By Ryan Downes
This article is part of our 2013 Fantasy Team Preview series in which we are profiling every NFL team leading up to the season, click here for the complete list of published previews. Also, check out our staff rankings for see how we value each player.
The 49ers have been one of the best teams in football over the past two seasons, led by their elite smash mouth defense (more on this later). However, they didn’t truly become one of the best teams in the NFL until switching for Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick in the second half last year. A controversial decision at the time (since most of us didn’t expect that Kaepernick was nearly this good), it helped the 49ers become a complete football team, which they rode all the way to the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Niners, this will be easier said than done. No longer will Kaepernick be taking NFL defenses by surprise. Plus, also will have to deal with the injury to top WR Michael Crabtree (Yeah, keep reading) Oh, and there is also the fact that their backup QB is Colt McCoy. Niners fans can now take a moment to say a little prayer for the continuing health of Colin K. This year, there’s plenty of story lines to discuss, let’s dive right in!
Added: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, WR Anquan Boldin, DE Glenn Dorsey, LB Dan Skuta, S Craig Dahl, WR Marlon Moore, S Darcel McBath, G Adam Snyder, CB Tramaine Brock, QB Colt McCoy
Drafted: S Eric Reid, DE Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, TE Vance McDonald, OLB Corey Lemonier, WR Quinton Patton, RB Marcus Lattimore, DL Quinton Dial, LB Nick Moody, QB B.J Daniels,
OT Carter Bykowski, DB Marcus Cooper
Lost: QB Alex Smith, TE Delanie Walker, DT Isaac Sopoaga, DE Ricky Jean-Francois, S Dashon Goldson, WR Ted Ginn Jr.
One Up: Vernon Davis, TE – As you’ve likely heard about and will hear more about in the following paragraph; Michael Crabtree is seriously injured. San Francisco’s other top WR options include: Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, and A.J Jenkins. These 3 certainly will not be bad options, however, every QB likes to have a security blanket. A guy they can look to when no one else is open. Last year, Davis ended with 41 receptions for 548 yards and 5 TDs, certainly not of the mind-blowing variety. In fact, at face value, these seem to be very pedestrian numbers. However, Colin Kaepernick started clicking with Davis during the playoffs. Davis had two 100+ receiving yard games and finished with 254 yards and 1 TD in 3 playoff contests. With the great results from last year’s postseason and the aforementioned injury to Crabtree, and the fact that Davis has been running exclusively with the WRs during minicamp, Davis should get significant targets this season. Since the Michael Crabtree injury, Davis’ ADP has risen from the beginning of the 8th round to his current ADP in the late 6th round. This is a man whom can certainly finish with 65+ receptions, 800 yards and 7-10 TDs. He comes in as the 5th TE in our staff rankings.
One Down: Michael Crabtree, WR – Like I said already, if you aren’t aware of this injury yet, you’re probably not a “fantasy guru”. However, his injury situation is well worth exploring because of the impact this is going to have on the rest of the players on this team. During the last campaign, Crabtree posted: 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and 9 TDs. This production was good enough to place him as the #14 WR in standard scoring fantasy leagues. That’s quite a bit of production to replace. As I stated above, V. Davis will certainly take on a much more pronounced role. What we didn’t speak about is how this will directly affect the rest of the offense.
Anquan Boldin is now 32 and considered by most to be a #2 option. His 2012 numbers (65 receptions for 921 yards and 4 TDs) were not the stuff of legend. Still, he ranked as the #31 WR in fantasy. With Crabtree out, Kaepernick will have no choice but to target Boldin a ton so perhaps he can even get back to his first 1000 yards season since 2009. As for Manningham, he’s missed 8 games over the past 2 seasons and is currently recovering from ACL and PCL surgery that will keep him out until late August. Although health is a big concern, I truly see Manningham as another excellent sleeper pick this year when he’s able to return to the lineup. Lastly, Jenkins will get a shot, especially while Manningham is rehabbing. It’s tough to predict just what this kid will do, because he’s undersized at 6 ft. and 0 inches and 192 lbs. He didn’t play much last year and needs to get accustomed to the NFL. Yet, he may still produce with practice this offseason and plenty of targets. I’m hearing good things about him out of the 49ers camp.
Oh, one other last thing – Crabtree himself. There’s plenty of reason to believe that Crabtree might not miss the entire season. If he can rehab and everything goes well, he may play the final month of the regular season. However, as a WR coming off of a serious leg injury, it’s tough to predict how effective he’ll be. Is he worth a pickup in the last round to stash and wait on (if you have an IR spot)? I’d say, yes, however, I’m saying last round, because there’s too many other useful strategies when drafting to go higher on Crabtree. Namely, handcuffing RB’s and picking up rookie/ sleeper options with high upside.
1) At age 30, with all the wear and tear, can Gore once again break 1,000 rushing yards?
