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2010 Team Report: San Francisco 49ers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Alex Smith
Backup(s): David Carr, Nate Davis

Starting QB: After starting the year behind journeyman Shaun Hill, Alex Smith was given his chance at redemption in Week 7 last season and proceeded to have his longest spell as the 49ers starter since 2006. Smith also had the most productive fantasy season of his career to date, exceeding a 60% completion rate for the first time and recording 18 touchdowns in his 11 starts. The 49ers have been very patient in developing Smith and will expect him to guide them to the playoffs in this his sixth season. It is worth noting that this will be the first time in NFL career where Alex Smith has the same offensive coordinator for consecutive seasons. To aid the No. 1 pick of the 2005 Draft, the offensive line has significantly been upgraded with two first-round picks, and he has premium receiving talent to work with in Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, along with one of the leagues best backs in Frank Gore. Smith has the chance to finally develop into a borderline fantasy starter, but he also has five years of being unable to meet expectations.

Backup QB: David Carr joins his fourth team in five years, but the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 Draft has been a solid backup since his Houston days, without ever becoming the player he was supposed to be. He offers experience should Alex Smith get injured and is capable of becoming a solid starter if he has learned to dispose of the ball instead of being a sack machine. Carr will be given the opportunity should it arise if the 49ers are in contention or until second-year man Nate Davis develops sufficiently. Davis was considered a raw prospect when drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft, but he is thought of highly in the 49ers organization and may be given his chance should the 49ers expectations not meet reality.

Running Backs

Starter: Frank Gore
Backup(s): Glen Coffee, Michael Robinson, Anthony Dixon (R)
Fullback(s): Moran Norris, Jehuu Caulcrick, Brit Miller

Starting RB: Frank Gore finished fifth among fantasy backs in 2009, the highest ranking of his career since his breakout season in 2006. The 49ers have given him the chance to improve on that even further with heavy emphasis in the 2010 Draft on upgrading the offensive line. To help Gore in what the 49ers hope is his best season to date, Michael Crabtree will be in for his first full preseason and Vernon Davis finally lived up to his elite draft slot, forcing opposing defenses to have a modicum of respect for the 49ers passing game. Gore has the rare ability to make the best out of nothing and consistently breaks off long runs. For the first time in his career he exceeded 10 touchdowns, despite missing two games. Gore does get nicked up and has only played a full season once in his career, so he isn't without risk. Expectations will be high for Gore's fantasy prospects this season, and with Gore at his physical peak, he should be one of the safer first round picks in most drafts.

Backup RBs: Glen Coffee was the primary backup to Frank Gore in 2009 and covered adequately when Gore missed a couple of games early in the season. Coffee will need to lift his performance this season, as his 2.7 yards a carry is not going cut it at this level. The large majority of his carries did come early on in the season, and the 49ers will be expecting improvement should he be called upon this year. To put pressure on Coffee, San Francisco drafted Anthony Dixon who fell to them in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft. Dixon is a power back who could be utilized at the goal line should he develop sufficiently. At the very least he stands a good chance of winning a roster spot, but as he lacks breakaway speed he is unlikely to become anything more than a career backup. Michael Robinson is back for his fifth year with the 49ers and has seen his carries decline from 38 in his rookie season to just three in 2009.

Fullback: Moran Norris is the leading contender to win the 49ers fullback job. Norris is a 10-year veteran who saw more carries last season than he did for his entire career combined beforehand. It must be noted however, that even then he still averaged less than a carry a game & offers little to fantasy owners this year. If the 49ers are looking for younger talent at the position then Jehuu Caulcrick or Brit Miller could win the job. Caulcrick has been on and off a few NFL rosters in his career to date, while Brit Miller is a converted linebacker who joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent late in 2009.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan
Backups: Isaac Bruce, Ted Ginn Jr, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones, Kyle Williams (R), Dominique Ziegler

