QB Colin Kaepernick
(2013 QB Rank—#9, 15.8 FPts/G)
Following some serious hype coming into 2013, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick was a bit of a bust for fantasy purposes in his first full season as the team’s starting quarterback. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he is still growing as a player and particularly as a passer, but perhaps the biggest problem was that he missed his top target Michael Crabtree for the majority of the season when Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon prior to the start of the regular season. Upon Crabtree’s return, the two seemed to have some chemistry, which is certainly a nice sign heading into 2014. With Crabtree back in the lineup, Kaepernick finished the season with 19 or more fantasy points in seven of his final eight games. He found more success with his running game, especially toward the end of the year and in the playoffs, which makes sense as that is the time for players to go all-out and put their bodies on the line. Don’t expect Vick-like rushing numbers, but there’s no reason to think that Kaepernick won’t still be in the top five when it comes to rushing yardage at the quarterback position. He’s currently being drafted very late, as the No. 11 fantasy quarterback, which gives him great upside with very little downside. It would be difficult for Kaepernick to not at least bring back an even return on his low-average draft position.
RB Frank Gore
(2013 RB Rank—#13, 10.4 FPts/G)
Running back Frank Gore has enjoyed a career full of tremendous consistency at a position with very little of that to offer. Gore is now a year past the 30-year-old mark that many believe to be the swan song for NFL running backs. He has still averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in every season of his professional career. Although he saw his role reduced a bit in 2013 in terms of number of snaps, he still touched the ball more than 280 times for the third straight season. There is some concern that the 49ers backfield is becoming overcrowded with the likes of Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde, but Gore’s is the one mouth that you know will be fed. Gore’s realistic upside is probably the 1,200-plus yard, eight touchdowns that he has achieved in each of the past three seasons, but his downside is also not nearly as bad as many of the other backs who will be selected near him in drafts. If he can get even 250 touches, at just a measly 4.0 yards per touch, Gore would still crack 1,000 total yards and would almost certainly be in the position to take the vast majority of the team’s goal line carries.
RB Carlos Hyde
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
A dominant college running back with tremendous NFL upside, Carlos Hyde finds himself in an excellent position for the future … but make sure that you understand that we are talking about the future. Hyde should be drafted as a late-round flier who has the possibility of becoming a major contributor should Gore suffer an untimely injury. Unless that happens, though, Hyde will likely be limited to a 5-10 touch per game role, which of course puts a damper on his fantasy upside. If Hyde does somehow come out with the starting job, though, he could be an absolute beast in this offense. San Francisco has a top-level offensive line and Frank Gore is beginning to slow down toward the end of his career, but the expectations still need to be kept in check for this rookie tailback.
WR Michael Crabtree
(2013 WR Rank—#109, 2.0 FPts/G)
Not a lot could be expected after he missed the first 11 regular season games of the 2013 season. Still, Michael Crabtree stepped back onto the field and reminded all of us that he is still one of the most talented pass-catchers in the league. Crabtree caught only one touchdown pass in the regular season, but also had a 100-yard game and proved that, when healthy, he is Kaepernick’s favorite target in the passing game. Crabtree is currently being drafted as a high-end WR2 in most formats but could easily finish as a top-10 player at his position even if he only slightly improves on the per-game averages he had after he returned a season ago. If we go back even further to get a deeper look at the connection between Crabtree and Kaepernick, we will see that in seven starts with Kaepernick at quarterback back in 2012, Crabtree had 41 catches for 595 yards and five touchdowns. If he stayed on that pace for an entire season, he would easily finish as a top-five player at his position. Another often unnoticed point about Crabtree is that this is a contract year for the young pass-catcher. Expect him to go all-out in an effort to get a big money deal in 2015.
WR Anquan Boldin
(2013 WR Rank—#15, 9.6 FPts/G)
A trip across the country from Baltimore to San Francisco did great things for the fantasy numbers of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. He finished the 2013 season with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns, making him a top-15 fantasy wide receiver – the first time since 2008. Boldin benefited from Michael Crabtree’s injury, which subsequently led to him being the top wide receiver on the roster. Boldin even continued to perform once Crabtree returned, averaging 91 yards per game with two touchdowns in the final five games of the season with Crabtree in the lineup. While his skills probably didn’t deteriorate over the offseason, Boldin may no longer hold a significant role heading into 2014 with Crabtree back in full health and the addition of Steve Johnson. Boldin is currently going off the board as a WR3 or high-end WR4 which gives him a nice amount of upside if he can even come close to replicating his 2013 production. He currently has the upper-leg on the starting wideout spot opposite Crabtree to begin the year.
WR Steve Johnson
(2013 WR Rank—#56, 4.6 FPts/G)
Steve Johnson shot out of the gate in 2013 as a member of the Bills with an impressive 17 catches for 236 yards and a pair of scores in his first three games. He looked absolutely tremendous with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and things were looking up. Unfortunately, Johnson suffered a string of nagging injuries and so did Manuel, which led to disappointment after disappointment from that point on. In the final 13 weeks of the regular season, Johnson caught just 35 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown. As it turned out, 2013 was essentially a lost season for Johnson and should really be considered that by fantasy owners. Instead, looking at Johnson’s previous three seasons were much more in line with what he really is. He played in every game from 2010 through 2012 and compiled over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons, including making 23 total touchdown receptions over that stretch. Now in San Francisco, Johnson will also catch passes from the best quarterback he has ever played with. This sounds great on the surface, but the problems arise when we consider that Johnson will now have to compete with a quality veteran in Anquan Boldin for playing time in an offense that has no hesitation about running the ball 20 times per game. Johnson is a truly unknown commodity in this offense but an average draft pick at wide receiver makes him a very low-risk option. If the 49ers are going to give Kaepernick the reins of the offense, they could use Johnson as a decent bye week fill-in with the potential to be a startable receiver if everything goes well.
TE Vernon Davis
(2013 TE Rank—#2, 9.8 FPts/G)
It was another tremendous fantasy season for tight end Vernon Davis in 2013 as the freakish talent destroyed most expectations, finishing as the No. 2 fantasy tight end, only behind Jimmy Graham. Davis’ 850 yards were accompanied by 13 touchdown receptions, the second time in his career that he has reached that number. Those who believed that Davis would see a massive drop in production with Kaepernick behind center as opposed to Alex Smith, who has practically made a career of throwing the ball underneath coverage, could not have been more wrong. Davis’ end zone numbers totals cannot be oversold. Davis caught 62 percent of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes – a tremendous number for a player at any position, let alone tight end. Although he disappointed fantasy owners in 2012 when he failed to reach 600 yards and scored only five touchdowns, Davis has been a consistently elite fantasy option at the tight end position for the past five seasons. During that span, he has averaged nearly nine touchdowns and over 800 yards per season. With a healthy Michael Crabtree and the addition of Steve Johnson, Davis may not get as many looks as he did in 2013, but his tremendous ability in the red zone keeps him in the top tier of fantasy tight ends coming into the season. He is one of the few tight ends who is capable of putting up low-end WR1 numbers and thus should not be overlooked on draft day.