Just like in 2013, the San Francisco 49ers are loaded with talent this year. That talent and great coaching has gotten them deep into the playoff the past three years, but still no Lombardi trophy. In terms of fantasy football though, essentially all their talent at skill positions is back for another run in 2014, and their defense still remains one of the league’s best.
Let’s breakdown the San Francisco 49ers position by position:
No quarterback controversy in the Bay Area, with Colin Kaepernick fully entrenched in the starting role. Kaepernick had similar numbers in 2013 as he did in 2012, but I expect this to be the year he makes a big jump. Consider: 1) The 49ers have undoubtedly the best offensive line in the league, 2) His top receiver, Michael Crabtree, was injured for the first 11 games of the season last year, 3) Not only is Crab back to full health, the 49ers added veteran receiver Stevie Johnson to stretch the field along with tight end, Vernon Davis, and complement possession receiver Anquan Boldin, and 4) Were it not for Kaep’s slow start in 2013 (which is forgivable considering his lack of targets), he would have been a top-five quarterback last year. Expect that from him on 2014.
The running back position for the 9ers has meant the reliable Frank Gore for a while now, but that might not be the case this year. While still firmly in the starting role, Gore is now past his prime at 31 and has more competition than ever for carries. With second year player Marcus Lattimore and rookie Carlos Hyde chomping at the bit for touches, Gore might be seeing more of a timeshare this year. Chances are Gore doesn’t come close to the 276 carries he had last year and probably finishes somewhere around the 200 mark, enough to be a reliable RB2, but nothing more. Between Hyde and Lattimore, I’d pick up Hyde as Gore’s handcuff.
While you shouldn’t expect too much fantasy production from newcomer Johnson (the 49ers simply run the ball too much to sustain fantasy viability for three wideouts), Crabtree and Boldin are sold WR1 and WR2 options respectively. Crabtree is clearly Kaepernick’s favorite target, and although he’s been slowed by health problems the past couple of years, their connection has been electric when he is on the field. I would expect big numbers from him this year. Likewise, Boldin has been a godsend to Kaepernick providing a reliable 3rd down and red zone target. He’ll keep plugging along this year, but will probably see a slight decline in numbers from 2013 simply due to Crabtree’s return to health.
Following a monster year from Vernon Davis in 2013 in which he finished at the second best TE, he is sure to see a slight dip in numbers, but expect him to still be extremely productive. With Crab back to full health, the addition of Johnson, and the run-first 9ers offence, Davis won’t match last year’s yardage total. He could still very well put up 10+ touchdowns though, thus keeping him in the upper echelon of fantasy TEs. Davis’ backup, Vance McDonald, is a player to keep an eye on as he showed some skill in his rookie season last year. If Davis goes down with an injury, McDonald would become a strong red zone target for the 49ers.
While still one the top units in the league, their reputation might supersede their actual production in 2014, making them an easy overreaching candidate. With the devastating knee injury to All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith’s increasing age, the potential suspension of Aldon Smith, and the still shaky defensive backs, the 49ers will likely have some growing pains to start the season. If they fall to you as the third or fourth defense off the board, then by all means take them, but don’t reach for them.
On special teams, Phil Dawson is a middle of the pack kicker. He struggled to start the season last year, but went on a tear from weeks 5-17. Bottom line though, don’t draft a kicker with any other pick besides your last. When it comes to kickers, play the matchups week by week.
The 49ers are a pretty reliable bunch. Crabtree’s health, Gore’s potential decline, and the defense are three biggest things to keep an eye on, but they are all relatively minor concerns. While they don’t have any fantasy superstars, few teams can boast the steady and reliable production the 49ers’ players can.