» 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.
» 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.