49ers' hidden treasure: Defensive end

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

It's not clear whether any position group can exceed the sky-high expectations awaiting the San Francisco 49ers as they follow up their 13-3 season.

Consider this an opportunity to more fully appreciate defensive end Ray McDonald.

Justin Smith gets most of the attention on the 49ers' defensive line. He's earned it, too. There might not be a better all-around defensive lineman in the NFL.

It's easy to overlook the fact that McDonald played at a Pro Bowl level last season. McDonald went from backup to starter for the first time since 2008. He had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. McDonald is arguably the second-best defensive end in the division. He has played with abandon since becoming a starter.

"I never get complacent," McDonald said following a minicamp practice two weeks ago. "I just want to continue to build off how I played last year and hopefully I can make the Pro Bowl this year and not just make it to the NFC Championship Game."