Starting WRs: Michael Crabtree demonstrated enough talent in his first season to show why the 49ers used a top-10 pick to grab him in the 2009 draft. After his lengthy holdout, little was expected of Crabtree who then proceeded to lead all 49ers wide receivers in yardage despite missing the first five games of the season. Crabtree was productive without dominating last season and recorded at least three catches in every game he played. A lot will be expected of Crabtree this season, but if he works hard at his game, he has the potential to be among the very best in the NFL. His fantasy prospects are particularly appealing if he falls to the later rounds of drafts, but some will be blinded only by his upside and not the significant risks that come with 2nd-year receivers. Opposite Crabtree should be Josh Morgan who continues to frustrate those who see the promise. He was more consistent than in his rookie season, but his yards per catch plummeted to just over 10 yards a catch from over 16 the year before. He does have the potential to give the 49ers a very solid 1-2 punch with Crabtree, but with Vernon Davis & Frank Gore sure to be high on the food chain, Morgan will need to take his chances when he gets them. Morgan's progress this year will however be significant in keeping defenses away from the stars in the 49ers lineup.

Backup WRs: The order behind Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan is less clear. Isaac Bruce is still under contract and yet to retire, but he is not expected to suit up for the 49ers this year. Ted Ginn, Jr. was acquired for a low draft pick after Miami tired of him. He is expected to primarily be used as a kick returner. Brandon Jones missed most of last season after signing a lucrative contract and caught just one pass in his eight games. Jason Hill only had one game that registered on fantasy radars last year and has not lived up to expectations. The 49ers also drafted Kyle Williams, but the late 6th-round pick is not likely to factor this year. Whoever ends up as the 49ers No. 3 receiver isn't going to be a relevant fantasy option anyway due to the guys ahead of them and the prominent receiving abilities of Frank Gore and Vernon Davis.

Tight Ends

Starters: Vernon Davis
Backups: Delanie Walker, Nate Byham (R)

Vernon Davis finally came of age in his fourth season. He led all tight ends in touchdowns, and with just a tick less than 1,000 yards receiving, he became the unexpected No. 1 fantasy Tight End in 2009. The departure of Mike Martz and the lack of a quality receivers at the time allowed Vernon Davis to become the favorite target for both Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. He is still prone to mental mistakes, but Davis is now capable of taking advantage of weaknesses in opposing defenses. He also still has further improvement in him and should remain one of the top players at his position this year. Backup Delanie Walker isn't going to scare opposing defenses like Davis will, but he is capable of being a receiving option as is evident by catching over 50 balls in the last three years. He will play a lot of H-Back, negating his value and if his name crops in fantasy circles his official position may vary. He normally shouldn't be appearing on fantasy radars barring something happening to Vernon Davis anyway. Nate Byham was drafted in the sixth round by the 49ers and is a highly rated blocking specialist, who is likely only to see the field in two-TE sets. As a receiver he is limited but is likely to win a roster spot.

Place Kicker

Joe Nedney, Shane Andrus : Nedney posted his second highest point total ever in 2008, as he hit 29 of 33 (87.9%) in field goals and was perfect on 34 PATs for a total of 121 points. That added up to a 14th place finish in kicker scoring for San Francisco. Last year the field goal opportunities dwindled and Nedney missed the final two games due to injury. Nedney ended up with 84 points and the 49ers ended up 25th in kicker scoring. Ricky Schmitt handled kicking in the 15th game last year, but also got injured. Andrus kicked in the final game. The 49ers resigned him, however he is expected to serve as a seasoned camp leg rather than as a challenger.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, LeRoy Vann, Josh Morgan, Michael Robinson, Delanie Walker

After struggling on returns last year, the 49ers have brought in three potential returners. During his rookie year with the Dolphins in 2007, WR Ted Ginn Jr. averaged 22.7 yards, and amassed the 4th most kickoff return yards in the NFL as he had plenty of opportunities (63 returns). After being used only part of 2008 (32 returns, 20.5 avg.), he had his best year in 2009 (52 returns, 24.9 avg., 2 TDs). He'll be challenged by two rookies, both of whom averaged 22.9 yards on kickoff returns during their college careers: sixth round draft pick WR Kyle Williams from Arizona State ands undrafted CB/KR LeRoy Vann. WR Josh Morgan produced the best average for the 49ers last year (13 returns, 28.2 avg.), while RB Michael Robinson saw the most work (18 returns, 23.0 avg.). TE Delanie Walker has served as a backup the last two years (5 returns, 17.0 avg. in 2009).

