2012 Team Outlook: San Francisco
QB Colin Kaepernick, SF - Dynasty Only
When the 49ers drafted the power-armed Kaepernick in the second-round of the 2011 draft, imagining the ex-Nevada star opening as the 2012 starter was no stretch, not the way Alex Smith had been playing. Then Smith messed up those fanciful plans but turning in a credible season while directing San Francisco to a division title and an NFC Championship game appearance. That means for now the 6-foot-4 Kaepernick is a clipboard carrier battling Josh Johnson for the No. 2 slot. He remains an interesting dynasty option for those with patience and a potential waiver wire pickup should Smith suffer an injury.
UPDATE (8-19): Earlier in the week 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Kaepernick has "emerged" as the No. 2 quarterback, according to CSNBayarea.com. That bore out in Saturday's preseason game as the second-year player took over for starter Alex Smith. Though Kaepernick's 4 of 8 for 19 yards outing was hardly stellar, look for him to remain ahead of Josh Johnson the 49ers depth chart.
QB Alex Smith, KC - Quality Backup
When San Francisco's courtship of Peyton Manning didn't pan out, they turned around and negotiated a three-year agreement with Alex Smith. As long as Smith can swallow his pride, he's in excellent position to build on the momentum of his impressive 2011 run. New and better receivers (plus a year's worth of experience in Harbaugh's system) should equate to strong numbers for a QB who is no longer just a fantasy punchline.
QB Josh Johnson, SF - Not Draft Worthy
Johnson spent a disappointing three years in Tampa, but there's hope for him in San Francisco. He re-unites with his college coach, which should make for a smooth transition and could give him a leg up on last year's second-rounder Colin Kaepernick. The two highly athletic young QBs will fight it out for the second chair this season, but each seems destined to do more than carry a clipboard in the long run.
Update (8/9): Kaepernick, not Johnson, was the first QB off the bench in the 49ers' preseason opener.
UPDATE (8-19): Earlier in the week 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Kaepernick has "emerged" as the No. 2 quarterback, according to CSNBayarea.com. That bore out in Saturday's preseason game as the second-year player took over for starter Alex Smith. Though Kaepernick's 4 of 8 for 19 yards outing was hardly stellar, look for him to remain ahead of Johnson the 49ers depth chart.
RB Frank Gore, IND - Solid/Safe Pick
Last year, for only the second time in his NFL career, Frank Gore appeared in all 16 regular season games. While his receiving totals took a major hit in Harbaugh's offense, his rushing numbers were as strong as ever. Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James will almost certainly cut into Gore's playing time, but he remains a top-20 running back.
RB Kendall Hunter, SF - Bust (overvalued)
As a rookie, Hunter spelled Gore seamlessly, limiting his mileage down the stretch and keeping the veteran back fresh for the playoffs. Hunter was apprenticing well and was starting to look like the heir apparent. Now he has to hold off LaMichael James just to stay in the mix. He should make it past final cuts, but it'll be a season-long fight to carve himself a niche within the packed 49er backfield.
Update (8/7): 49ers.com reports coach Jim Harbaugh praised Hunter as a training camp standout. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman went a step further, saying, "I've never seen Kendall Hunter have a bad day or a bad snap where he wasn't totally tuned into footbal. Kendall's becoming more of a well-rounded football player. We're really glad we have him. He gets better every day."
RB LaMichael James, MIA - Dynasty Only
Oregon's all-time leading rusher was deemed too small by many NFL scouts. So was Darren Sproles, a player to whom James has been favorably compared. Selected in the second round, James represents a sizeable investment and will be given plenty of chances to prove himself as a change of pace, third-down type who could make a big splash when Frank Gore gets injured.