Age is a killer for all athletes, but this is especially true for NFL running backs. However, in his 8th NFL season last year, Gore still was very productive, running for 1,214 yards and 8 TDs while catching 28 passes for 234 yards and another TD. However, he just turned 30 years old and this is usually bad news for RBs. All of that being the case, Gore should still have a nice year ahead. His backups, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James have promise, but are not exactly experienced and relied upon backs. Hunter did a nice job filling in for Gore when needed, but the Forty Niners don’t want him to take over the starting role any time soon. Gore (if he can stay healthy), is still going to get the lion’s share of touches. We know that when this happens, he will produce. Many people really don’t realize how consistent Gore really is. After his rookie season, Gore has rushed for 1,000+ yards in 6 of his 7 seasons. For me, the past is usually proof enough. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in all of football, I have to think Gore will certainly go over a thousand yards once again.
2) The Defense struggled in the playoffs, but re-stocked in the offseason. Are they going to be a fantasy D/ST stud?
Last season, San Francisco may have finished as the #8 D/ST in standard scoring leagues, but they were 4th in both passing yards and rushing yards allowed, and 2nd in points allowed. Want to know why the 49ers defense was so dominant? Justin Smith is one of the best defense tackles in football, and with Ahmad Brooks, Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, the 49ers have the best linebacking corps in the league. The secondary takes a hit losing Pro-Bowl safety Dashon Goldson, but they brought in CB Nnamdi Asomugha, and DE Glenn Dorsey, among others. They also drafted S Eric Reid (who will step in immediately for Goldson) & DE Cornellius “Tank” Carradine to solidify the defense.
A change of scenery and less scrutiny should be a big help to Asomugha. In San Fran, he won’t be a big focus of the media. They’ll be talking about the Crabtree injury, the first full season of Colin Kaepernick, and a possible return to the Super Bowl. This ability to fly under the radar will be good for Nnamdi. The drafting of Reid and Carradine also serves to bring in two guys who could be difference makers immediately. They have the skills to transition into the NFL quite nicely.
The struggles of the 49ers in the playoffs can be directly tied to injuries to both Justin Smith (torn triceps) and Aldon Smith (torn labrum) and as a result, the pass rush wasn’t nearly as effective as it has been for most of 2012. Both are expected be 100% for the season and should return to being dominant pass rushers. As a result, I have no qualms about touting the 49ers D/ST as a fantasy stud again in 2013. They may not rack up the turnovers like some of the other elite defenses, but in each of the two seasons since Harbaugh took over as head coach, they’ve been one of the toughest team to move the ball against. Count on them to be a consistent every week D/ST starter in fantasy again in 2013.
3) Can the read-option make Kaepernick a top 10 QB, or will the league’s defensive minds figure it out?
Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene last year when Alex Smith went down and he threw for 1,814 yards /10 TDs/3 INT in only 7 starts. Oh yeah, he also ran for 415 YDS and 5 TDs. Prorating his seven starts to a whole season would have translated to 3675 passing yards with 23 TDs, as well as 544 rushing yards and another 5 TDs. In the playoffs he was even better, passing for 798 yards, 4 TDs with 2 INT and rushing for 264 yards and another 3 TDs (including a playoff record 181 yards rushing and 2 TD against Green Bay).
Schemes are a big factor in the NFL. Offensive Coordinators and Head Coaches are paid a lot of money to try and figure the other team’s game plan out. But, do you know who is paid even more? The players. That’s right, the guys who actually suit up and decide the outcomes of these contests we call “football games”. Most of the time, you can’t beat out superior talent and this will be no exception. Kaepernick has a big arm and is mobile to boot. He also has the benefit of NFL experience and the confidence to know he can win in this league. All of these factors should add up to a big season for Colin. To expect that Kaepernick will be running the read-option all year, however, is a mistake. He is a very good pocket passer, and under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh, expect him to continue to improve. Of course, defenses will try and plan for what Kaepernick does well, but all of the planning in the world won’t be able to stifle Kap’s talent. He WILL be a top 10 QB this upcoming season.
San Francisco is going to be a contender yet again in 2013. Despite the Crabtree injury, they still have Kaepernick and master-coach Harbaugh at the helm. This isn’t even giving mention to the oft-underrated abilities of Gore and Boldin. There are plenty of viable fantasy stars here (don’t forget about the 49er D), and others that could be amazing waiver-wire pickups. If you want to win your fantasy championship, you’ll probably want to have at least one San Francisco item on your draft-shopping list. Don’t forget completely about Crabtree. If he’s not selected in your draft, keep him on your waiver wire and follow the news closely. If he’s set to come back, scoop him up during the season! Either way, there’s quite a few fantasy possibilities to get excited about on this team. Look to this team for nice sleepers and maybe you can mine a golden nugget of your own!
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