Team Outlook: San Francisco 49ers

Team Outlook: San Francisco 49ers

Three straight deep runs into the playoffs won't last forever. The 49ers' window for success is slowly closing and a big offensive improvement might just be enough to put them over the top for their sixth Super Bowl victory.

QB Colin Kaepernick - SOLID/SAFE PICK
DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK: Kaepernick's first full season as a starter was a little disappointing. He did break the 300-point barrier, but many envisioned much more. His completion percentage dropped from 62.4- to 58.4-percent. His yards per attempt dropped from 8.3 to 7.7. His rushing touchdowns dropped from five to four despite playing more games. His interception rate also nudged up from 1.4- to 1.9-percent. In summary, Kaepernick suffered some growing pains while the league adjusted to him. It wasn't all bad, though. His 21 passing touchdowns on 416 attempts (5-percent) is a reasonable conversion rate and better than some of the bigger name quarterbacks. This team doesn't look like they're going to open up the offense significantly, despite their claims. His receivers are clearly capable of supporting a small increase to the passing game with a healthy Michael Crabtree and newly acquired Steve Johnson on board. Given his current ADP (QB10, 82.63 ADP), he has an opportunity to outperform his draft position. He has the kind of upside that you should look for from one of the last QB1s drafted.

QB Blaine Gabbert - NOT DRAFT WORTHY
San Francisco picked up Gabbert after Jacksonville ended the experiment with this former first round draft pick. It will be interesting to see what Harbaugh can do with his career. Don't expect any production in 2014.

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RB Frank Gore - OVER THE HILL
FAREWELL TOUR: We all know the end is coming soon. The question is when? Last year, Gore posted a career-worst 4.1 yards per carry. He also had his lowest reception total (16) since his rookie year (he only started one game). San Francisco has a lot of talent at running back ready to replace Gore. This feels like his last season as the team's leading ball-carrier. Over the last three years, surprisingly, the carries by San Francisco running backs not named Frank Gore have gone down from 145 to 130 to 125. Gore's carries have remained fairly high at 282, 259 and 276. Last year, Gore recorded 197 fantasy points in PPR. That was still a RB2 starter-quality season. At 31 years old, expectations should be low. He must face Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis each twice. All of these teams have a tough defense.

Editor's note: In our high-stakes ADP rankings, Gore is the RB28, coming off the board at pick No. 77. This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement from those fantasy players who put the big bucks on the line and have the most riding on their team's success. Gore should be a capable flex; however that might be his ceiling.

RB Carlos Hyde - SUPER SLEEPER
The 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. This implies they believe in Hyde and his strong college career. The former Ohio State back is a powerful runner and a decent blocker. He could fulfill short-yardage situations or some goal-line work for the 49ers if he can surpass Kendall Hunter on the depth chart. Hyde has a great chance this year to find a way on the field. The opportunity won't be won until the pads go on, but that's where Hyde has shown well. If you draft Gore, make sure you also draft Hyde as a handcuff (unless the coaching staff announces someone else will be the primary backup).

RB Marcus Lattimore - GAMBLE
If it weren't for multiple significant injuries, Lattimore would have been the best running back of last year's draft class. Unfortunately, he suffered two devastating severe knee injuries and wasn't ready to contribute last year. 2013 was a redshirt year for Lattimore. The early word this offseason indicated that he still wasn't 100-percent. He will get his opportunities to try to make his comeback this year; however, nothing is guaranteed for the former South Carolina back after San Francisco committed another draft pick on Carlos Hyde. If Lattimore is to win a role which involves playing time, it will be when the hitting goes live and that is when he needs to prove to himself. Playing alongside Frank Gore (another back who sustained multiple injuries before his pro career really began) will hopefully prove beneficial to his work ethic and commitment to return at his best. Lattimore is a very late-round gamble until the depth chart solidifies.

Editor's note: Hyde's arrival is a big blow to the perceived confidence the 49ers must have in Lattimore. Perhaps Hyde is insurance if the Niners opt to replace Kendall Hunter or allow LaMichael James to depart after this season as well. With so many backs in the mix, it is difficult to discern what the team has in store for the future.

RB Kendall Hunter - LOW POTENTIAL
Hunter has played the role of handcuff to Frank Gore for a few years. He definitely has fresher legs than the former Miami Hurricanes back. Hunter's yards per carry average over the last three years have been 4.58 compared to Gore's 4.35. Normally, he would be in high demand in drafts, except there are a couple of younger backs named Hyde and Lattimore that will draw attention as well. The 49ers know what they have in Hunter and it appears unlikely they view him as their back for the future after adding RBs in each of the last three drafts.

WR Michael Crabtree - SOLID/SAFE PICK
Crabtree developed into a nice weapon for San Francisco, although it took a few years. He battled foot problems, which took him off course to throughout his career. From 2010 to 2012, his reception total gradually increased from 55 to 72 to 85. In 2013, he missed most of the year with injury. This season could serve to be a comeback year for him. He'll have both Anquan Boldin and Steve Johnson as teammates and they form the best 49ers' receiving corps in years. Kaepernick trusts Crabtree and even wanted to make sure there was money available to extend Crabtree's contract before he signed his own extension. Targets may be tough to come by on this team due to the 49ers' commitment to smash-mouth football. He should meet his career highs with 70 to 80 receptions. We rank him as a mid-end WR2, which is a very bullish projection.

