NEW ORLEANS (CBS / AP) — Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl:
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Colin Kaepernick, QB (7), 6-4, 230, 2nd season, Nevada
Dynamic player who replaced injured Alex Smith in November and kept the job … Fast with long strides, set record for position with 181 yards rushing vs. Green Bay, including 59-yard TD … Strong arm, unafraid to throw into tight spots … Excellent weapon in read-option, although Niners don’t use it that much.
Frank Gore, RB (21), 5-9, 217, 8th season, Miami, Fla.
Career rushing leader for franchise, as dependable as they come … Strong, can pound through line, but also has quick feet to cut to open space … rushed for 1,214 yards and eight TDs during season, has three touchdowns in playoffs … Also effective out of backfield as receiver.
LaMichael James, RB (23), 5-9, 195, 1st season, Oregon
Change of pace player who sat until Kendall Hunter wrecked ankle in Week 12 … Role has expanded of late … Also dangerous kick returner.
Michael Crabtree, WR (15), 6-1, 214, 4th season, Texas Tech
Matured this season and became a true No. 1 receiver … Led team with 85 catches, 1,105 yards and nine TDs … Somehow finds way to get wide open several times a game … Good after the catch, but needs to consider better ball security; fumbled at Atlanta 1 in conference championship.
Randy Moss, WR (84), 6-4, 214, 14th season, Marshall
Now a complementary wideout, but one who must be watched closely … Still has a burst to get deep, runs as smoothly as ever … Made only 28 catches during season, but scored three times and averaged 15.5 a reception … Brought good attitude to Bay Area, leaving behind his rep for being bad locker room presence.
Vernon Davis, TE (85), 6-3, 250, 7th season, Maryland
Almost forgotten at times in offense, Davis has emerged powerfully in postseason … Excellent clutch player, is a force over the middle and down the sidelines … Among best at position going deep … Had 41 catches and five touchdowns in 2012, has six receptions and a TD in two postseason games, averaging 25 yards a catch.
Delanie Walker, TE (46), 6-0, 242, 7th season, Central Missouri
Would be No. 1 tight end for a lot of teams, although he does drop some passes … Solid blocker … Averaged 16.4 yards a catch during season, excellent for a tight end … Scored three times in 2012.
Joe Staley, LT (74), 6-5, 315, 6th season, Central Michigan
Pro Bowler and the fulcrum of the running game … Solid pass protector, too … First-round pick in `07 who has started every game in career when healthy … Niners trust him to handle top DEs one on one.
Mike Iupati, LG (77), 6-5, 331, 3rd season, Idaho
Another first-round pick who blossomed into All-Pro player this season … Strong, good feet, anchors well … Rarely out of position, fundamentally sound blocker … Best offensive lineman in this game.
Jonathan Goodwin, C (59), 6-3, 318, 11th season, Michigan
Veteran who won Super Bowl with Saints in 2009, joined Niners as free agent in `11 … Steady, not spectacular … If he has to handle Ngata, could be in for long day, will need some help.
Alex Boone, RG (75), 6-8, 300, 3rd season, Ohio State
Newcomer with tremendous size and power … Got in only one game as rookie, played in all of them in 2011 without a starter, was elevated this season … Probably the fifth-best player on the line, but it’s a very good line, so Boone isn’t a weak spot.
Anthony Davis, RT (76), 6-5, 323, 3rd season, Rutgers
Improved substantially since being drafted 11th overall in 2010, six spots before Iupati … Durable, has started all 48 regular-season games … Might see a few blitzes on his side, needs to get quickly out of stance to handle them.
Ray McDonald, DL (91), 6-3, 290, 6th season, Florida
Active player with some versatility … Third-round pick whose duties have increased, but was more effective in 2011 … Has some skills at pressuring QB.
