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2011 Team Report: San Francisco 49ers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Alex Smith
Backup(s): Colin Kaepernick (R), Josh McCown, McLeod Bethel-Thompson (R), Jeremiah Masoli (R)

Starting QB: Somehow Alex Smith is likely to be the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers once again. The former 1st pick overall from the 2005 draft begins his 7th year in the NFL with another new head coach and new offensive coordinator in Stanford duo, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman respectively. Smith has isn't the terrible bust he looked like a few years ago, but on the whole he has been a disappointing pick for the organization. As a starter last year Smith led the 49ers to a 3-8 record, but whilst he was injured they went 3-2. Relying on him for your fantasy roster may be problematic as well, injuries and poor form have resulted in Smith playing more than 11 games in a season only once to date, in 2006. Smith has improved his play over the last 2 years, with a touchdown to interception ratio of 32 to 22 and he is now capable of putting up decent fantasy stats. For 2011 we are likely to see Colin Kaepernick starting at some stage of the season, whenever the coaching staff feel he is capable of competant game management. In the meantime Smith will be someone you can play against weak pass defenses, but shouldn't factor into the long term aspirations of your fantasy roster.

Backup QB: Colin Kaepernick walks into a nice situation after being drafted high in the 2nd round by the 49ers. He has excellent intangibles with a 4.53 second 40 yards and a score of 37 on the wonderlic test. In the history of the NCAA he is the only passer to throw for 10000 yards and rush for 4000 yards, with 82 passing TDs and 59 rushing TDs thrown in for good measure. How he adapts and is developed are key to his long term viability as a starting QB in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh is a first year head coach who should have time to develop his own coaching style and Kaepernick will be instrumental in making Harbaughs' long term vision a reality. Kaepernick does need time to find his feet at this level however, coming from an offense that was best described as basic. He has only Alex Smith in front of him though so he's likely to be called into action at some stage this year. From a fantasy persepective, dynasty leaguers will be more analytical of his ability to adapt to the NFL than redrafters who shouldn't need to worry about the former starter for the Nevada Wolf Pack this year. McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Jeremiah Masoli are undrafted free agents who are unlikely to figure in the teams long term plans. Josh McCown has been signed to give the position some stability and to help the rookies with a veteran presence.

Running Backs

Starter: Frank Gore
Backup(s): Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter (R), Seth Smith (R)
Fullback(s): Moran Norris

Starting RB: Frank Gore is at that stage of his career where one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank. At 28 years of age and in his 7th season the opportunity for Gore to return to the upper echelon of fantasy backs is still there, but in another new offense with a rookie head coach, rookie offensive coordinator and potentially rookie QB, Gore will need to be at his absolute best to be worth his draft slot. Gore has only played a full season once in his career to date, but also has only played less than 14 games once, last year when he missed 5 games with a fractured hip. Gore is one of the best pass catching backs in the NFL with an average of 51 catches for 430 yards and 2 TDs a season over the last 5 years and has consistently averaged well above 4 yards a carry running the ball. He has never reached the end zone on a prolific basis, but will hit paydirt roughly every 2nd game. Whether he approaches 300 touches for the year is debatable, but Gore is still primed to be the focal point of the 49ers offense for at least one more year.

Backup RBs: Behind Frank Gore are a bunch of unspectacular young running backs all keen for the opportunity. We've already seen Anthony Dixon in action for the 49ers last year. The 6th round pick got an opportunity to make the roster when Glen Coffee shocked all by retiring. Then with an injury to Gore and unspectacular play by Brian Westbrook, Dixon got at least 10 carries in 3 games towards the end of the season. His average yards per carry of 3.39 illustrates that he may not have much of a long term future running the ball, and with his size may move to the fullback position sooner rather than later. Still he is in the box seat to be Gore's backup and should he win that role will have some fantasy relevance. Fighting him for the role will be rookie Kendall Hunter. The undersized 4th round pick from Oklahoma State has the talent to beat out Dixon and is a natural runner with speed, good hands and was excellent at pass protection in the college game. It must be pointed out however that at 5 foot 7, he is struggling at pass protection in camp. If he can beat out Dixon, he will be well worth handcuffing to Gore and stands closer examination if you play in a dynasty league. Seth Smith is the wildcard among the 49er backs, but more than likely will be lucky to make the final roster. The undrafted free agent from New Mexico State was usurped in his starting role in 2010 after a surprise 2009 season which saw him rush for 1000 yards. With relatively only 1 year of college experience he is likely to be far too raw to make it in the NFL.

