The New York Giants host the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at MetLife Stadium, trying for the seventh time this season to prove that they can beat a team with a winning record. The 3-6 Giants have been unsuccessful in their other six efforts.
In cooperation with our friends over at Niners Nation, we will be adding a couple of posts to our usual repertoire this week. This is one, looking at 'under the radar' players for both teams. The 49ers players below were chosen and described by NN's David Fucillo. The choices of Giants' players are mine. The Giants' choices are written in such a way as to try to help 49ers fans understand why they are on the list.
ILB Chris Borland: He is quickly emerging on the scene, securing 35 tackles over the last two games, but given this week's news, I have to include him. Patrick Willis was expected to miss this week, and that has now expanded to the rest of the season. Borland joined Michael Wilhoite in the starting lineup with Bowman and Willis out. Borland's best skill is a nose for the ball-carrier, and more importantly, he is showing an ability to shed blocks to get to the ball. One of the big concerns with Borland was being physically overwhelmed by bigger NFL players. Thus far that has not been a problem.
OLB Aaron Lynch: The 49ers welcome back Aldon Smith this weekend, but during Smith's absence, the rookie Lynch has been a revelation. He has quickly turned into one of the most productive players on the 49ers defense. I don't expect to see Aldon Smith play every defensive snap in his first game back, so we could see a rotation of him, Lynch, Ahmad Brooks, and potentially Dan Skuta (depending on his ankle injury). Lynch is a big guy with serious power, and he has earned an extensive role. My guess is Brooks starts in the base downs and Lynch rotates in at times, with Aldon Smith creating some more rotation on the other side. Either way, watch out for when the 49ers have both Lynch and Smith on the field in pass rush situations.
C Marcus Martin: The 49ers are rolling out a rookie center for the third straight game. The 49ers drafted him in the third round this past May, and he took over when Daniel Kilgore fractured his ankle against the Denver Broncos. Martin struggled in his first game, with a few snaps off target, and struggles in blocking. Last week against the Saints, he had some struggles, but made significant improvements across the board. He is incredibly talented, but obviously a work in progress. 49ers fans will be looking to see how the Giants attack the middle of the 49ers offensive line.
Johnathan Hankins [Jim O'Connor -- USA Today Sports]
TE Larry Donnell: Donnell really isn't 'under the radar' anymore. Not the way opposing defenses have been bumping and double-teaming him since his breakout three-touchdown game Week 4 on Thursday Night Football vs. the Washington Redskins. He is, however, in his first year as a full-time player sand probably not that well known unless you are a Fantasy Football aficionado.
Donnell spent 2012 on the Giants' practice squad, then caught three passes last season. This year, he has broken out with 41 catches, second on the Giants, and a team-leading five touchdowns. Interesting 49ers note: Before the Week 4 three-touchdown game Donnell benched himself in his Fantasy Football lineup in favor of San Francisco's Vernon Davis. Donnell's Fantasy team lost that week.
OLB Devon Kennard: The fifth-round pick from USC was a preseason standout, but was set back during the regular season by a Week 1 hamstring injury. Kennard has taken over the past two weeks at the starter at strong-side linebacker for the Giants. He hasn't been great, but Kennard's athleticism, pass-rush ability and physicality excited the fan base during the preseason. The hope is that those things will translate the rest of the season, and that Kennard becomes the play-making linebacker the Giants have sought since, well, since a looooooong time ago.
DT Johnathan Hankins: Lost in the fact that the Giants defense has been horrible in recent weeks, and that they can't stop the run at all, is the fact the Hankins, a second-year defensive tackle out of Ohio State, is turning into a really, really good player. He became a starter this year when Linval Joseph left via free agency, signing with the Minnesota Vikings. Hankins is a tremendous run-stopper who also has 3.5 sacks and has been unblockable at times. Unfortunately, he isn't getting much help from the rest of the guys in the middle or, against Seattle, anyone on the edges.