It's only May, but there has already been an injury that registered of the fantasy football Richter Scale. Mike Garafolo of the USA Today reported that San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered a torn achilles at OTAs and will soon have "what could be season-ending surgery". Crabtree was ranked anywhere from a low WR1 to low WR2 before his injury, now only one of our staffers has him in the Top 60. The affect on Crabtree's stock is obvious, but what about those around him?
Stock Moving Up
Anquan Boldin, WR - Boldin was actually a viable WR3/Flex play and excellent bye/injury depth last year, but now he has a chance to return to every-week starter ranks. It's easy to forget that Boldin went on a prodigious tear in the playoffs, with 22/380/4 in four games, and a level of play that matched the gaudy numbers. He has WR2 upside, but should still be available for low WR3 prices in drafts.
Frank Gore, RB - A 49ers offense that already tilted very run-heavy by current NFL standards should be even more reliant on the run without Crabtree. Gore was already in the RB2 tier, now he should be considered one of the stronger members of that group.
LaMichael James, RB - James should be ready to start contributing more this year. With a shortage of experienced, healthy wide receivers, James might assume a "Sproles lite" role in the passing game and present flex/bye/injury value in PPR leagues. He becomes a more intriguing option after the 10th round.
Vernon Davis, TE - It seemed certain that Davis was going to become a cornerstone of the 49ers pass offense after he dominated in the 2011 postseason, but he mostly floundered in 2012. Davis has to become a focal point of the passing game now, moving him to the top of the vast second tier of TE1s, and restoring his elite TE1 upside.
A.J. Jenkins, WR and Quinton Patton, WR - There's immediate opportunity for these youngsters with Crabtree out of the picture, partially because two of the other returning wideouts, Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham, are recovering from ACL tears suffered late in the 2012 season. Jenkins will have a chance to really follow through on his proclamations of learning from his "humbling" rookie year. While Jenkins has the first-round pedigree, Patton showing up early for rookie minicamp impressed Harbaugh. Patton also looked "nowhere close to being ready" in rookie minicamp, according to trusted CSN Bay Area beat writer Matt Maiocco. Jenkins *should* have the inside edge to gain a larger role in the offense, but he was poor enough last year that street free agent Chad Hall got on the field before him.
Mario Manningham, WR and Kyle Williams, WR - Manningham was actually riffing well with Kaepernick before he tore his ACL last year. He is hoping to be ready for camp, but it is not a given. Williams is a little bit ahead of Manningham in his recovery, but he is still unlikely to be ready to make a big contribution right away. Both of these players will have potential waiver wire value if and when they reach a level of play where they might start opposite Boldin.
Ricardo Lockette, WR - Harbaugh was reportedly "fired up" about this size/speed freak who 49ers signed after he was cut by the Seahawks last year. He is probably aiming more to make the team than push for the WR2 job, but Lockette and Jenkins did work out with Kaepernick for most of the offseason, and Lockette also lives with the quarterback. For what it's worth, Lockette recently predicted that Jenkins will surprise this year and said he expects "big things".
Brandon Lloyd, WR - Like most free agents at this stage of the game, Lloyd was waiting for an injury to give him an opportunity. Harbaugh and the 49ers accomodated Randy Moss's "different" personality, so Lloyd could be a fit. Even if it's not Lloyd, a team in a championship window should not go into the season with only one experienced and healthy wide receiver on the roster (and one that turns 33 this year at that). Nate Washington or Malcom Floyd are trade possibilities, and the 49ers could also swoop in for a veteran when teams make their final cuts. One way or the other, there will be movement at wide receiver on the depth chart and roster this summer for the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick, QB - Kaepernick's passing stats aren't really the foundation of his fantasy value. He loses some upside as a passer and perhaps should be knocked down a notch or two in leagues with six point passing touchdowns, but he was already at the bottom of the QB1 tier in those leagues. No Crabtree will make the defense's job of defending the pass easier, but that could in turn force Kaepernick to scramble more, which is good for his fantasy bottom line.
Stock Moving Down
Michael Crabtree, WR - Duh, thanks, you might say, but we do need to examine him a bit further than just writing him off for this year. First, Crabtree's dynasty outlook shouldn't be diminished much beyond this year, although I'll defer to fellow staffer Dr. Jene Bramel there. As Garafolo mentions, Terrell Suggs was able to return last year even though he suffered an achilles tear in early May. Harbaugh has already said that Crabtree won't miss the whole season. Suggs still wasn't up to his usual level of play, and we can't expect Crabtree to get there at any point this season, even though he could return to the field. The 49ers will not put him on injured reserve with the hopes of Crabtree contributing in a playoff run as Suggs did last year, but he is not worth drafting in redraft leagues. You also probably will not get the roster spot back in dynasty leagues with an injured reserve allowance. Because Crabtree is only 25, it is a good moment to get an offer in for him in dynasty leagues, especially if he is his owner's WR1.