Fullback: Moran Norris has been with the 49ers for four of his ten years in the NFL and hopes to once again make the final roster. From a fantasy persepctive he is next to worthless with 28 career carries for 1 rushing TD, including 3 carries for 0 yards in 2010. As a receiver he has slightly more value with 38 career catches and 3 touchdowns, including 4 catches for 20 yards in 2010.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan
Backups: Braylon Edwards, Ted Ginn Jr, Ronald Johnson (R), Kyle Williams and Lance Long

Starting WRs: The San Francisco 49ers will be hoping that 3rd year man Michael Crabtree will finally return something like what they expected when they drafted him 10th overall in the 2009 draft. Last year was an improvement on a solid rookie season, but still not enough. He ranked 36th for fantasy purposes with 741 yards and 6 touchdowns, but he is blatantly capable of much more. A foot injury has held him out of training camp and preseason and for the 3rd year in a row he will miss the opportunity to build rapport and on field communication with his team mates. On the bright side Crabtree managed 2 one hundred yard games last season and found the end zone on a consistent basis. Still, while Crabtree could be the classic 3rd year breakout WR, until he demonstrates the work ethic and ability to overcome obstacles he remains a fantasy risk. Opposite Crabtree will be either Josh Morgan or Braylon Edwards, depending on how the latter progresses and which way the 49ers want to manage their passing game. Morgan is a 4th year man who has had his moments in San Francisco without ever looking like an elite fantasy star. With the problems faced by both Crabtree and Edwards, Morgan could become the dependable man that Alex Smith looks for and he is definitely worth considering for those with deep rosters.

Backup WRs: Braylon Edwards is the key contender from this group to be a realistic fantasy option and possible starter for the 49ers. For a man with clearly demonstrated skills and relative youth despite 6 years experience, it was a surprise that his value has been reduced to a 1 year contract with the 49ers. His fantastic season in 2007 with 16 touchdowns looks like a massive abberation now, but he showed in 2010 with the Jets that he still has plenty to offer with 900+ yards and 7TDs. If Edwards can stay out of trouble and play good football, he has an excellent chance to beat out Morgan for the starting role, with a possible high upside for fantasy purposes. Ted Ginn Jr is there to fill the No.3 role should one of the main 3 receivers be injured or otherwise engaged, but with only 12 catches in 2010 and disappointment in Miami before that it's hard to get enthusiastic about his fantasy prospects for 2011. Ronald Johnson is a 6th round pick out of USC and his main battle will be to win a roster spot. The receivers coach, John Morton, was at USC with Johnson last year and that gives Johnson extra help in making the transition to the NFL. Also fighting for roster spots will be the 6th round pick from 2010 Kyle Williams and Lance Long who managed 20 receptions for the Chiefs in 2009.

Tight Ends

Starters: Vernon Davis
Backups: Delanie Walker, Colin Cloherty and Konrad Reuland

Vernon Davis followed up his outstanding 2009 season where he ranked as the No.1 fantasy Tight End with another excellent year in 2010. Exceeding 900 yards once again with 7 touchdowns, Davis is among the elite fantasy Tight Ends in the game. Davis has a clear rapport with Alex Smith and rarely puts in a poor performance. With game breaking skills and an ability to beat his man, he is definitely capable of a 1000 yard season and 10+ TDs. Holding him back however is a rookie head coach, a rookie offensive coordinator and the average play from the quarterback position. Delanie Walker returns once again to serve as the dependable back up to Davis, although the 49ers will be able to utilize plays where both are on the field. While Walker currently offers little to the fantasy owner, he is worth a look should injury befall the starter. Colin Cloherty and Konrad Reuland offer depth to the 49ers, but will be irrelevant for fantasy purposes.

Place Kicker

David Akers, Fabrizio Scaccia : The 49ers have a promising kicker in Fabrizio Scaccia, but he won't be their placekicker on opening day. That job belongs to free agent acquisition David Akers, whom the team signed to replace Joe Nedney. Akers noted, "He had such a wonderful career here and what a great guy for the community and what he did for team was amazing. I'm not trying to replace Joe. I'm just trying to come out and do the same thing I was able to do in Philly." He joins two specialists with whom he worked at prior Pro Bowls: punter/holder Andy Lee and long snapper Brian Jennings. Of them Akers commented, "You know they're easy to work with. And they're true professionals and they'll do whatever they can to help you." All that is the good news for Akers. The bad news is he goes from an Eagles team that has ranked very high in kicker scoring opportunities in recent years to one that has ranked in the bottom third.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams

Punt Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams

WR Ted Ginn Jr. served as the return specialist last year and will presumably do so again this year. Second year WR Kyle Williams, who was limited by injury last year, is probably the closest challenger for a role on returns. Other than safety Reggie Smith, others working on returns have all been rookies: WR Ronald Johnson, CB Chris Culliver, RB Kendall Hunter and RB Jeremiah Masoli. In the preseason opener, Hunter had the only kickoff returns, going for 18 and 22 yards. On punts Williams averaged 7.5 yards on two returns while Johnson averaged 13.5 yard on two returns.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin, RG Chilo Rachal, RT Anthony Davis
Key Backups: Tony Wragge, Barry Sims, Alex Boone, Adam Snyder

