Fantasy Football Offensive Evaluation: San Francisco 49ers

"Hey Alex, how much time you got left in your career?" "Let me chec- HEY!"

If ever there was proof about the importance of a franchise QB, look no further than the history of the 49ers.  

Between 1981 and 1998, San Francisco was led by Joe Montana and then Steve Young.  For those 18 seasons, the Niners were a top 8 NFL scoring offense 18 times and the only time they didn't win 10 games or more was a labor-shortened 1982 season.  They were under 3 head coaches during that time and even the Steve Marriuci-led 1998 team with Steve Young finished first in the NFL in total yardage.

In 1999 under Jeff Garcia they finished 10th, 22nd in scoring, and had their worst season since 1979.  

The team was still pretty successful under Garcia for awhile, but not great.  And when the team moved on without him in 2004, they finished 2-14 and they've been a bottom third offense every year since.  It's actually scary that they've been led in passing yards by Alex Smith in 4 of the last 6 seasons, and they've still been unable to move on from the failed former #1 pick.

There's been some speculation that this years 49ers and new head coach Jim Harbaugh will be aiming for the #1 pick again in an effort to get Harbaugh's QB at Stanford, Andrew Luck.  I actually have little Luck will be a great NFL QB, and if the Niners do land the #1 pick in next years draft, maybe it will be for the best interest of the franchise.  But with Smith at QB, it could be a long 2011 season.  Speaking of which, let's look at the players after the jump...

Quarterback

Alex Smith

By all accounts, Smith seems like a pretty good guy.  Truthfully, public perception would be a lot different if Smith was a 6th round pick than being the "#1 overall pick."  That label only belongs to a select few in NFL history and it comes with a heavy amount of expectations that only former #1 picks could ever really understand.  For example, a #10 pick is expected to be great.  A #1 pick is expected to save the franchise.  That's not what Alex Smith is capable of doing, but he is a capable NFL QB.

He was only 21-years-old during his terrible rookie season.  He was only 22 when he started every game the next season and the team went 7-9 and he threw as many TDs as INTs.  In 2009, he threw 18 TDs against 12 INTs in 11 games and completed 60% of his passes.  Alex Smith isn't going to ever be a franchise QB, but he's capable and only 27.  This is going to be his last season in San Francisco barring something unforeseen, and he might be more successful on a team with a better defense and more weapons around him.  It won't happen for this team.


Colin Kaepernick

He had somewhat of a legendary career at Nevada, and in his first career start as a redshirt freshman he nearly led thet Wolfpack to a major upset of Boise State on the blue turf but fell short in 4 overtimes.  He's going to be one of the fastest quarterbacks in the NFL (4.53 40 yard dash) but does he have Michael Vick-like ability?  It doesn't appear that way, but the Niners traded up in the 2nd round to grab him for a reason.  He could surprise a lot of people by being one of the best QBs in this draft or he might just be a college star that wasn't big enough or strong enough or accurate enough for the NFL.  And don't be fooled, because if the Niners get the #1 pick, they'll still draft Andrew Luck.


Scott Tolzien

Just a quick note, because I remember the Chargers bloggers saying there was a lot of buzz on this rookie free agent.  The Chargers took a risk by waiving him and the Niners picked him up.  He's actually scary-close to getting in an NFL game because of the team he plays for.

Running Back

Frank Gore

We knew the 2005 NFL draft was loaded with running back prospects, we just didn't know that third-round pick Frank Gore would be the best of the bunch.  A Miami career that was riddled with injuries, including a torn ACL, helped drop him down that far, but he's been healthy in his NFL career up until a hip injury last season caused him to miss the last 5 games of the year.  

Through the first 9 games last year, Gore had 778 yards rushing and 415 yards receiving.  He's an elite back when healthy, but I don't think the risk with Gore is exceptionally worse than any other NFL running back.  These things happen.  He's only 28 years old, he should have a couple more years left in the tank to top 1,500 total yards and 10 TDs.  He's a 2nd round steal.

Kendall Hunter

Because of the perception of Gore as an injury-prone player, Hunter is one of the most popular backup running backs in the NFL for fantasy.  He is one of the best backs in Oklahoma State history and he may have been a steal in the fourth round of this years draft.  He's a necessary handcuff to Gore, but in return yardage leagues he'll be even more valuable because he's returning kicks for the Niners this season.  Even with the new rule on kickoffs, the main kick returner for a bad team like San Francisco will grab some valuable points.  Especially since he'll also be getting carries behind Gore.

Anthony Dixon

He led the NFL in preseason rushing yards in 2010 but didn't get much action until after Gore was hurt.  Then he was the primary backup to Brian Westbrook, but wasn't all that impressive in limited action.

Wide Receiver

Michael Crabtree

Will he ever become the star wide receiver he was meant to be?  There were a lot of doubts going into draft day about whether or not Crabtree was really as good as his college numbers or was he just a lucky product of the Texas Tech offense?  Plus, a foot injury before the draft that caused him to miss all pre-draft workouts.  In his first season at Texas Tech he had an incredible 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 TDs.  He followed that with 97 catches, 1,165 yards, and 19 TDs.  Two years, two consensus first-team All American selections.

The injury bug is plaguing Crabtree again this year and his status for week 1 is uncertain.  He's going about 100th overall on average in fantasy.  I think that's pretty good value because there's plenty of time for Crabtree to actually become a WR1, but with Alex Smith as the QB and a new offense being worked out, it's hard to know what to think for this season.  He had a couple of big games last year, but mostly deserved to be on your bench.  I'd draft (and have drafted) him as my 4th or 5th WR.  I'm plenty happy with that.  

Braylon Edwards

Edwards was an even better pro prospect than Crabtree, and the Browns took him third overall with the hopes that he'd be as good as other top 3 picks like Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson, and not anything like Charles Rogers.  Well, he was that good in 2007 with 80 catches, 1,289 yards and 16 TDs... elite numbers.  

But anyone who drafted him as an elite WR the following year was burned.  He's a solid #2 option in the NFL and he topped 900 yards with the Jets last season.  However, in San Francisco, in a new offense that will probably emphasize the run and shorter routes and the tight end position, he'll be very hit and miss.  He's a late, late round sleeper at best for me.

Josh Morgan, Tedd Ginn Jr, and Kyle Williams round out the rest of the WR options that might have a good game here or there but can't be relied on consistently.  

Tight End

Vernon Davis

I don't know how anyone can be 6'3, 250 lbs, solid muscle, and run a 4.38 40 yard dash, but if I had three wishes that would be one of them.  Maybe Vernon Davis had three wishes once.  I wonder what his other two wishes were.  Was one of them to be on the Niners?  Why didn't he wish for a quarterback?  

Davis has 20 TDs over the last two seasons and averaged a career high 16.3 yards per catch last year.  He's literally a beast and he'll get plenty of opportunities this season with another season of uncertainty at QB.  Davis is the 5th TE off the board in fantasy, but how much separates him and Antonio Gates?  Or him and Jermichael Finley for that matter?  I don't see how you can go wrong with Davis.  He'll get at least 900 yards and anywhere from 8-12 TDs.

follow me on twitter @casetines to keep an ongoing record on the race for Andrew Luck in 2012.  

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