Punt Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, LeRoy Vann, Nate Clements, Brandon Jones, Michael Robinson

Ted Ginn Jr. averaged 14.1 yards on punt returns during his college career and scored six times (a Big Ten record). In 2007 he was the only Dolphin to return a punt (24 returns, 9.6 avg., 1 TD). As a backup last year (5 returns, 5.6 avg.), he was the only player to return a punt besides Davone Bess for Miami. Kyle Williams saw plenty of work on punts in college (130 returns), while LeRoy Vann produced impressive results (18.9 yard average). CB Nate Clements was the Bills' leading punt returner in 2004, but was demoted to backup in 2005. He served as a backup for the 49ers the last three years (4 returns, 9.5 avg. in 2009). WR Brandon Jones averaged only2.9 yard on nine returns last year. Returning punts was among the many things Michael Robinson did in college at Penn State. After having ranked 12th, 11th, and 10th in fantasy returns for three years, the 49ers tumbled to 31st last year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Anthony Davis (R), LG David Baas, C Eric Heitmann, RG Mike Iupati (R), RT Joe Staley
Key Backups: G Tony Wragge, T Adam Snyder, G Chilo Rachal, T Barry Sims, T Chris Patrick

The 49ers offensive line is once again in flux. As has happened many times over the past decade, this unit has been re-tooled looking for the right combination. The team drafted Anthony Davis to become the cornerstone at left tackle and the Rutgers standout has every chance to become just that. At 6'5 and 323 pounds, he is a mountain of a man who has every chance to be an excellent pro. Another rookie that will possibly start as a rookie is Mike Iupati from Idaho. The 17th overall pick is a huge player that can dominate a football game. He should emerge as the starter although the competition at guard will be heated. At right tackle will likely be Joe Staley who will move over from left tackle. Staley is an excellent lineman who may become one of the top right tackles in the league. He missed seven games last year but none in the previous two. David Baas started in all sixteen games last year for the first time in his career but he was below average on the season. There is a chance that he loses his starting job to Chilo Rachal who started in fifteen games last year and/or rookie Mike Iupati. It will be a hard-fought battle throughout training camp. Eric Heitmann has missed just two starts in six seasons and is a dependable player at center. There is lots of talent here but this unit will likely take a season or two to gel. If the young players excel early though, watch out.

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Aubrayo Franklin; DE Justin Smith; DE Isaac Sopoaga
Backups: DE Ray McDonald; DE Demetric Evans; DE/DT Ricky Jean Francois; DE Kentwan Balmer

Starting DL: Justin Smith remains a centerpiece of the defensive front and his versatility in both run support and the pass rush has made him a team leader throughout his career. At 30 years old, Smith is pushing his prime years, but it seems as though he's always good for 50/25 tackles and seven sacks. He might have minimal upside, but his downside is almost non-existent and his ability to obtain tackles makes him a consistent scorer in IDP leagues. Aubrayo Franklin has become one of the better interior tackles in the league and continues to take on double teams, allowing the linebacking group (such as Patrick Willis) to make plays. This unenviable position, though, has meant a minimal IDP contribution. Still, you can do worse with 30/12 tackles and a sack or two, which is exactly what Franklin should provide again in 2010. Isaac Sopoaga looks to hold onto the other end spot. Sopoaga is immensely strong but lacks pass rushing skills and could be more ideally suited to be inside. If guys like Ray McDonald step up, you could see Sopoaga relegated more to the bench by midseason.

