The San Francisco 49ers exploded onto the scene in 2011, led by Jim Harbaugh and what was essentially his Stanford coaching staff. In the end, they were eliminated in the NFC Championship game by the New York Giants, but easily could have won that one and taken the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, if not for a couple special teams errors.
So many players exploded onto the scene this past season. Quarterback Alex Smith didn't have insanely eye-popping stats, but he turned his career around by not turning the ball over and was a big part of San Francisco's win. Unfortunately, multiple quarterbacks decided to have career years in 2011, so he didn't make the 2012 Pro Bowl.
Now, the Pro Bowl itself isn't as big of an honor as it should be. Every sport should have a yearly recognition of the best players, but too often it becomes a popularity contest. That being said, it's worth looking at who had "Pro Bowl-caliber" seasons. San Francisco sent eight players to the Pro Bowl: David Akers, Andy Lee, Frank Gore, Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, and Justin Smith.
Who of these people are likely to repeat? Today we'll take a look at the chances of those guys to repeat and then over the next couple weeks we'll examine them more in depth and anybody else who could make an appearance that didn't last year.
49ers fans were a little uneasy with the signing of Akers. Joe Nedney had his flaws, but he was very solid for San Francisco and it was tough to think of life without him. But Akers came in and had a great season, even if some thought it was slightly overrated. "The Captain" always has a chance to make it to the Pro Bowl in any situation.
Together, Lee and Akers formed a punter/kicker duo that was ahead of the rest of the class, or at least on par with Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler across the bay. Lee has been robbed of Pro Bowls before and smart money is on him making it a couple more times before it's all said and done.
This one is very tough. Gore had another excellent season, appearing in 15 games and rushing for 1,211 yards with eight touchdowns. It was the fifth time he's reached 1,000 yards for a single season in his career and the sixth time he was over 800 yards. He's never had below 600 yards in his seven seasons.
And that's detrimental to his chances to make it next year.
He's got so much wear and tear on him, and while he'll be the bell cow once again, plenty of opportunities will be given for other running backs to shine. As it stands, San Francisco seems to have multiple starting-caliber running backs on their roster, with Kendall Hunter being the immediate backup and LaMichael James being an early draft pick this year. On top of that, the team still has Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon. If Gore doesn't slow down due to the wear and tear, he might not make it due to the fact that he'll be a little bit less stingy this time around.
Who in the world saw that coming? Rogers was in such a state that the SB Nation Bay Area Twitter account absolutely blew up when he picked off his first ball. The Tweet went something like "CARLOS ROGERS HAS CAUGHT A FOOTBALL, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!" Man was he solid.
But it's hard to imagine him playing to that level again. Sure it's a career resurgence, and Rogers could certainly be just as good if not better, but the smart money isn't on expecting him to make another Pro Bowl. What people can expect is a corner who doesn't make mistakes and who will lead his group effectively.
Here's a player who some 49ers fans actually thought didn't deserve to make it. Goldson made some highlight reel plays, but for every one of those, there was a big, glaring mistake. Apparently that was overshadowed by the aforementioned highlight reels, and you won't find anybody complaining about that. Goldson is still young, still making his way, and will once again be playing for a big contract. That, and the relative lack of big-name safety talent in the league in general, makes Goldson a smart bet to get in on his highlight reel plays, even if he doesn't play perfectly.
Will he ever slow down? Smith is now being recognized as one of the absolute best players in the league. Some say he's the best player on the 49ers. Some say he's the best defensive player in the league. But he's getting up there in years. Can he repeat his performance and make it again? He sure can, because the system is set to where Smith can play another five at the level he does if his body lets him. His surrounding cast helps him look good - which of course isn't to say that he's not deserving of his honors. If the word "beast" weren't so over-used, it'd fit Smith like a glove.
Staley was the surprise pick for the Pro Bowl, because he really did struggle. You can pick out some stellar performances in 2011 and make a Pro Bowl highlight reel for the still-young left tackle, but you could also put together a pretty damning lowlight reel. That being said, when he was on his game, he was definitely dominating, and when you're dealing with someone his age in his position, maybe that nomination made things click for him and he goes on to have an even better season? It's always possible, but there are an awful lot of good left tackles out there.
He made it in as a need player. He is amazing. You should be jealous of his long snapping skills. He will make it another 10 times or so. Fact.