Justin Smith, DL (94), 6-4,, 285, 12th season, Missouri
As versatile as any lineman, can play end or tackle and is often in a LB’s spot in coordinator Vic Fangio’s alignments … Has been playing with partially torn left triceps muscle … Never stops working, inspirational leader on D … Pro Bowl player who left Cincinnati in `08 as free agent.
Isaac Sopoaga, NT (90), 6-2, 330, 9th season, Hawaii
Strong as they come, gets a nice surge in the middle … If he matches up with Yanda, that’s trench play worth watching … Had one sack in season and has another in postseason.
Ricky Jean Francois, DL (95), 6-3, 295, 4th season, LSU
Often makes an impact despite limited snaps … Had 22 tackles and two sacks in 2012 … If Smith is limited, his role increases.
Ahmad Brooks, OLB (55), 6-3, 259, 7th season, Virginia
Comes off perhaps best game of career against Atlanta … Good timing enables him to block or deflect passes … Terrific pass rusher when turned loose, had 6 1-2 sacks … Had 50-yard interception return for TD.
NaVorro Bowman, ILB (53), 6-0, 242, 3rd season, Penn State
All-Pro tackling machine No. 1 … Really came on in 2011, can be dominant over middle or from sideline to sideline … Led Niners with 149 tackles. His 97 solo would have been second overall on team … No predicting where he’ll pop up in defensive schemes.
Patrick Willis, ILB (52), 6-1, 240, 6th season, Mississippi
All-Pro tackling machine No. 1A … With apologies to Lewis, Willis is best LB in this Super Bowl – and probably best in entire league … Has made All-Pro in five of six seasons and took taking Defensive Rookie of Year honors in 2007 … Had 120 tackles, 88 solo this season.
Aldon Smith, OLB (99), 6-4, 258, 2nd season, Missouri
All-Pro sacks machine … Led NFC with 19 1-2, but slumped when Justin Smith got hurt … Not as good as he needs to be in coverage, but is raw … then again, why not rush him every play? … Great burst off the line, big wingspan and maneuverability.
Carlos Rogers, CB (22), 6-0, 192, 8th season, Auburn
Earned All-Pro recognition in 2011, wasn’t as impactful this season … Breaks on the ball well, but can gamble too much … Managed only one interception after getting six in previous season … Could see a lot of Boldin.
Tarell Brown, CB (25), 5-10, 193, 6th season, Texas
Has gotten better with experience, but still makes some big mistakes … Has 39-yard INT return in postseason … Made two picks during season … Might wind up matched against deep-threat Torrey Smith.
Dashon Goldson, FS (38), 6-2, 200, 6th season, Washington
The glue of the secondary, a fourth-round choice who has become an All-Pro … Breaks on the ball well, is physical when he gets there … Good size and strength and intelligence … Pitta frequently could be his responsibility.
Donte Whitner, SS (31), 5-10, 208, 7th season, Ohio State
Like Baltimore’s Pollard, Whitner loves to hit … Was third on Niners with 83 tackles … Not a ballhawk, but did have 42-yard TD runback with interception … First-round pick by Buffalo in 2006, joined Niners as free agent in 2011.
David Akers, PK (2), 5-10, 200, 14th season, Louisville
All-Pro in 2011, slumping in 2012 … Missed most field goals in league (13), then failed on 38-yarder at Atlanta … Coach Jim Harbaugh prefers familiarity he has with Akers, who made Super Bowl in 2004 season with Eagles.
Andy Lee, P (4), 6-2, 180, 9th season, Pittsburgh
Excellent punter with strong leg, good hang time and directional kicks … All-Pro this season, averaged 48.1 gross and 43.2 yards net … Has been 49ers’ regular punter for entire career, with best seasons the last two.
Ted Ginn Jr., KR (19), 5-11, 180, 6th season, Ohio State
A flop as a receiver, Ginn found his niche in running back kicks … Has good speed and big-play capability, but is inconsistent .. Was third in NFC with 10.2 average on punt returns.
