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Projected 2014 starters: San Francisco 49ers

Around The League predicts the Week 1 starting lineups for all 32 teams, analyzing the potential impact of each rookie class. Click here for the complete series breakdown.

» Two of San Francisco's premier players, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman, are expected to miss a big chunk of the season for very different reasons. Third-round pick Chris Borland and veteran Michael Wilhoite are the top candidates to take Bowman's spot in the lineup until the All-Pro is back from his knee injury. We'll give Wilhoite the slight edge because the 49ers bring rookies along slowly.

Smith, meanwhile, is expected to be suspended. Corey Lemonier, who flashed in his starts last year, is a promising replacement.

» Second-round pickCarlos Hyde is not a lock to be Frank Gore's backup right away. Kendall Hunter figures to still have a role in the offense as a change-of-pace back.

» Jimmie Ward is listed as a starter despite clearly being third on the depth chart at safety. Because he's not just a safety. The team's surprising first-round pick should become the starting nickel cornerback covering slot receivers. (He should be an upgrade over the current backup corners.) Ward is a valuable hybrid player who has a similar playing style to free-agent pickup Antoine Bethea.

» We gave Chris Culliver the nod as the team's starting cornerback despite potential league discipline. Culliver is coming off a torn ACL, but the 49ers have expressed confidence he's their guy. Free-agent pickupChris Cook and fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson will give Culliver competition. Johnson is another hybrid player who can play cornerback and safety, but he'll be a cornerback initially.

» San Francisco's top three wideouts look set. After that, it will be a battle royale between guys like Quinton Patton, fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington, Brandon Lloyd and Jon Baldwin. The 49ers don't lack for receiving options.

» The 49ers drafted 12 players this year, including seven in Rounds 3 through 5. That means there will be fierce competition for roster spots. Third-round pickMarcus Martin will face incumbent Daniel Kilgore at center.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" breaks down the latest news and predicts the 2014 season for top rookies.

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