Pressing Questions: Does the 49ers receiving corps offer any fantasy value?

Pressing Questions: Does the 49ers receiving corps offer any fantasy value?

The NFL regular season kicks off in less than 12 weeks. Between now and then, fans of the virtual game will closely watch quarterback competitions, mull muddy backfields, and ruminate over rehab related timetables. To honor this summer-long quest for clarity, each week I’ll be highlighting one of fantasy’s most pressing questions. Today I ponder the wasteland that is the 49ers receiving corps.

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2015 proved to be more tight and tart than bright and buttery for Sauv Blanc-sipping San Fran fans. A 5-11 record and ranked 31st in total offense, the post-Harbaugh 49ers struggled to find an identity under Jim Tomsula. A team still very much in flux, former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly will attempt to bring his brand of “genius” to the City by the Bay in 2016. Noting the disaster that was his last outing in Philly, Kelly has his work cut out for him.

Fantasy owners are understandably suspect. In fact, according to current ADP data, Carlos Hyde is the team’s only member being drafted inside of the top 130 overall players. Player No. 131… is Torrey Smith.

Which begs the question… does San Fran’s receiver corps offer any fantasy value? I say “Yes.”

Smith closed out his inaugural year at Levi's Stadium posting an underwhelming 33-663-4 stat line. That’s a pretty steep drop off from the 11 TDs he hauled in just a season earlier. While his skill set has never possessed much texture, his red zone prowess can’t be denied. A boom or bust deep threat, Smith has always had more appeal in best ball formats.

However, with Anquan Boldin out the door and given the lack of seasoned talent on the 49ers depth chart, much more will be expected of Smith in the fall. Can he expand his route tree? Have we heard this before? As the 49th receiver being selected in the middle-end of the 11th round does it matter? Maybe. Yes. Nope.

Despite catching fewer than 50 balls in 2014, Smith found the end zone 11 separate times and finished among the top-20 fantasy players at the position. Even if he isn’t able to pu pu platter it up in Kelly’s offense, he’s still going draw a ton of targets, and a good amount of those figure to be in the red area of the field.

Speedsters like Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have found success in Kelly’s system, being deployed primarily from the outside and taking the top off of defenses. They each saw well over 100 looks during their respective campaigns with Chip. As the team’s No. 1 wideout Smith has a chance to find upwards of 120 targets.

Given a career catch percentage rate of 53.6, the 27-year-old should double the number of grabs he recorded last year and flirt with an all-time high of 70 receptions. Factoring in his impressive yards per reception percentage (20.1 in 2015, the most of any WR that year) he could easily churn out 1,000 yards. Throw in 9 TDs and the former Raven returns to being a top-20 fantasy asset. And he’s only going to cost you WR4 value.

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But maybe you’re a PPR enthusiast who likes those high-volume slot guys that offer week-to-week consistency. Then let me introduce you to Bruce Ellington. Cousin to Andre of the Cardinals, the South Carolina product is an explosive player with strong hands and mind-bending agility. His after the catch ability is tantalizing, as evidenced by the 70-yard TD he scored in the final preseason game of 2015.

Previously used primarily on special teams, Ellington appears poised to receive a promotion. Working with the ones as the team’s slot receiver during OTAs, the 49ers new HC has admitted to be being “intrigued” by the 24-year-old’s potential. Likely to handle the bulk of the underneath work in Kelly’s system (plus a good dose of Chip-esque gadget plays), Ellington could (just as Eagles’ slot man Jordan Matthews did in 2014) catch 65-70 balls in his third pro campaign. Currently undrafted in leagues, Ellington is an excellent off-the-radar late-round stash with sexy flexy appeal.

The 49ers and Kelly both cratered in spectacular fashion last year. As such, the burn factor for fantasy fans is massive. But that creates an equally large chasm of value for savvy managers. Could the Genius by the Bay flame out again in 2016? Sure. But he could also bounce back to respectability, which would make a late round investment all the more prudent.

SEE ALSO: Is Ameer Abdullah a workhorse?

Which FF dilemma is making you go Hmmm? Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF and suggest future editions of Pressing Questions.