COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers have the talent to make another run at the playoffs. They're young and are led by a well-respected head coach in Jim Harbaugh.
But when it comes to fantasy football, you probably couldn't care less about their real-life success.
So let's cut to the chase and examine each position while determining their overall value heading into fantasy drafts.
Colin Kaepernick came out of nowhere last year. In just 10 career starts, he nearly captured the franchise's first Super Bowl victory since 1994. He already understands the nuances of what it takes to be a winner.
However, opponents are better-equipped to slow him down this season. Teams had a full offseason to study his tendencies, and he won't catch anyone off-guard. After securing some endorsement deals, starring in television commercials and winning the "Best Breakthrough Athlete" award at the ESPYS, he has certainly become a marked man.
While defenses may have a stronger grasp of his game, Kaepernick has the talent to build on his 2012 campaign. The third-year signal-caller possesses the physical tools to put up above-average fantasy numbers on a weekly basis based on his running ability. In his seven starts, the 25-year-old quarterback averaged 34 rushing yards per game. Over the course of a full 16-game season, he projects to have about 550 rushing yards if he maintains that average. That mobility gives him an edge over strict pocket passers such as Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Even though Kaepernick can hurt defenses with his legs, he also has a cannon-like arm. Throughout the offseason, he developed some touch on his short- and medium-range throws. If he has indeed incorporated some finesse in his passing, the sky's the limit for his fantasy outlook.
Perhaps the lone dark cloud hanging over his head is the loss of top wideout Michael Crabtree. Crabtree accounted for 31 percent of his completion total and could miss most of the season. On the bright side, the 49ers still have Vernon Davis and added veteran Anquan Boldin to the receiving core.
Consider Kaepernick a bargain if you can snag him with a mid-to-late round pick.
At the age of 30, Frank Gore keeps churning. Over the past two seasons, he has played in all 16 games while amassing over 1,200 rushing yards. Running behind a stout offensive line, the longtime 49er should put up top-15 running back numbers once again.
On the other hand, his touches is one area to keep an eye on. The 49ers know he can handle a heavy workload, but they'll probably want to keep him fresh throughout the season and ultimately have him in the postseason -- if they make it that far. Looking at the running back landscape, Gore is worthy of being selected as a No. 2 rusher for your fantasy team.
LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter will battle it out for the backup spot. After a slow start to his rookie season, James garnered more playing time toward the 49ers' march to the playoffs in 2012. In the final four games of the regular season, he averaged just over seven touches per contest. The 5-foot-9-inch' scatback possesses blazing speed and excellent hands, so the 49ers could look to feature him a little bit more.
Hunter is swiftly approaching his return from a torn Achilles. During practices, he has been cutting and running at full speed, which indicates he might be close to seeing live game action. Unless you are in a deep league, hold off on drafting either backup since their roles are still a bit of a mystery.
The 49ers have question marks at wideout. Without Crabtree in the lineup, Boldin slides in as Kaepernick's top target. Looking at Boldin's numbers the past two seasons in Baltimore, he averaged 61 receptions for 904 yards and 3.5 touchdowns. The 32-year-old receiver was key to the Ravens' success last year, but it is unlikely that he'll pile up the yards and catches during the regular season. Consider Boldin a No. 3 fantasy receiver.
Aside from Boldin, there are no other receivers on the roster worth drafting. Second-year pro A.J. Jenkins still has a lot to prove, while Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams continue to make their way back from serious knee injuries.
Davis is slowly climbing up the rankings given the dearth of elite options at the position. He has the tools and experience to develop into the 49ers' top receiving target, but, aside from 2009, that role has yet to come to fruition. However, without Crabtree and a lack of proven pass-catchers in the offense, the veteran tight end could be in for a big year.
Davis and Kaepernick lacked chemistry for much of the 2012 regular season. But in three playoff games, Davis accumulated 12 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps they are beginning to establish a connection.
The situation sets up for him to produce like a top tight end in fantasy. Given the uncertainty surrounding the health and availability of Rob Gronkowski, Davis is worth considering after New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham.
David Akers struggled mightily last year. After making 84.6 percent of his field goals in 2011, he dropped to 69 percent in 2012. In response, San Francisco added longtime Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson to fill his spot.
Over the past two seasons, the 49ers ranked first in field-goal attempts. They may not finish atop that ranking with a more explosive offense under Kaepernick, but the 38-year-old placekicker should still see plenty of opportunities.
Dawson converted on 29 out of his 31 attempts (93.5 percent) last season in Cleveland. Playing for a better team without having to deal with the hazardous weather up north makes him a top kicker in fantasy.
Led by Patrick Willis, the 49ers boast arguably the NFL's best defensive unit. They are adept at defending both the run and pass, as the team ranked fourth in those areas last season. San Francisco also finished second in points allowed allowed per game (17.1).
However, the defense lost safety Dashon Goldson to free agency and cornerback Chris Culliver for the entire season due to a torn ACL. They were key pieces to the 49ers' pass defense. With rookie Eric Reid taking over for Goldson, along with some depth concerns at corner, the secondary may not be as dominant.
But, in the end, expect the 49ers to finish as a top three fantasy defense. Much of their core remains intact, and the combination of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith should put consistent heat on opposing quarterbacks.
Travis Chan is a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers. He is currently covering the team on the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Colin Kaepernick
- San Francisco 49ers
- Anquan Boldin
- Michael Crabtree
- San Francisco