Editor's note: Now in his sixth season, this is last call for Crabtree. Many fantasy owners have already written him off due to his sky-high stat projections; however, if Boldin can produce like a WR2 for fantasy owners (which he did last year), so can Crabtree at his 44.33 ADP.

WR Anquan Boldin - QUALITY BACKUP
Boldin finished as the 15th-highest scoring wide receiver in 2013. Not bad for a guy considered entering the twilight of his career and third team in five seasons. What does Crabtree's return mean to Boldin? Surprisingly, in the five games Crabtree played, Boldin averaged 6.6 receptions for 91 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per contest. This compares to 4.73 receptions, 66 yards and 0.45 touchdowns in 11 games without Crabtree. Perhaps defenses put too much emphasis on covering Crabtree and left Boldin open, but either way, his production was so significant that he shouldn't be discounted off-hand this year. Furthermore, his 139.11 ADP (WR57) should tell you Boldin is extremely undervalued. Boldin typically played the No. 2 WR throughout his career, so even with some regression, an improved Colin Kaepernick could bridge the gap statistically.

Editor's note: The 49ers may strike more of an offensive balance thanks to the return of Crabtree, the advanced age of Frank Gore and addition of Steve Johnson. More passes means more opportunities for Boldin to produce. His ADP is an absolute steal.

WR Steve Johnson - LOW POTENTIAL
Johnson comes to San Francisco from Buffalo, where he averaged 129 targets over his last four years. Johnson will turn 28 this year and could thrive from not having to be his team's No. 1 receiver. He will have to wait for his targets with more passes likely destined for Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. Johnson will also have to hold off talented second-year player Quinton Patton, the dynamic but aging Brandon Lloyd and rookie Bruce Ellington. For a player who has been a solid receiver for three straight years, he finds himself in a battle to be relevant. It is a long shot for him to contribute enough to be a fantasy starter without an injury to provide him more snaps.

WR Quinton Patton - DYNASTY ONLY
Patton didn't see much action his rookie season. He was a fourth-round draft pick in 2013. There are multiple players competing for the No. 3 duties in San Francisco. He is not worth a draft pick at this point. Stash him on your dynasty roster if need be and hope for the best.

WR Brandon Lloyd - NOT DRAFT WORTHY
Lloyd has come back to where it all started in an attempt to reinvigorate his up-and-down career. He always was able to make the difficult catch, although delivering consistent performances was the problem. Lloyd was out of the NFL last year, so he is a long shot to both make the roster and contribute significantly.

WR Bruce Ellington - DYNASTY ONLY
Ellington is the cousin of Andre Ellington. The NFL Network's Mike Mayock called him a bigger version of Jacksonville's Ace Sanders. Ellington ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and recorded a 39.5 inch vertical jump. With those raw skills, he has long-term potential. Draft and hold him in dynasty formats.

TE Vernon Davis - STUD
GO DEEPER: 2013 was a great year for Vernon Davis. He recorded 52 receptions for 850 yards and 13 touchdowns. 25-percent of his receptions went for touchdowns as he assumed the role of deep threat in San Francisco. He added career-highs in yards, yards per catch and touchdowns. Due to his performance last season, his draft stock should stay very high as a lock in the second tier of tight ends.

Editor's note: At TE, it's important to find value. Davis is going to be the fourth or fifth player drafted at his position. Given the volatility in scoring from year to year, it may be best to only select Davis if he falls a full round from his 64.47 ADP. For example, at that spot you might be able to draft Ben Tate, Torrey Smith or Nick Foles. On the other hand, if you wait a round to draft a TE, Jordan Reed or Jason Witten might be available.

TE Vance McDonald - NOT DRAFT WORTHY
McDonald is coming off an unproductive rookie season. He didn't perform well enough to garner much attention, so he would even be a reach in dynasty leagues. He has a long way to go to earn a roster spot in any format.

PK Phil Dawson - STUD
Dawson has a strong leg and plays for a solid offensive team that uses its running game to extend drives. A conservative approach on offense often leads to coach Jim Harbaugh to settle for the points. Dawson has a history of performing very well, dating all the way back to his days in Cleveland. He has most of the ingredients that provide an opportunity for him to be a good fantasy kicker (strong leg, decent accuracy and paired with a good defense). His 32 made field goals were a career-best in his 16th season. That says a lot about the 49ers' productivity.

DST San Francisco - STUD
San Francisco's defense has been among the top defenses the last few years. Their special teams doesn't offer much compared to some other top DSTs, yet their defense remains one of the best in the league. They are definitely a defense to consider toward the last quarter of your draft. Overcoming the loss of NaVorro Bowman is a tall order. Reloading their defensive secondary gives them a completely different look on the back-end. The 49ers' toughness will keep them from falling too far, but this team does have some old faces in news places who must earn their stripes quickly.

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