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2013 Team Report: San Francisco 49ers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Colin Kaepernick
Backup(s): Colt McCoy, B.J. Daniels [R]

Starting QB: The 49ers moved up in the 2011 draft to take Colin Kaepernick with the 36th overall pick. He seized the starting role in 2012 after Alex Smith sustained a concussion in week 10. Including the playoffs, Kaepernick went 7-3 as a starter, cementing his role as the team's starting quarterback (and making Alex Smith, since traded to the Chiefs, expendable). Kaepernick was effective last season both as a passer and as a runner. His 181 rushing yards against the Packers set an NFL record for a quarterback. What might hold Kaepernick back from being a top-tier fantasy quarterback is the 49ers' traditionally run-heavy offense.

Backup QB: Colt McCoy has more starting experience than Kaepernick, having started 21 games in his three seasons with the Cleveland Browns, but his inconsistent accuracy renders him more suitable for a backup role. McCoy has the athleticism to run the Pistol read option, so the playcalling need not change much if Kaepernick misses time with injury. B.J. Daniels was one of the 49ers' three seventh-round picks this year. Daniels will have to improve his throwing mechanics, but he is a terrific runner and is a master at the read option.

Running Backs

Starter: Frank Gore
Backup(s): Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore [R], Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton
Fullback(s): Bruce Miller, Cameron Bell

Starting RB: Frank Gore will be 30 years old this season, but based on last year's production, he is still going strong. He rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons, and averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry in 2012. Gore is a four-time Pro Bowler and will likely soon become the 49ers all-time leading rusher. Given Gore's age and mileage, however, and the 49ers' depth at running back, the team could shift toward more of a committee approach this season. While Gore has by far the most impressive resume of the 49ers backs, some close observers of the team believe that his ability to make defenders miss or to gain yards after contact are just average at this point in his career, and that Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James may already be superior in those respects.

Backup RBs: Kendall Hunter was the 49ers' fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft. Before partially tearing his Achilles tendon in week twelve last season, Hunter had 371 yards and 2 touchdowns on 72 carries: an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. Hunter is expected to be ready for the opening of training camp, and will enter camp as Gore's primary backup. LaMichael James was the 49ers' second-round pick in the 2012 draft. He got off to a slow start as a rookie; he did not get any playing time until after Kendall Hunter's season ended due to injury. But once James got a chance, he played well. Including the playoffs, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, running with deceptive power to accompany his obvious quickness and elusiveness. Both Hunter and James could make a strong case for more carries in 2013. The 49ers selected Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of this year's draft. Lattimore's final college season ended with a gruesome knee injury suffered in October 2012 (which followed a torn ACL the previous season), and he may not be ready to contribute much, if at all, as a rookie. But if not for his injuries, he was considered a first-round talent; and when he is fully healthy in 2014, he could fall in line to become Frank Gore's eventual successor as the 49ers featured RB. Anthony Dixon has the flexibility to play both halfback and fullback. Jewel Hampton, an undrafted rookie last season, may open the season on the non-football injury list after offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot.

Fullback: Bruce Miller was a pass-rushing defensive end in college. The 49ers converted him to fullback, and he took to the position immediately. He is seldom used as a runner or receiver, however, so his fantasy relevance is limited to his blocking for his teammates.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton [R]
Backups: Mario Manningham [inj], Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, Chad Hall, Michael Crabtree [inj]

Starting WRs: The 49ers WR corps suffered a huge loss when Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout in May. Crabtree had his first thousand-yard season in 2012, catching 85 passes for 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns. He had more than twice as many targets and receptions as any of his teammates, and became Colin Kaepernick's go-to receiver in clutch situations. With Crabtree sidelined for part or all, or at least a substantial part, of the 2013 season, ten-year veteran Anquan Boldin will have to pick up the slack. Boldin had 6 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers in last season's Super Bowl. The former Cardinal and Raven is a tough, physical receiver known for playing with intensity. He has been steadily productive, gaining at least 837 receiving yards in each of the last eight seasons. Boldin will be 33 this season, though, and could start to slow down at any time. The other starting position was up for grabs during training camp, and Quinton Patton was the most impressive receiver during the preseason, so he'll get a chance to line up with the first unit early in the regular season. Patton was the team's fourth-round draft pick this year, and was extremely productive at Louisiana Tech. He is not a speed burner, but he could make an immediate impact due to his precise route-running, reliable hands, and knack for making the acrobatic grab.

