As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all Spring and Summer. This year, we also have a precursor to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.
Last year was the first year Alex Smith broke the 3,000 yard passing mark in his seven year career, tallying 3,150 yards along with a very solid 17:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He also chipped in two more scores on the ground. Smith did all this with yet another new offensive coordinator – his seventh in as many seasons. This year will mark only the second time in his eight year career that Smith will have the same offensive coordinator two years in a row. The other was the 2010 season when Jimmy Raye entered his second season; that lasted five games before they were on to the next one.
After “allegedly” flirting with Peyton Manning in the offseason, which Harbaugh denies, Smith signed a three year, $24 million dollar contract to remain the 49ers starting quarterback. Not stopping there, the Niners also went out and brought in some new weapons for their quarterback, signing Mario Manningham, Randy Moss, and Brandon Jacobs in free agency and drafting wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in round one and speed back LaMichael James in round two. Make no mistake, this team is not satisfied with the appearance in the NFC title game, they have the Super Bowl in mind.
Safe and cerebral are the words most often used to describe Alex Smith. He has become more of a game manager who plays it safe with a strong running game and one of the league’s strongest defensive units. He’s rarely asked to go out and win the ball game, instead asked to not lose it. If Harbaugh can get the Alex Smith we saw against the Saints in the Divisional round of the playoffs to show up every Sunday, the 49ers would be in great hands. In that game he showed everything positive he has to offer as he went 24-of-42 for 299 yards, three TDs, and the incredible 28 yard bootleg scramble for a TD in the game’s furious final minutes.
This season is more crucial than any other in Smith’s eight year career. The Niners were an overtime game away from the Super Bowl and anything less will be considered a failure. Lofty expectations for sure, but if they don’t, the blame will surely fall on Smith’s shoulders. The extension he signed was essentially a one year deal that the Niners can easily get out of after the season and they will only owe Smith $1 million. With the stable of weapons at his disposal, I expect Smith to put up career numbers for the second consecutive year. The TD:INT ratio will likely not be matched, but with more downfield chances comes more risk for interceptions. Smith is currently being drafted as nothing more than a late round flier and QB2. That’s about right, Smith can be used as a bye week fill-in or as a match up play, but even with the upgraded skill players, Smith will remain a better NFL quarterback than fantasy quarterback.
Second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a younger, faster, stronger, more raw version of Alex Smith. At 6’4”, 230 lbs, with a cannon arm, and 4.53 official forty at the combine on his resume from last year, Kaepernick has all the tools to be a starter in this league. You’ve probably seen the highlight of Kaepernick showing that athleticism while scrambling 78 yards to the house in week one of preseason action.
The word out of camp so far though is he’s only had a “so-so” showing. Teammates joke that he’d “rather run it that throw it.” As long as he keeps making plays and continues to develop, he has the chance to give the 49ers options after this season regarding Alex Smith’s contract. Kaepernick is definitely a dynasty stash quarterback, especially with the upgraded supporting cast. The speed of Kaepernick and LaMichael James in the backfield is downright scary.
A Josh Johnson/Jim Harbaugh reunion was inevitable. After coaching Johnson at Div-II University of San Diego, Harbaugh declared Johnson “the best QB in the country” after rocking a 43-to-1 TD:INT ratio as a Senior. Originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Johnson has yet to find that kind of success in the pros. Johnson signed a two year, $2.115 million dollar contract to back up Smith and Kaepernick. At this point, he is not worth rostering, even in deep leagues.
He’s no longer the featured bell cow running back in this offense, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a role. Having just turned 29 years old, Gore is the 49ers all time leading rusher and expected to still be the lead back in what has turned into a very crowded back field with incumbent Kendall Hunter and the additions of rookie LaMichael James and free agent behemoth Brandon Jacobs.
Gore’s appeal has always been his versatility and effectiveness in the passing game. He had caught at least 43 balls every year since his rookie campaign until last year when he unexpectedly had his receptions drop to 17 – that hurt his fantasy output by quite a bit, especially in PPR leagues. When looking back at the overall stats from last year you see he rushed for 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns – that isn’t a bad season by any definition. But when you dig a little deeper, he only averaged 53 yards a game over the last eight weeks. That’s when owners really feel the crunch of his low reception totals. In PPR leagues, those low rushing total blows are often softened by the points he got for his catches. Not anymore.
With heir apparent Kendall Hunter waiting in the wings and third down speed demon and change of pace back LaMichael James on the roster, the writing is definitely on the wall. This team will run the ball, one way or another. Even though I expect Gore’s workload to be reduced and his passing game numbers to stay similar to last year’s, there is definitely a spot on your roster for him. His days of being a RB1 are gone, but he still carries mid to lower end RB2 considerations. With the running back field getting murky and fantasy teams drafting tight ends and quarterbacks earlier than ever, Gore is slipping further than he should. He can be had as a RB3 right now and I still consider that good value, especially if you pair him with an injury risk guy such as Trent Richardson or Ryan Mathews.
