A surprise choice for 49ers breakout player

Arizona's Rob Housler, Seattle's K.J. Wright and St. Louis' Robert Quinn made Gary Horton's listInsider of 10 potential breakout players from the NFC.

All are worthy candidates, in my view.

The San Francisco 49ers' Ahmad Brooks has probably played too long for anyone to consider him in the same vein, but his name came up first when I recently asked veteran safety Donte Whitner which teammate was "primed for a big jump" in 2012. Brooks had seven sacks last season. He has 18 over the past three. He's an interesting choice for a breakout-type candidate. Whitner:

"They gave him the contract he was looking for; he doesn’t have to go out there and really worry about injury. He's been getting off on the football great. He is starting to understand coverage concepts of what to do, where to be. The other day, I saw him run down the seam with a wide receiver covering him man to man and he looked like a corner.

"I believe having Aldon Smith on the other side will not allow him to get double-teamed. With Justin [Smith] and all those guys, he should have double-digit sacks and be up there with the league leaders this year. He’s such a good athlete, he’s a big guy. I believe Ahmad is going to have a really, really big year."

Last season, we saw tight end Vernon Davis become more effective as the team's new offense became more familiar to him. Davis always had the talent, but he needed time to fully grasp the playbook. He emerged as a dominant force in the postseason, amassing 10 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns in two games.

Brooks could be a similar case, except on defense. Brooks, upon signing his current deal in February, said former 49ers coaches claimed he had problems learning the defense. While Brooks strongly denied having any such troubles, he'll benefit from having a full offseason to learn the system San Francisco installed on the fly last summer.