It’s around this time, when the humid days begin to wane and the sun sets earlier, that you can catch me singing “…it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Football season is back! And along with changing my ringtone to the CBS NFL Theme Song, I’m also gearing up for fantasy football.
This is a quick look at the 49ers whom I expect, and don’t expect, to have an impact on your roster this year.
Choosing offensive players from the Niners is both a no-brainer and a head scratcher. If you’re in a league with 14-16 teams, Alex Smith is going to be a great pick as your backup QB (he plays in the NFC West; not much competition or defense). If you’re playing with 8-10 teams, you’ll have better options. If last year is an indicator, Smith will remain accurate, thus not causing costly turnovers, but if he can’t get yards, or more importantly, TDs, he’s not who you want as a starter QB.
Frank Gore, once a no-brainer as a top 10 RB pick, will likely slip. With the combination of the 49ers moving to more of a running-back-by-committee offense and Gore’s tenure in the league, you can expect decreased production from him. I also worry about his durability, as the years of being a one-trick pony may have caught up with him. Depending on the size of your league, Gore should go as no. 10-16 in the first round or as an early pick in the second (definitely pick him up if you’re league is only 8-10 teams and he’s available in the second).
On the receiving end, expect the brain scratching to get worse. Vernon Davis is without a doubt one of the premier TEs in the league, but being the only weapon Alex Smith ever seems to target has caused him to be less productive than he should be. Davis has the burden of opposing defenses game planning against him as well as coach Harbaugh using him more for blocking than receiving. If you’re in a small league, I’d make Davis a backup TE; in larger leagues, he’s a first option.
Now when it comes to drafting 49er WRs, may the force be with you. Of the many receivers on the team at this time, only three should be under true consideration for a roster spot: Crabtree, Moss and Manningham (in that order). None of these players is a first-choice option at wide receiver, frankly (they might not be a second), but when filling out your roster for depth, potential trade bait or just keeping tabs on potential waiver steals and injury or bye-week replacements, they might just do the trick.
I feel as though the diva Crabtree has underproduced in his time with the Niners. He misses balls, doesn’t have breakaway speed, is often injured and has yet to show rapport with Alex Smith. That being said, he’s still the no. 1 WR for the 49ers, thus worthy of being a no. 2 or 3 option on a fantasy football roster.
Moss and Manningham are WRs to have on your bench or to keep tabs on through the first 2-3 weeks. Is Moss motivated? Can he still breakaway? How much playing time is Manningham going to get? As soon as these questions are answered, the value, or lack thereof, of these two will become clear.
If you’re in the most common setup for a league, pick the 49ers’ defense! Seriously, jump on them. As soon as you secure two RBs, a QB and a WR, pick no. 5 should be this defense. In my league last year, the two of us who went to the championship knocked off most of our competitors due to the work of the 49ers’ and Ravens’ defenses. Picking up the 49ers’ defense could be the sole reason your fantasy football team wins a matchup.
If you’re league is for the grownups (like mine), then you’re probably playing in an IDP league (Individual Defensive Players). Around rounds 5-6 (maybe even earlier) you’ll see some of the more notable defensive names being nabbed. Among them will be Patrick Willis, who usually lands in the top 5-10 defensive picks–most IDP leagues pay big points for play-making linebackers, especially inside linebackers. My big tip here is to grab him if he’s available, but if not, do something some members of your league may consider a stretch–grab NaVorro Bowman.
In 2011, after the departure of Takeo Spikes, Bowman was promoted to starter and recorded a breakout season. Compare Bowman’s 143 tackles (111 solo) and 2 sacks to Willis’ 97 tackles (74 solo) and 2 sacks and you’ll see Bowman is no compensatory pick–he’s a gem. Furthermore, teams know Willis is a threat and while they work at stopping him, Bowman will be free to run amuck.
A bit further down the line, but not too far down, is Aldon Smith. He’ll definitely serve as a good LB to have in your lineup if you have a flex defensive spot (always play a third LB if you have a flex spot). Smith recorded 37 tackles and 14 sacks last year. Still finding his footing as part of an elite defense, it isn’t effectiveness that could slow down his point production but more so a matter of where he fits in the lineup and his playing time.
If you’re looking for a DE/DT in rounds 6+, Justin Smith might be your man. Consistently a top producer and candidate for the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, he allows you to have the flexibility of playing him as a DE or DT, which can be a big help when you need points (DEs are always more valuable than DTs).
My last defensive picks from the 49ers are Carlos Rodgers at cornerback and Dashon Goldson at safety. Both are solid backups. Word of caution on Goldson: safeties payout on tackles. The combination of him not being the biggest interception machine and not being as physical as he should on the tackle (often missing tackles) means you really only want to use him when you have few, if no other, options.
And last but not least, my pick for kicker. While choosing a kicker is usually an afterthought that won’t make or break your team, David Akers is clearly one of the best bets. When the 49ers’ offense couldn’t convert in the red zone, Akers kept them in the game, many times being the sole reason they were ahead, thus the reason he set the record for fantasy points scored by a kicker last season. Akers will remain clutch and is a sure shot at the kicker position.
If I didn’t care about defending my fantasy throne, I’d be a total homer and stack my roster full of 49ers, but being more rational, I had to truly evaluate who from the 49ers had the potential to contribute to my team this year. I hope the overview and tips above help some of you zero in on the players you should be looking at to add to your teams this season.