Backup WRs: Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams may be the primary contenders for the slot position. (The slot position in San Francisco gets fewer reps than on other teams, however, since the 49ers use three-WR sets relatively infrequently.) Manningham's health is a question mark, though, as he tore the ACL and PCL in his right knee late last season. He will begin the regular season on the PUP list, meaning that he will miss at least the first six games. Kyle Williams, like Manningham, tore an ACL late last season; but unlike Manningham, Williams will be available in week one of the regular season. Williams is a natural slot receiver with good run-after-the-catch ability, and may also contribute as a return man on special teams. Michael Crabtree could return to be a factor during the second half of the season. When healthy, he is an exceptional athlete who can work both the middle of the field and the sidelines, and is a terrific runner after the catch. The 49ers traded A.J. Jenkins to the Chiefs for Jon Baldwin in mid-August. Both players could use a change of scenery, as neither has lived up to his draft position. Baldwin has the physical talent to make an impact, but he'll have to get up to speed quickly and show more in San Francisco than he did in Kansas City.

Tight Ends

Starters: Vernon Davis
Backups: Vance McDonald [R], Garrett Celek, Cameron Morrah, Marqueis Gray

Vernon Davis is a freakish athlete with a rare combination of size, speed, and strength. He has had a rather inconsistent NFL career, however, and his role in the 49ers' offense is hard to predict from week to week. He was the #1 fantasy tight end in 2009, but slipped to #3 in 2010, #8 in 2011, and then #15 in 2012 (despite starting all 16 games in each of those season). Ten times in the eleven final games of the 2012 regular season, he had fewer than 40 yards and no touchdowns. But he then went over 100 yards in two of his three playoff games. So he is an enigma. Rookie Vance McDonald will take over the number two role from the departed Delanie Walker. McDonald lined up in the slot quite often in college, but has better size than speed, and may be a better blocker than receiver in the NFL. He was seldom used as an in-line blocker in college, but he was an effective blocker in space. Garrett Celek is a powerful run blocker, but is limited athletically. He has improved as a pass-catcher, but will never be a downfield threat.

Place Kicker

Phil Dawson: After coming close to losing his job in the playoffs, David Akers did lose it during the offseason. The 49ers replaced him with another veteran free agent acquisition, long time Brown kicker Phil Dawson who is coming off perhaps his best season ever - 29 of 31 (93.5%) on field goals and one of the misses was blocked. He'll now be working with holder/punter Andy Lee and rookie long snapper Kevin McDermott, who pulled off the upset by overtaking veteran Brian Jennings. After four years at or near the bottom of the rankings in kicker scoring opportunities, the 49ers shot up to number one in 2011 and number two last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Anthony Dixon, LaMichael James

Running back LaMichael James and wide receiver Kyle Williams were the team's leading kick returners last year, and James began the year as the starter. Partway through the season, James was made a healthy scratch and Williams took over the starting job. Williams was waived after the halfway point, with running back Anthony Dixon moving atop the depth chart.

