The 49ers are not expected to be quite as good as they were in 2011, and yes they were very good. San Francisco featured probably the best defense in the league and waited until Week 16 to yield a rushing touchdown. It was the defense that you feared your running back would face and it should still be that way. They were number one in the league in turnovers for offense and defense, an athletic and fast bunch that were finally under control with first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The offense though, didn't work too well.
Yes, Alex Smith did everything he could to not turn over the ball and they just wanted to make sure that Smith didn't lose the game rather than try to win it. Then he came out in the divisional round against the Saints and did just that... won the game for his team after a season where they had won the game for him. However, the free agent didn't seem to have a smooth transition to re-signing with San Francisco in the offseason and didn't re-sign until it seemed there were no other options for either side.
Instead of upgrading at QB, the team decided to do their best to upgrade him by signing or drafting all of the receivers and running backs in the world. But will it work and will San Francisco become a top 15 offense? Here are the players you need to know about.
2011 Record: 13-3
The 49ers weren't able to acquire outside help at the position, so instead they re-signed Smith and got him a bunch of new weapons to try and put spark into an offense that ranked 29th in passing yards and 31st in attempts. Smith did throw only five interceptions, but he wasn't asked to put the ball in dangerous situations (or any situations) with just 445 attempts. His 7.1 yards per attempt is decent but amount to just over 3,100 yards in an age where QB's were regularly approaching 5,000.
His five picks are good but his 17 touchdowns amounts to barely over one per game. That's not something you can even touch in fantasy unless you're desperate and would rather get ten points in your QB than none. He started 2011 exceptionally well with 7 TD and 1 INT and a 104 QB rating in five games, but just 10 TD in the final ten games with a QB rating of 85. Smith might have had the best game of his career against the Saints in the playoffs (and 5 TD, 0 INT in two games overall) but Vernon Davis was also on point that day.
Will he take the next step now that he's got a bunch of new toys or will he falter when asked to throw it over 500 times and into more dangerous situations, giving Colin Kaepernick a chance?
2012 Projection: 60%, 3,400 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT
I really liked Kaepernick coming out of
Northwestern Nevada but am concerned how long it's taken him to even take a hold of the backup job. Maybe if called upon, he'll shine when it's game time. If he does, Kaepernick might be flawed in certain areas but could have a high potential for touchdowns in the air and on the ground. If he did get the call, I'd definitely give him a bench spot because his ceiling is much higher than Smith's.
He had a phenomenal run of five straight 100 yard games but after sustaining an injury midseason, averaged just 3.67 yards per carry in the final seven games. He also caught the ball just seventeen times. Beyond his age, the usual injury concern for any running back, and his lack of production in the second half, the biggest concern for Gore owners should be the presence of all the new backs.
I'm sure the the Niners would like to utilize him in a lesser capacity to keep him healthy all year long and potentially into the playoffs. RB2/Flex for me, at best.
2012 Projection: 220 carries, 880 yards, 4 TD, 15 catches for 100 yards
Hunter looked impressive to me at times last year and topped 70 yards in each of the last two games. I could see the potential for a perennial 1,000-yard back here depending on how San Francisco decides to utilize their backfield situation. His athleticism and ability in the open field and he's a good bet in the passing game as well. This is still the future replacement for Gore, I believe. A necessary handcuff to Gore.
Hunter Projection: 140 carries, 600 yards, 5 TD, 25 catches for 250 yards
Jacobs is nicked up early and is not the back he was five years ago. His main job will be stealing touchdowns but I doubt there's going to be much value in that. Jim Harbaugh doesn't care about your fantasy team. I expect Jacobs to rush for 300-400 yards with 6 or so scores.
I love, love, love LaMichael James. Him and Ronnie Hillman were probably my two favorite backs in the draft after Trent Richardson. Now, just because I like them doesn't mean that they're going to produce, at least not right away. I'm not sure what kind of a role James will play but I expect it to be sparingly used even though I think it could yield great results in short stints. If an injury occurs (likely) then he could get in there more often but James is not an every down back as I see it. Just exciting. He might get 100 touches between carries and catches and total 300-500 yards.
He could be one of the more underrated receivers in the game right now and just coming into his own. This isn't a high-power offense so that's the thing that's going to make him a lower-end starting option in fantasy but he catches a good number of targets and could be a 100-catch receiver in the future. The presence of the new receivers should help open things up.
2012 Projection: 80 catches, 950 yards, 5 TD
A year away from the game, Moss came back and took hold of a starting job opposite of Crabtree. Moss is old in receiver terms but he's not that old and not that old for a Hall of Fame receiver, some of which can be productive til 40. This isn't Tom Brady and the Patriots though, there won't be that much to go around, but Moss is going to have some good games I think.
2012 Projection: 50 catches, 700 yards, 4 TD
Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins round out the group but haven't done anything to warrant a fantasy roster spot. If there's not that much to go around for Crabtree and Moss, what's left for these guys? Especially Jenkins who has fallen to the end of the depth chart and is not the typical 1st round WR rookie that fantasy players tend to love these days. Last season, no player other than Crabtree and Davis had more than 220 receiving yards.
Not as productive last year as those other high-end tight ends, not a single player in this league may be able to matchup to Davis physically. He's a beast, a freak, and every other cliche for a 6'3", 250 lb player that's fast, has great hands, and can make the play that most can't. This just isn't an offense that's going to go to him (or anyone) quite as much as the Patriots or Saints will to their TEs. He's a fantasy starter but his offense depreciates his value.
2012 Projection: 70 catches, 800 yards, 7 TD