Joe Flacco, QB (5), 6-6, 245, 5th season, Delaware
Holds NFL record by leading team to playoff wins in first five pro seasons … Has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in this postseason … Is 8-4 in playoffs … Outplayed top draftee Andrew Luck, then Peyton Manning, then Tom Brady in leading Ravens to Super Bowl
Ray Rice, RB (27), 5-8, 212, 5th season, Rutgers
The hub of the Ravens’ offense throughout his career … Rushed for 1,143 yards and nine TDs, caught 61 passes for 478 yards … Has two TDs in postseason … Threat to break long gains on runs or screen passes.
Bernard Pierce, RB (30), 6-0, 218, 1st season, Temple
Complementary back who has come on in last two months … Gives Rice a breather, but doesn’t give one to defenses … More powerful than Rice, not as shifty or quick … Had 532 yards rushing during season, 169 in playoffs (6.3 average)
Vonta Leach, FB (44), 6-0, 260, 9th season, East Carolina
All-Pro fullback … One of best blockers in league, unafraid to take on anyone … Can sneak out of backfield for receptions, too … Occasionally will run ball in short-yardage situations.
Anquan Boldin, WR (81), 6-1, 223, 10th season, Florida State
Helped Arizona to 2009 Super Bowl and has been sensational in this postseason … Has 16 receptions for 17.3-yard average and three scores, two in AFC title game … Powerful, versatile and can outleap defenders for balls … Made 65 catches for 921 yards and four TDs this season.
Torrey Smith, WR (82), 6-0, 205, 2nd season, Maryland
Dangerous deep threat with superior speed … Has improved his hands this season … Has run past every secondary Ravens have faced in playoffs, making nine catches for 22-yard average and two scores … Scored eight times in regular season.
Dennis Pitta, TE (88), 6-4, 245, 3rd season, BYU
Flacco’s confidence in him grows each week … Gets open over middle or outside and hangs onto ball … Not used much as a blocker … Has 10 receptions and two touchdowns in playoffs after 61 catches and seven scores in regular season.
Bryan McKinnie, LT (78), 6-8, 360, 11th season, Miami, Fla.
Line has solidified since he moved in and Michael Oher switched back to right side … Huge, anchors well, has experience to handle most challenges … Lost job earlier in season, but has performed strongly since returning to starting status in playoffs.
Kelechi Osemele, LG (72), 6-5, 333, 1st season, Iowa State
Tough spot for a rookie, but second-round pick started every game … Anchors well, fundamentally sound for younger player … Held off veterans to keep his position.
Matt Birk, C (77), 6-4, 310, 15th season, Harvard
Might be final game for longtime veteran of Vikings and now Ravens … Locker room leader who joined Ravens in 2009 … Six-time Pro Bowl center … Has started 136 consecutive games.
Marshal Yanda, RG (73), 6-3, 315, 6th season, Iowa
Pro Bowl guard … Missed one game this season, but started every game previous two years … Versatile, equally adept as pass protector and run blocker … Ravens like to run behind him inside.
Michael Oher, RT (74), 6-4, 315, 4th season, Mississippi
“Blind Side” subject who is far more comfortable on right side … Can be overpowered at times, needs to avoid sloppy footwork that gets him beaten … Has been steadier in playoffs, might be weak link up front for Baltimore.
Haloti Ngata, DT (92), 6-4, 330, 7th season, Oregon
Pro Bowler who can also play nose tackle … Very strong and powerful … A sacks threat when healthy, which he finally seems to be … Had five sacks in 2012, missed two games (knee).
Terrence Cody, NT (62), 6-4, 349, 3rd season, Alabama
“Mount Cody,” can be immovable force, but is inconsistent … Much better mucking up middle against run than in passing situations … Had no sacks and 25 tackles … Often yields to backup Ma’ake Kemoeatu (96).
Pernell McPhee, DE (90), 6-3, 280, 2nd season, Mississippi State
Development slowed by thigh problem, missed four games, started only six … Has been steadier in playoffs, won’t make highlight plays … Ravens like his work ethic, expect bigger things in future.
