To get an initial sense of who's helping the 49ers in 2014 but might not be getting into the headlines Rams fans are seeing, I linked up with David "Fooch" Fucillo from Niners Nation. He gave me three under the radar players and I dropped three of the Rams less heralded contributors on him.
OLB Aaron Lynch
The 49ers used a 5th round pick on Lynch this past May, but this is a guy with 1st round caliber talent. Off the field issues sunk his draft stock, but in his short time with the 49ers, Lynch has been an impact player every single week. The 49ers are playing without Aldon Smith for the first nine weeks, and Lynch has taken advantage of this opportunity. Dan Skuta starts at OLB in place of Smith, but when the 49ers move into their nickel, Lynch has taken over the role. 2013 draft pick Corey Lemonier started the season in that role, but within the span of three weeks, Lynch surpassed him on the depth chart. I can almost guarantee that Lynch will knock down one of Austin Davis's passes, and will hurry him at least once or twice. He will be coming off the left end, so keep an eye out.
WR Brandon Lloyd
For Rams fans, I suppose Lloyd would not be under the radar in general. And yet, I imagine Rams fans would be surprised to see him impacting things the way he is. Lloyd has split time with Stevie Johnson as the 49ers No. 3 receiver. Lloyd has handled the bulk of that work the past two weeks, and he had one of his patented highlight reel catches in Week 5. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are the guys to watch, but Lloyd has quickly proven himself incredibly capable.
C Daniel Kilgore
I included him last week, and he's back again this week. The fourth year veteran took over the 49ers starting center work this year, replacing capable veteran Jonathan Goodwin. Kilgore has struggled at times with pass protection, but he is turning into a strong run blocker. The 49ers found a lot of success up the middle in Week 5, thanks in no small part to Kilgore. He will face a stiff challenge this week against the center of that defensive front.
RB Benny Cunningham
Zac Stacy was the focus for much of the preseason discussion regarding the Rams' rushing attack, but Cunningham's role has only increased since his rookie season in 2013. He's picking up about a half dozen rushes per contest, and is doing fine in his role in the running back committee, averaging more than four yards per rush. With Stacy dealing with a calf injury he picked up late in last weeks' game against the Eagles, Cunningham may either have to take on the starting role or, if Stacy is able to play, keep Stacy's workload limited on Monday with increased usage. Either way, Niners fans will see him plenty.
CB E.J. Gaines
The Rams' entire secondary is built on youth. The most senior cornerbacks and safeties are only in their third year, so there was an opportunity for an unknown to jump up the depth chart. Some thought it might be second-year Miami product Brandon McGee, but E.J. Gaines, a sixth-round pick out of Missouri, has lept to the second CB spot aside Janoris Jenkins and has shined in doing so. He's up for the NFL's rookie of the week award, and it's a solid reflection of the quality he's brought to the secondary even with as little experience as he has
DE Ethan Westbrooks
Michael Sam (Distraction! Squirrel!) picked up most of the headlines in the preseason. Ethan Westbrooks picked up the roster spot. Westbrooks outplayed Sam with a story of his own, getting a face tattoo while working at Toys 'R Us because he never wanted a normal job ever again. To his credit, he earned the roster spot based on the quality of the performances he had in the preseason and hasn't looked back. His role has increased over the Rams' first four games with Chris Long out, so expect to see #93 in action on Monday.
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