We continue highlighting the NFC West with the Super Bowl runner-up, San Francisco 49ers.
This team has a handful of intriguing fantasy storylines as we approach the 2013 season. An exciting, hybrid new quarterback, an injured wideout and a running back with a boatload of tread on his tires, but isn’t done yet. So, let’s not waste any time and get right to the fantasy prospects of the 49ers.
Despite rookie quarterbacks making all of the headlines last season, it was a sophomore signal caller that stepped in and led his time to a Super Bowl appearance. Colin Kaepernick took the league by storm after replacing Alex Smith, making for an absolute waiver wire gem. The guy is a freak of an athlete, drawing physical comparisons to Cam Newton. His size, speed and cannon of an arm make him one of the more exciting fantasy signal callers out there. I mean, there aren’t many options to choose from at the position who can break out long touchdown runs, throw bullets downfield and break off tackles. Kaepernick only started seven games in 2012, but boy did he make them count. In those seven starts, he threw for 10 scores, rushed for five and ran for over 400 yards. If that were stretched out over the course of a 16-game season, Kaepernick would have posted season totals of around 3,600 yards, upwards to 600 rushing yards and 28 total scores. As my fantasy quarterback, I’ll take that every day of the week. The thing I like about Kaepernick is that he can change his fantasy outlook on just one play. At first, he’ll be producing pedestrian fantasy numbers in a game and then, he’ll breakout a monster run. In fact, he finished the 2012 with the second-most fantasy points per drop back (0.69). Of course, the loss of Michael Crabtree hurts, considering Kaepernick targeted him a whopping 65 times in his seven starts. When throwing to Crabs, Kaepernick’s completion percentage was 68.5, compared to 58.4 when throwing to others. He also tossed eight touchdowns and zero interceptions when throwing to his favorite wideout. I’m not going to lie, the loss will definitely sting, but Kaepernick is dynamic and talented enough to produce without him. At 25-years old, last season was just the beginning for Kaepernick.
Running back Frank Gore doesn’t have much time left as a top back in this league. He just turned 30-years old, yes, the magical age where running backs tend to tail off. However, Gore has still been pretty productive over the years. While injury concerns were paired with Gore in the past, he’s played 16 games in each of the last two seasons, rushing for a little over 1,200 yards and eight scores in both years. From a fantasy perspective, he’s finished as the 11th, 12th and 19th best fantasy rusher over the past three years, which puts him into running back two category. However, as good as a player he has been, there just isn’t a whole lot of upside with Gore right now. His body is worn, he’s 30 and the 49ers have selected running backs in each of the last three drafts, grabbing Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore. That could be an indication that the team is planning on life without Gore in their backfield. But as of right now, Gore is the guy and will get all the opportunity with the 49ers. Kaepernick’s mobility and read option presence certainly helps Gore’s fantasy value, and I think this may be his last season rushing for 1,000 yards. Still, he’s a top-20 back when it comes to fantasy.
The 49ers received devastating news this offseason when wideout Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May. He’ll be out upwards to six months or so, but could possibly return towards the end of the season. Regardless, you aren’t drafting him in anything other than dynasty leagues this year, which is a shame because he was beginning to emerge into that top wideout many thought he would be after coming out of Texas Tech. In 2012, Crabtree finished as the game’s number 14 fantasy receiver, catching 85 balls for 1,105 yards and nine scores. So, who, if anyone, will pick up the slack? Well, the team did bring in veteran Anquan Boldin, but he is more of a slot guy, while Crabtree stretched the field. I don’t expect Boldin to produce anywhere near like Crabtree did a season ago. He’s certainly draftable, but not as anything more than a WR4. And I’m not putting my stock into rookie A.J. Jenkins or Mario Manningham, who is coming off an ACL tear.
If anyone is going to benefit from Crabtree’s absence, it will most likely be Vernon Davis. He is a freak athlete, and is using that athleticism to transition to wide receiver during camp. Davis has been working with the wideouts during camp and has often operated out of the slot. Of course, it may be difficult for fantasy owners to put a ton of stock into Davis this season, considering he was a constant headache in 2012. I mean, the guy finished with less fantasy points than Scott Chandler, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Myers. He had two games where he didn’t record a catch and posted four games in which he only caught one pass. It was maddening to own Davis last year, but at the end of the day, there might not be a more athletic, talented player at his position outside of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. It’s frustrating because he is so ridiculously talented and will likely be the focal point of the 49ers passing attack. If you are looking to gamble on the tight end position, you could do worse than Davis. The upside is still there.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.