Roto Arcade - Fantasy

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.

25. San Francisco 49ers

It's mildly annoying that we still have to consider Alex Smith, despite considerable evidence that suggests he does not function well at NFL game speed. But there he is again, involved in a quarterback competition. San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary has stated that he may wait until the third preseason game to declare a starting QB. Smith has reportedly had a nice offseason, but, as Singletary himself has said, "Nothing means anything until (Smith is) out there facing some live bullets." 

He's battling Shaun Hill(notes), who led the Niners to wins in five of their final seven games in '08, and who averaged 234 passing yards per week as a starter. Hill accounted for 15 touchdowns last year (13 pass, two rush) and he was the No. 9 fantasy scorer at his position over the final five weeks. In short, Hill did nothing whatsoever to lose the starting job. Smith has done nothing to win it, other than look good in no-contact situations. We expect Hill to enter the '09 season as the starter, but prepare for additional Smith propaganda from the Niners.

Mike Martz is out as coordinator, of course, so the outlook for the offense has changed. San Francisco led the NFL in sacks (55) and turnovers (35) last year, but don't expect a repeat. Meet the new OC, Jimmy Raye:

"The teams I've been the leader of as a coordinator have been tough, physical football teams that run the ball and have a physicality about them," said Raye.

That should suit running back Frank Gore(notes) just fine. Expect a more conservative, run-first (and second) attack. Raye was the Jets' running backs coach from '06 to '08, and he was the OC for the Rams during Eric Dickerson's binge seasons. 

Gore got off to an excellent start last year, finding the end zone in five of the Niners' first six games, but he didn't finish particularly well. He caught only 11 passes over the final eight weeks -- typically he's a strong PPR play -- and he lost two games to a December ankle injury. The return of fullback Moran Norris(notes) should benefit Gore this season. Back in '06, when Gore gained 2180 combined yards and averaged 5.4 per carry, Norris led the way. San Francisco selected Alabama's Glen Coffee(notes) in the third round of the '09 draft, but you should consider him a handcuff, not a serious threat to poach carries.

The rookie of interest on the Niners' roster is clearly receiver Michael Crabtree(notes). Here's the Pro Football Weekly scouting summary, via Rivals:

A very competitive playmaker with bionic arms, Crabtree is big, strong, tough and physical with excellent hands and has everything scouts desire in a receiver except for elite top-end speed. Will be best running short digs, hitches, slants and bubble screens where he is able to create after the catch.

Bionic is good. Bionic works. Crabtree spent the offseason recovering from foot surgery, but he should enter the season at full strength. He's limited primarily by the rookie learning curve and San Francisco's relative weakness at the quarterback position. Based on talent and opportunity, Crabtree is the first Niners' receiver taken in fantasy drafts (ADP 93.96). Veteran Isaac Bruce(notes) returns, and he's developed a nice rapport with Hill. Bruce caught at least five passes in every game between Weeks 12 and 16 in '08, scoring three TDs. His ceiling is basically a repeat of last year's numbers, however.

If you're looking for a late-round flier with breakout potential -- or as much potential as the Niners' passing game can provide -- consider second-year receiver Josh Morgan(notes). He does not lack talent, but he's capable of both game-changing plays and spirit-crushing drops. Morgan's Mock Draft Central ADP is only 198.12, so there's minimal risk involved. Brandon Jones(notes) was added to a receiving corps that also includes Arnaz Battle(notes) and the semi-intriguing Jason Hill(notes), but none of those three are draft-worthy.

Other Niners notes: You want Vernon Davis(notes)? Great, he's all yours. He was not heavily targeted in Martz's offense (49 targets, 31 receptions), and he could see an increase in workload under Raye. But still, tight end is a deep position this year -- Shockey and Miller are tied at No. 13 in the ranks -- so Davis shouldn't be drafted in public leagues. ... Linebacker Patrick Willis(notes) is the top IDP on my board. He's averaged 9.8 tackles per game in his first two seasons, and has more tackles than any player since '07. (Jon Beason(notes) is second). Other San Francisco IDPs of interest: DE Justin Smith(notes) (73 tackles, 7 sacks), LB Takeo Spikes(notes) (96 tackles), SS Michael Lewis (96) and CB Nate Clements(notes) (63). The Niners team defense won't be taken in many fantasy drafts, but it's likely to be stream-worthy. ... Joe Nedney(notes) just keeps kickin'. He's coming off his best NFL season, too. He delivered 121 points in '08 and converted 29 of 33 FGAs. If you call my 900-line within the next 30 minutes, I'll give you a *FREE* Nedney forecast for '09! Hurry! Don't delay!

Earlier Juggernaut posts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington.    

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