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How the Return of Key Players Impacts the San Francisco 49ers

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COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers are going to get a ton of reinforcements back on the field following what was a much-needed Week 9 bye. For a team that is 6-2 and in second place in the NFC West, these additions to an already stacked roster promises to help them contend with the Seattle Seahawks for the division crown and the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. Let's take a look at how these additions will impact the 49ers in the second half of the season.


Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree

Manningham, who suffered a torn ACL against the Seahawks last December, is expected to make his 2013 debut when San Francisco hosts a hot Carolina Panthers team this week. As the 49ers' No. 2 receiver last season, Manningham caught 42 passes for 449 yards and one touchdown. While those numbers aren't sexy by any stretch of the imagination, the veteran was among the league leaders in catch percentage. He caught 76.4 percent of the balls thrown in his direction, which ranked fourth in the entire league. For comparison's sake, 49ers receivers not named Anquan Boldin have caught 44.4 percent of the passes thrown to them in 2013. In addition, Kaepernick has the lowest quarterback rating in the NFL when targeting Kyle Williams.

Needless to say, Manningham's impact should be felt immediately. He's the type of receiver that finds lanes for the quarterback to throw through on intermediate routes, something that Kaepernick just hasn't had at all this season. The Michigan product will not take the top off the defense, but he will provide his young quarterback a consistent target.

As the second-leading receiver in the NFL in the second half of last season, Crabtree's likely return in the next couple weeks is going to be huge. Including the postseason, Crabtree tallied 55 receptions for 823 yards and seven touchdowns in his final eight games last season. In total, the former first-round pick ranked seventh in the NFL with a 72 percent catch rate.

While it's foolish to expect him to be 100 percent after returning from an Achilles tear, even 80 percent of his former self will be huge for a 49ers offense that struggled to get any type of production at wide receiver in the first half of the season.


Cornellius Carradine

There is little doubt that "Tank" would have been a top-10 pick if it wasn't for the torn ACL he suffered in his final college game at Florida State. The defensive lineman brings a ton to the table against both the run and the pass. He's about as strong of a young defender can be at the point of contact and does a great job getting in the offensive backfield with a combination of pass-rush moves. While learning how to adjust to the speed of the NFL at mid-stream may prove to be difficult, Carradine will provide the 49ers some much-needed depth along the defensive line.

He can back up at nearly every position on that unit, giving the likes of Justin Smith and Ray McDonald the rest they need to stay fresh through the late part of the season. Moving forward, the 2013 second-round pick was drafted to replace Smith at some point in the future. He has eight games to show that the hype surrounding him prior to his ACL injury was warranted and head into the offseason with the experience that is needed to take on a larger role in 2014.


Eric Wright

More depth here. It remains to be seen if Wright will be able to crack San Francisco's cornerback rotation which includes Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Tramaine Brock. If not, it's highly unlikely he'll find himself active on Sunday's simply because Perrish Cox, as the No. 4 corner, provides much more on special teams. Wright's return does likely signify the end to a short tenure for Nnamdi Asomugha in San Francisco. There is no reason to keep two reserve veteran cornerbacks who won't contribute on special teams.

At just 28, Wright's presence on the 49ers could be felt following the 2013 season more than anything else. With Brock and Brown both set to become free agents and Rogers due over $7 million in 2014, Wright could have a future in San Francisco. It just remains to be seen whether he will be able to prove his worth on the field this year.


Aldon Smith

Unlike the players listed above, Smith missed time due to an off-field incident not related to an injury. The elite young pass-rush specialist was arrested on DUI charges and quickly entered an alcohol rehab facility in September. Smith, who recorded a total of 38 sacks in his first 35 games, was activated off the non-football injury list last week and may be ready to go against Carolina in Week 10. It remains to be seen just how much the 49ers plan on using him initially, but there is little doubt that Smith will provide a much needed punch in the front seven of their defense.

Rookie Corey Lemonier received a bulk of the playing time with Smith out and will likely see time as an extra pass rusher moving forward. This enables San Francisco to gain more depth and work Smith back into the lineup as it prepares for the stretch run.

At 6-2 and winners of five consecutive games, the 49ers are in prime position to not only catch what has been a struggling Seahawks team, but acquire both a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the postseason. Couple their stellar recent play with the mix of fresh bodies returning to the field and the 49ers seem destined to pick up where they left off prior to a much-needed Week 9 bye. It's now all about integrating this "new" talent on to the field on Sundays.

Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.


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