.

Just ask Green Bay...

To keep Kaepernick upright, San Francisco has surrounded him with an offensive line that is the best in the league. San Francisco's offensive line was ranked 1st overall by Pro Football Focus because no one on that line was a liability and because they hit on three first round offensive picks in the last six seasons. Thanks to Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, San Francisco neutralized pass-rushers coming from the outside, resulting in a ranking of 10th overall in pass protection. In the middle, the trio of Alex Boone, Mike Iupati, and Jonathan Goodwin have stopped defensive tackles from penetrating, all while opening large holes for the running backs, resulting in the first overall ranking in run protection. 

That's not even the intriguing part. Of the top seven blockers for the San Francisco 49ers, only two are over the age of 30 (starter Jonathan Goodwin & reserve guard Leonard Davis), meaning this line could possibly improve and further stonewall opposing defenses. Thanks to this line, the running back trio of Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter all have the ability to hit the hole and break through for large gains, but there's something about James that intrigues me the most. His breakaway speed is impressive, and with Hunter returning from a torn achilles, James could receive a bigger workload in 2013. 

The receiving core is the question going into next season. Vernon Davis is slowly creeping towards age 30, but he's still one of the top seven tight ends in all of football. After the switch from Smith to Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree went nuts in the second half of the season. In Kaepernick's regular season starts, Crabtree amassed 49 catches, 562 yards, and 6 touchdowns. With his size, hands, and speed, Crabtree has turned into a star receiver. Next year should be another strong season for him. Outside of that, A.J. Jenkins is an unknown, Randy Moss and Ted Ginn are most likely gone, Kyle Williams is coming off an injury, and Mario Manningham is coming back from an ACL injury. If Jenkins can live up to his first round status, combined with Williams and Manningham coming back at 100%, the 49ers should be alright for next season, but if they don't, that second receiver positon will need to be filled at some point. 

Switching to the other side of the ball, the best word to describe San Francisco's defense? Chaotic. The combination of Justin and Aldon Smith on the defensive line create one of the toughest duos in football. Smith's ability to occasionally get to the quarterback is minimized by his ability to stop the run. Aldon Smith, at just 23 years old, has been one of the best most impactful pass-rushers in the league with 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons. Aside Smith are three of the best linebackers in the league. NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis form one of the best inside linebacking tandems in the league, while Ahmad Brooks joins Smith on his quest to get the quarterback. All four linebackers possess the ability to rush the passer or bend their hips and defend in coverage, which is a rarity in the league.  Lastly, we reach the secondary. The 49ers possess three good cornerbacks in Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver (ignore his Superbowl performance, Culliver is pretty good), and Tarrell Brown. All three have the ability to defend bigger receivers, and in Brown's case, make a great centerfielder for passes. At safety, the 49ers have two pretty hard hitters in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. 

We broke down the roster, and you're probably asking why I think San Francisco could potentially be a dynasty. Here's why: This team is young. The offense? Young. The offensive line? Spry. The linebacking core? Solid. The secondary? In their prime. Outside of Jonathan Goodwin (age 33) and the entire defensive line, the majority of their young players are under the age of 28 going into next season. Joe Staley (29 at the start of next season), Vernon Davis (30), Randy Moss (35), Goodwin (34) and Frank Gore (30) are the only over 29 starters on the offensive end, and Issac Sopoaga (32), Justin Smith (35), and Carlos Rogers (32) on the defensive end. That's it. Moving into next season when some of these guys are gone (Sopoaga and Moss are both free agents, and Rogers could be a cap casualty), San Francisco's average age will drop, and that will only feed into the potential dynasty talk. With four draft picks in the top 100 this season, San Francisco will be able to provide youthful backups to aging positions, thus keeping the roster loaded with young talent. 

The second reason San Francisco has dynasty potential? Their head coach. After the Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary eras, the 49ers have finally found the right coach in Jim Harbaugh. In just his second season, Harbaugh has won 76 percent of his games, but it's his impact on his players that has me impressed. He's changed the culture of the 49ers, making them this blue-collar team on both sides of the ball. In his first season, he made them a power running team, allowing quarterback Alex Smith to get into a comfortable state for the first time in his entire career. Then, in his second season, Harbaugh made some calls for Smith to show off his passing ability, making Smith the highest rated passer in the league. Once Smith went down with an injury, Harbaugh turned to Kaepernick, who before his debut, ran wildcat packages for San Francisco. Once Kaepernick proved he was capable of holding down the position, Harbaugh made the tough call, and named him the full time starter, and that move pushed San Francisco to the Super Bowl. San Francisco doesn't win the Atlanta game with Alex Smith, and if you need any evidence that the quarterback change paid off, look no further than that game. While some question his demeanor on the sidelines, Harbaugh has been a godsend for San Francisco, and looks like one of the best coaches in football. 

Will San Francisco's dynasty come easy? No. There's a ton of factors that could effect the future of the Niners. The first has to be random injuries. The second, and much bigger, reason is the division. After years of being the NFC Worst, the NFC West has developed into quite the entertaining division. The Seattle Seahawks have certainly given San Francisco trouble this season, and much like the Niners, they're a young team as well. With rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll's infectious attitude, an agressive defense that ranked 31st in terms of age last season, and the best home-field advantage in football, Seattle will not go down easy. Alongside Seattle, St. Louis has quietly built an impressive roster. With Jeff Fisher at the helm, the Rams found a way to lead the league in sacks with one of the youngest defensive ends this season. With oodles of cap space and two first round picks, the Rams must get Sam Bradford some talent to throw to one the outside, and if they achieve that goal, the Rams could enter the discussion as a contender for the NFC West crown. 

You can't change the result of the Superbowl, the 49ers took a huge risk by switching quarterbacks mid-season, and that paid off. Now, with a quarterback with unlimited potential, a head coach who resonates with his players, and a roster full of young, agressive talent, the San Francisco 49ers will open next season as Super Bowl favorites, and if they win, we could be on the verge of something special. 

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