Punt Returners: LaMichael James

Receiver Kyle Williams handled the majority of the return duties until a number of miscues led to his release. LaMichael James competed with Williams in the preseason, and has taken over the return job. His backup is currently unclear.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin, RG Alex Boone, RT Anthony Davis
Key Backups: T Kenny Wiggins, T Carter Bykowski, G Joe Looney, G Adam Snyder, C Daniel Kilgore

The San Francisco 49ers offensive line starts the new league year where they left off last year, at the top of the rankings. This line imposed their will on the opposition, especially in the running game. The line returns intact and provides this unit with a perfect cohesion score. The left side of the line features AP All-Pro's in Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. Both of these players are dominant and Iupati is arguably the best guard in football right now. Iupati actually had a shoulder procedure this offseason, but should be ready for the start of training camp. Jonathan Goodwin continues to do a very good job at the center position. Right guard Alex Boone is underrated and performed at a Pro Bowl level last season. He is a rare upgrade in these rankings graded at that level despite not getting the honor (yet). Boone is a beast in run blocking and a player watch for those honors in 2013. Right tackle Anthony Davis has really matured in the last season and rounds out what is undoubtedly the top group in football. In terms of depth, the team took a small hit with the retirement of Leonard Davis. However, recent addition Adam Snyder rejoins his old squad from the Cardinals and can provide immediate emergency depth across the board. Snyder will take Iupati's reps in minicamp, for example. There are some interesting names on the bench, including backup center Daniel Kilgore and former Temple undrafted free agent Wayne Tribue. But overall the starting lineup is the story here and any interruption in personnel would create a hit. The 49ers get this top ranking because of their dominant rushing attack. This team is extremely dangerous rushing the football, and this offensive line group is shaping up to be really special. Someone should start thinking of a nickname.

Team Defense

The San Francisco defense is among the truly elite - both in NFL circles and with regards to fantasy football. In Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman, San Francisco is absolutely loaded at linebacker, and they added Nnamdi Asomugha to an already solid secondary. While Asomugha disappointed in Philadelphia, he is not far removed from playing at an elite level as a Raider. Along with the Seahawks, the 49ers defense will be among the very first to come off the board in most drafts this year.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Justin Smith, DE Ray McDonald, NT Ian Williams
Backups: DE Cornelius Carradine [R], DE Quinton Dial [R], DE Will Tukuafu, NT Glenn Dorsey

Starting DL: Head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are the architects of a formidable stop unit. The 49ers were second in the league in scoring defense (17.1 PPG), behind only their divisional nemesis Seahawks. The defense was just outside the top ten in sacks (38). Four time Pro Bowler Justin Smith turns 34 in 2013, but the 1.4 pick in the 2002 draft continues to play at a high level, and remains one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league. Stronger in the run game, his 47 solo tackles were top five among all NFL defensive linemen. While never an elite sack artist (though Smith applies consistent pressure), the three sacks were the second lowest total of his career, since his final season with the Bengals in 2007. Ray McDonald (6'3" and 290 pounds) has good power and ability to anchor in the scheme, and makes a good bookend with the more explosive Smith. His primary job responsibility is to control offensive linemen with assignment sound gap discipline so the defense's unparalleled inside linebacker duo can flow unimpeded to attack ball carriers. Williams is a 23 year old former UFA who may battle with ex-Chief defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey in camp. A Freshman All American at Notre Dame, he has played well enough to receive a two year extension in the off-season.

Backup DL: Cornelius Carradine would likely have gone higher if not for suffering a torn ACL in his final college season at Florida State. He could offer intriguing positional flexibility to rush inside or outside, and looks like the heir apparent of Justin Smith. At 6'4" and 275 pounds, he has the kind of frame to add weight while retaining his burst. Quinton Dial played on two national championship teams at Alabama. He is already strong against the run, and could have some latent, untapped pass rush ability. Like Smith in Cincinnati, Dorsey never lived up to his top five overall draft pedigree (2008) in Kansas City, and similarly gets the opportunity for career redemption and resurrection in the City by the Bay. As noted above, the highly decorated former 2007 Lombardi, Outland, Nagurski and Lott awards winner could be in the starting NT mix. He was signed in March to a cap-friendly, two year, $6 million deal.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Patrick Willis, ILB Navorro Bowman, OLB Aldon Smith, OLB Ahmad Brooks
Backups: OLB Parys Haralson, OLB Darius Fleming, OLB Corey Lemonier [R], OLB Nick Moody [R], ILB Dan Skuta