As mentioned earlier, Kendall Hunter is expected to be the heir apparent to Frank Gore in the 49ers backfield after being drafted in the fourth round of last year’s draft. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie with two touchdowns and added 16 receptions for 195 yards – not bad in limited playing time. He plays very similar to Gore and has the ability to carry the load, even though he will probably never be asked to. I expect Hunter to be the lead guy in a very dangerous committee attack with LaMichael James in the future.
Hunter definitely needs to be rostered in all dynasty leagues. He showed the ability to be productive last year when given the chance and with a full offseason of coaching under his belt the arrow is definitely pointing up for Hunter.
The player I suspect to out produce their draft spot the most, James was selected as the Sleeper Spotlight.
In an interesting addition, Brandon Jacobs signed with San Francisco this offseason. At 6’4” and 264 lbs, you would think Jacobs was brought into be a goal line back, but that is not his strength. With such a huge body, he’s too often slowed in traffic. At 30 years old and no lock to even make the team come week one, Jacobs does not warrant a roster spot in any format in my opinion. There are higher upside guys to be had.
Since being drafted tenth overall in the 2009 draft, Crabtree has not lived up to expectations. Whether it be dealing with foot and leg injuries, holding out, or shoddy quarterback play, Crabtree has not become the dominant WR1 people expected after leaving Texas Tech after just his second season.
The good news is Crabtree is healthy, participating in offseason workouts, and just made his very first career preseason game debut on Friday. Seriously, the guy has never played a preseason snap until this past Friday and this is his fourth year in the league. He is also coming off career highs last year after catching 73 balls for 880 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games.
The addition of Manningham and Moss should only help Crabtree’s fantasy outlook. Playing with legitimate downfield threats for the first time in his pro career, Crabtree can finally play to his strength in the slot finding soft spot in zones using his quickness and first step explosiveness. In a very deep wide receiver group this year, Crabtree can be had as a WR3 and in PPR leagues, I’m buying him. I expect him to get his first 1,000 yard season while catching around 85 balls. With the 49ers ball control offense, I wouldn’t expect more than 5-6 touchdowns though.
The man, the myth, the legend, the headache. Randy Moss signing in San Francisco this offseason is both exciting and puzzling at the same time. Arguably the most dangerous player the league has EVER seen and owner of one of the two greatest seasons in league history by a wide receiver, Moss doesn’t usually do well when he’s not the heavily featured player on offense. He’s not going to be that here. Alex Smith does not take the chances needed to let Randy be Randy. At 34 years old, Moss is going to be overdrafted based on reputation, name, and potential.
A dominant deep threat receiver without a deep threat quarterback does not usually end well. Do you remember the season Steve Smith had in between Jake Delhomme and Cam Newton? Alex Smith is a way better quarterback than Jimmy Clausen, but he is far from the deep baller Cam Newton is. My advice is let someone else chase the memory of Randy Moss.
New to the team, Manningham’s fantasy value has taken the biggest hit of anyone on the team, even more than Frank Gore. His impact will be felt greater by everyone else on the team due to his ability to stretch the field and open things up for the running game, Crabtree, and Vernon Davis. He will be lucky to match last year’s 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns. He’s no more than a low end WR5 in a deep group.
A.J. Jenkins being selected 30th overall in this year’s Draft raised more than quite a few eyebrows. He was not expected to go before the end of round two or ahead of guys like Rueben Randle and Alshon Jeffrey, as he is more of a project guy. The good thing is he won’t be asked to play a major role in year one, instead being allowed to sit and learn.
His senior season at Illinois, Jenkins totaled 90 catches for 1,276 yards and shined at both the East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl week. The scouting report on Jenkins notes exceptional body control and the ability to position himself for the difficult catch. Long term, Jenkins has big time upside with the potential to develop into an NFL WR1. He should be stashed in all Dynasty leagues with the understanding you won’t get a return on your investment until year two or possible even year three.
He might have started the first preseason game, but he’s a return specialist and only valuable in leagues that reward return yardage.
Arguably the greatest beneficiary of all the offseason additions, Vernon Davis was picking up a lot of steam as last season progressed. His emotional game winning touchdown versus the Saints in the Divisional round was amazing and showed when it’s crunch time, he’s Alex Smith’s go-to guy. In the NFC Championship game, he literally WAS the 49ers’ offense. He always has been and always will be Alex Smith’s security blanket. Harbaugh and company will continue to build this offense around the abilities of Davis, who is still just 28 years old. Even with a tight end class deeper than we’ve ever seen it, he is ranked as our TE3 in dynasty start ups behind only the super duo of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
Walker is not a key fantasy contributor on the stat sheet, but in the familiar two tight end set of the 49ers he is a key cog in the machine. His run blocking ability is often called upon much more than his pass catching, but make no mistake, if Davis were to go down with injury, Walker would step up. He would be an upgrade for about half the league at the position.