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Midseason Grades: Offensive Skill Position Players

No tape, not that I think I'm missing much. The Niners are making a run at worst team of the DVOA era, and though stomping bad teams is the best indicator of success in the playoffs, even the noun "team" may be inappropriate for the 2007 San Francisco 49ers. Today I continue with the midseason grades, tomorrow we'll transition to previewing Sunday's contest against the Chicago Bears.

Matt Hasselbeck A: As Peyton Manning proved Sunday night, not having your weapons hurts. I think fans will look back at 2007 as Beck's finest personal performance. He's suffered personnel inconsistency, the loss of his best receiver, some real bad-luck interceptions and perhaps most devastatingly, a rushing attack that has mandated defensive coordinators sit on the pass. His production has slowed, but his play has held up. Gone are the frustrating forced passes on manic scrambles. He's mostly avoided staring down his receivers, and making poor decisions. Asking anything more of Beck is just greedy.

Bobby Engram A+: The forever slot receiver has done the downright unthinkable: recovered from a rare thyroid disorder and emerged as a #1 at 34 (nearing 35). Since Deion Branch went down in week 5, Engram has propped the Hawks' passing attack on his back, and provided the steady yardage and first downs the running game could not.

Deion Branch C+: Great when active, but injuries matter. The Hawks are paying beaucoup bucks for Branch's services and he's now missed over half the season. Still, the last few games don't look like they'll have any affect on the postseason, so let's concentrate on what Branch can do when healthy. Branch is an excellent route runner. He's developed ideal chemistry with Hasselbeck, has tremendous body control that allows him to make tough catches on even misthrown passes without losing momentum. His skill set is perfect for Holmgren's current spread-Walsh offense, allowing him to be an able possession receiver against man coverage and punish zones for big gains. Healthy, and matched with this offensive system, Branch is a top 15 receiver.

D.J. Hackett B: His grade is also held down, but far less so, because of injury. Far less because he's not being paid like a #1 receiver. I'm glad I waited until today to give Hackett his grade, because yesterday was a thing of beauty: 10 targets, 8 receptions, 4 first downs and a touchdown. Hackett is still best used as a zone buster, but his potential as that is near unlimited. Get Hackett and Branch on the field together and watch the fireworks.

Nate Burleson C: Burly is improving - has improved, especially the past two weeks. Some of that is the return of Hackett. Some, though, is just that Burleson is still developing as a wide receiver. It's easy to forget that Nate is only a month older than Hackett, perhaps because at 23 Burleson posted a thousand yards receiving for the Vikings while Hackett was warming the bench for the Buffaloes. Despite his poor performance to date, Burleson is a matchup problem for opposing defenses because of his RAC ability. Burly still has a chance to be a very good wide receiver.

Ben Obomanu I: Obo has played jittery; like a not-ready-for-Sunday practice squader in transition. The talent is there, that we know, everything else is TBD.

Shaun Alexander F: I've heard people talk up Alexander's pass blocking recently. It has improved. Too bad Alexander is a running back. If the Hawks were looking for an able pass blocker who couldn't run more than two yard or receive, they have David Kirtman on the roster. Talking up Alexander's pass blocking when his running and receiving are bottom five in football are like talking up a girl's eyes when they're attached to a giant herpetic sore.

Maurice Morris C+: A league average rusher, an above average receiver. Miscast in the role of savior because of Alexander's career nadir. Yesterday's fumble was a bit of a fluke, but fumbling in general may be a problem.

Leonard Weaver B+: Excellent receiver, much improved run blocker and has a little burst and bang if ever given carries. He's only below average as a pass blocker, but even that has improved quite a bit from the preseason. His awareness is improving, the talent is there, for a player that couldn't cost the Hawks less (an undrafted FA) Weaver is a value of titanic proportions.