Paul Kruger, DE (99), 6-4, 265, 4th season, Utah
Had breakout season and has been among best defenders in playoffs … Led team with nine sacks, has 2 1-2 in postseason … Very disruptive and also can drop into coverage, although that’s not his strength … With Terrell Suggs getting healthier, Kruger doesn’t get double-teamed as much.
Terrell Suggs, OLB (55), 6-3, 260, 10th season, Arizona State
2011 Defensive Player of Year coming off Achilles tendon injury that cost him first half of season … Played this season with torn right biceps … Didn’t make big impact until playoffs, but what’s wrong with that? … Was particularly effective against Broncos.
Dannell Ellerbe, ILB (59), 6-1, 240, 4th season, Georgia
Makes a lot of plays, and some mistakes … Plays on edge … Had 92 tackles, 4 1-2 sacks … Versatile, could become the focal point of linebacking corps next year … Picked off deflected Tom Brady pass in AFC championship.
Ray Lewis, ILB (52), 6-1, 250, 17th season, Miami, Fla.
“The Raven,” as teammate Bernard Pollard calls him … Emotional engine for Baltimore for entire career, retires after this game … Missed 10 games with torn right triceps, but has been sensational in playoffs with 44 tackles … MVP of 2001 Super Bowl, Ravens’ only championship … Defensive Player of Year in 2000 and `03.
Courtney Upshaw, OLB (91), 6-2, 272, 1st season, Alabama
Rookie who had lots of responsibility with so many injuries on defense … Responded with 60 tackles and few errors … Won two national titles at Alabama, was drafted in second round (35th overall) last April … Could eventually be an end.
Corey Graham, CB (24), 6-0, 196, 6th season, New Hampshire
Emerged after top cornerback Lardarius Webb tore up knee … Had two interceptions at Denver and had two during season … Signed as free agent after five seasons as backup with Bears.
Cary Williams, CB (29), 6-1, 190, 4th season, Washburn
Very up-and-down defender who has two picks in postseason, including one in end zone in AFC championship … So-so tackler, better as coverage man, yet made 75 tackles during season … Joined Ravens in 2009 after Titans cut him.
Bernard Pollard, SS (31), 6-1, 224, 7th season, Purdue
Hardest hitter on the field for Ravens – yes, including Lewis … Patriots know how damaging he can be: Pollard has put out of games Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Stevan Ridley in recent years … Takes some silly penalties when he gets too aggressive … Led team with 98 tackles, also can blitz effectively.
Ed Reed, FS (20), 5-11, 200, 11th season, Miami, Fla.
Like Lewis, a Miami Hurricane who probably will wind up in Hall of Fame … Smart, reads offenses as well as most coordinators … Makes big plays, tied Williams for team lead with four picks … Was in on 58 tackles … Less demonstrative than Lewis, but as much a leader.
Justin Tucker, PK (5), 6-0, 180, 1st season, Texas
Rookies rarely have this kind of impact as kicker. Tucker went 4 for 4 from 50 yards and out during season, when he was 30 of 33 on field goals … A bit inconsistent on kickoffs, but very reliable on FGs with game on line … Undrafted after strong career for Longhorns.
Sam Koch, P (4), 6-1, 220, 7th season, Nebraska
Usually reliable, although his low punts allowed long returns for Patriots in AFC title game … Had 47.1 yard gross average and 40.8 net and put 28 punts inside opposing 20-yard line.
Jacoby Jones, KR (12), 6-2, 212, 6th season, Lane
All-Pro returner who also is third receiver for Ravens … Made 70-yard TD catch to rescue Baltimore in final minute of regulation at Denver in divisional round … Averaged 30.7 yards on 38 kickoff returns, tops in NFL, and had two scores, one covering 108 yards … Averaged 9.2 on punt runbacks with a 63-yard TD.
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