Starting LBs: San Francisco was fourth in the league against the run (94.2 rushing YPG). Playing an instrumental part in the defense's recent success are the intimidating duo of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Prior to the past two seasons, no two inside linebackers from the same team had ever both made first team All Pro since the merger. Their respective stats tell the story more eloquently than any scouting profiles could. In the past two years, Willis had a combined 162 solo tackles and was a big play machine with 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs and 6 FFs, while Bowman was a voracious tackler with 207 solos, as well as 4 sacks, 1 INT and 1 FF. Just 24, Bowman earned a five year, $45 million ($25 million guaranteed) extension last season. The fact that Willis and Bowman never need to leave the field makes them a match up nightmare for opposing offenses. The outside linebackers aren't exactly slouches, either. Aldon Smith has exploded onto the NFL scene in his first two seasons. The 1.7 pick in the 2011 draft broke Reggie White's record by getting to 30 sacks in just his first 27 games. Ahmad Brooks is a former USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year, and also received an extension in 2012 (six years - $44 million, $17 million guaranteed).

Backup LBs: Parys Haralson is a former starter relegated to a reserve role with the emergence of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Third round rookie Corey Lemonier may have been selected with an eye to being Haralson's replacement as a rotational pass rusher in the near future, and could even have the kind of talent to eventually compete with Brooks as a starter in the longer term. He had some experience in the 3-4 at Auburn. Fellow rookie Moody will likely need to make his mark on special teams early in his career.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Donte Whitner, FS Eric Reid [R], CB Carlos Rogers, CB Tarell Brown
Backups: SS C.J. Spillman, S Craig Dahl, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Tramaine Brock, CB Chris Culliver, CB Marcus Cooper [R]

Starting DBs: Like the run defense ranking above, the 49ers also finished fourth against the pass (200.2 YPG). The secondary didn't create a lot of turnovers, and were middle of the pack in INTs (14). Former 1.8 pick in the 2006 draft for the Bills, Donte Whitner (5'11 and 205 pounds) lacks ideal size in coverage, but the veteranís football smarts help to get the secondary lined up right. Despite his stature, he is a physical, hard-nosed open field tackler. Identifying a replacement for Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson as one of the the team's biggest needs, San Francisco targeted their top rated safety Eric Reid in a trade up with Dallas. The coveted former LSU All American is a spectacular athlete with an outstanding combination of traits, including length, size, range, hops, instincts and toughness. Reid has the well rounded skills and complete game to be a force against the run and pass, and with development could join the Pro Bowl onslaught. Ex-Redskin free agent Carlos Rogers is another former top 10 overall pick (the organization collects them like billionaire J. Paul Getty did art masterworks). The Pro Bowler is skilled in coverage and run support, and was also an extension recipient in 2012 - four years, $29 million ($10 million guaranteed). Tarell Brown is sometimes overlooked with all the mega-watt star power on the defense, but is a very talented CB.

Backup DBs: Ex-Ram Dahl was signed in free agency. He has versatility, and is an adequate if not elite run defender, but has limitations in coverage. While the starting gig won't be handed to Eric Reid and he needs to earn the position in training camp, with his vastly superior athleticism and pedigree, it would be an upset if the prized rookie isn't starting against the Packers opening day, in defense of their 2012 NFC Championship (at Candlestick Park in its swan song season for the 49ers, as they prepare to move to their new $1.2 billion digs just down the road in Santa Clara for the 2014 season). Former Oakland serial Pro Bowler and man cover specialist Nnamdi Asomugha looked lost and miscast in Philadelphia's zone scheme, and welcomed the change of scenery to be near his old stomping grounds (he played collegiate ball at Cal, before his tenure with the Raiders). He will be 32 this season, but if he hasn't lost a step, could at least elevate the nickel defense.

Last modified: 2013-11-12 17:40:53