Team Defense

The San Francisco 49ers play a 3-4 defense and were 16th in the NFL in points allowed last year, and were similarly ranked middle of the road in many other categories as well. However, they were sixth in the league in rushing yards allowed. But that showing might have taken a hit when the 49ers allowed NT Aubrayo Franklin to sign with the Saints. Also gone are LB Takeo Spikes and CB Nate Clements. Still, drafting Aldon Smith, who likely will play linebacker for the team, was a great move. They also signed safeties Donte Whitner and Madieu Williams. There's still talent on this side of the ball, but it's far from clear whether we should expect any improvement from last year's numbers.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Justin Smith; DE Ray McDonald; DT Isaac Sopoaga
Backups: DT/DE Ricky Jean-Francois; DT Ian Williams; DE Will Tukuafu

Starting DL: DE Justin Smith is ther anchor on the front line. He might be approaching 32 years old, but statistically he had one of his best seasons ever. Smith had 57-13 tackles and a career high 8.5 sacks. He is still a low DE1 or high DE2 in fantasy leagues. They signed Ray McDonald with plans to make him a starter at DE and move defensive end Isaac Sopoaga inside to occupy Franklin's old spot. Sopoaga, a seven-year veteran, spent his first four seasons at nose tackle. He's far from elite, but he's serviceable. Just don't expect his numbers to reflect any fantasy value. The other end at this time apppears to be Ray McDonald. McDonald hasn't started a game since 2008 and has never overly impressed on the field, but the team is high on him.

Backup DL: Ricky Jean-Francois has an intersting skill set and could play both at DE and DT. DT Ian Williams has looked solid in practice and provides depth. DE Will Tukuafu is raw and unproven.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Patrick Willis; ILB Navarro Bowman; OLB Parys Haralson; OLB Aldon Smith
Backups: LB Ahmad Brooks; ILB Scott McKillop; OLB Antwan Applewhite

Starting LBs: Patrick Willis is the best fantasy LB in the league,. In his four seasons in the league, he has averaged 115-33 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumble and an interception per season. In 2011, there is no reason to expect anything but high production. Navorro Bowman will start next to Willis. Bowman was a second round draft pick out of Penn State last year and showed enough in his rookie season (he had 38-8 tackles) that the team feels comfortable handing him the spot. Playing ILB should mean solid production for Bowman this year, and he should make a reasonable LB4 or LB5 for your squad. On the outside, you might find any of four guys start throughout the season, but initially look for Parys Haralson to be one of them. Haralson is not blessed with incredible talent and could improve his tackling skills, but he has shown he can get to the QB. However, he's not someone to jump on in IDP leagues. On the other side, look for the team to start rookie Aldon Smith. Unlike Haralson, Smith is very talented with almost freakish long arms.

Backup LBs: Ahmad Brooks has the talent and definitely the pass rushing skills, enough so that he has a chance to win a starting job. Scott McKillop will play a role this year and Antwan Applewhite couild find himself a starter at some point.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Donte Whitner; FS Dashon Goldson; CB Shawntae Spencer; CB Carlos Rogers
Backups: SS Madieu Williams; SS Taylor Mays; S Reggie Smith; CB Tarell Brown

Starting DBs: The team spent plenty of money to acquire Donte Whitner and they expect him to take the a similar leadership role that he's had with Buffalo. Whitner had a career year last year, and although it's doubtful he can obtain similar numbers in 2011, he remains a solid fantasy IDP safety this year. After most assumed that Dashon Goldson would be gone (with the Bengals as a likely candidate), the 49ers resigned him, perhaps because Reggie Smith got injured. Regardless, Goldson struggled a bit last year but remains young and talented. Their starting corners are likely to be Shawntae Spencer and Carlos Rogers. Spencer is a longtime 49er and has had his moments, but he's never been a playmaker. Likewise, Carlos Rogers has never had many interceptions, despite been highly touted coming out of college. Either might be pushed out of the starting lineup.

Backup DBs: Reggie Smith was all the talk in training camp being getting injured, and at the time was supposed to be the starting free safety. It's very doubtful he'll be ready by opening day though, but he could supplant Goldson at some time early on. The team signed safety Madieu Williams on the offseason. At one time, Williams was a very valued free safety. A fluke injury after being signed by the Vikings, however, seems to have been detrimental to Williams and he has since never been quite the same player. The 49ers seemingly had big things planned for Taylor Mays, who actually started a few games alst year in his rookie season, but recent trade rumors indicate elsewise. CB Tarell Brown could very well be the starting CB and will in any scenario be on the field a lot.

Last modified: 2011-08-20 15:55:13

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