Backup DL: Former third round pick Ray McDonald is strong off the snap but has yet to prove he has starting skills. The team could really use his pass rushing skills, though, so he could get an opportunity sooner rather than later. Kentwan Balmer was the team's first round pick in 2008 and is coming off season-ending surgery with a torn labrum, but has the opportunity to earn playing time if he can lose the stigma as a disappointment. Ricky Jean Francois might become Franklin's primary backup at nose tackle. Demetric Evans is an NFL veteran but supplies mostly depth and is doubftul to challenge anyone for starting duties.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Patrick Willis; OLB Manny Lawson; ILB Takeo Spikes; OLB Parys Haralson
Backups: LB Ahmad Brooks; LB Navorro Bowman; LB Matt Wilhelm; LB Travis Laboy; LB Scott McKillop

Starting LBs: ILB Patrick Willis is an elite performer and one of the very best in the league. He's coming off his third Pro Bowl in as many seasons, Willis gets tackles by the boatload, gets sacks, forces fumbles and last year even added thee interceptions to his repertoire. In short, Willis is the most valuable IDP LB in the game and plays with amazing intensity and lacks a weakness in his game. Next to Willis in the middle looks to be veteran Takeo Spikes once again. At 33 years old, Spikes is clearly on the downside of his career, but he can still make plays, as evidenced by his three sacks last year. On the outside, much heralded Manny Lawson must continue to step up to retain his job. Lawson, a former first round draft pick, had a breakout season of sorts leading the team with 6.5 sacks and he also had three forced fumbles. Still immensely talented, Lawson (who turns 26 in July) could finally find 2010 to be his year to live up to those lofty expectations. On the opposite side will be Parys Haralson, who after getting 8.5 sacks in 2008 added five more last year. Haralson is not a huge talent but looks to fend off others to remain a starter, at least for the first part of this season.

Backup LBs: It's no secret that Head Coach Mike Singletary has a special affinity for LB Ahmad Brooks. Previously an inside or middle linebacker, Brooks seemingly made a smooth transition to the outside and provided much needed pass rush with six sacks, five in the last five games. The team used a third round pick on Navorro Bowman. Bowman is a nice player but is unlikely to break into the starting lineup in 2010. Possessed with excellent speed, Bowman has been worked at both the "Mike" and "Ted" linebackers spots, but will most likely play a situational role only. Matt Wilhelm is a veteran who almost had 100 total tackles in San Diego a few years ago. Travis Laboy is a one-time DE who now uses his speed playing on the outside in the team's 3-4 defense. Laboy could be a surprise and earn legitimate playing time. With 23.5 sacks in five seasons, Laboy has proven he can get to the quarterback. Scott McKillop will provide depth.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Shawntae Spencer; CB Nate Clements; SS Michael Lewis; FS Dashon Goldson
Backups: SS Taylor Mays; CB Tarell Brown; FS Curtis Taylor; CB Karl Paymah; FS Reggie Smith

Starting DBs: SS Michael Lewis is back again for the 49ers in his role as strong safety. His run stuffing skills have bode well for his IDP owners, and while his coverage abilities are not the best, he remains a solid IDP and rookie Taylor Mays may ultimately replace him as the starter, but for 2010, look for another 85-100 total tackles for Lewis, along with a handful of other big plays. FS Dashon Goldson looked better and better as the season wore on in his third year with the team. Not only did Goldson have 77/18 tackles, but he added three sacks, three forced fumbles and four interceptions. While Goldson is not a truly superior talent, his playmaking skills should mean another very good IDP season for him. CB Shawntae Spencer played well in his sixth year with the team, but he needs to make more plays to become a top flight IDP. The other corner, Nate Clements, is now 30 years old, but if healthy he's still on of the best tackling corners in the game. A shoulder injury cut his season short, and the twilight of his career is quickly approaching, but a healthy Clements should provide for a solid IDP CB on your squad.

Backup DBs: The team drafted safety Taylor Mays in the second round out of USC, presumably to take over at some point for Michael Lewis. Mays, a physical specimen had a reputation for not making big plays in college, thereby dropping to the second round. But Mays is a punishing hitter who should not only take over as the team's starting strong safety in 2011, but look for him to play a big role this year. CB Tarell Brown started a few games last year, but his game had too many holes. But Brown brings a lot of speed and adds important depth and could see improvement after his experience last year. CB Karl Paymah has danced around the league a bit and provides depth. Safeties Curtis Taylor and Reggie Smith also provide depth but seem unlikely to do much more than that in 2010.

Last modified: 2010-06-13 17:47:58