While some outlets do the 32 teams in 32 days thing, our path through the National Football League member clubs has been a little more methodical. That said, we are now just six stops away completing our journey - including this San Francisco 49ers Fantasy Football team preview. Despite their gaudy 13-3 record, San Fran was far from impressive on the 2011 fantasy-scoring ledger. Will that change is 2012? Let's head to the Bay area to check on the possible Fantasy Gold in 'Frisco.
San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Fantasy Options
Perhaps the "shock jocks" of the league last season, no team did more - with less, than the Niners did. The NFC West Champs are back for more in 2012 and they still reside in the worst division in the entire league. That's good news for QB Alex Smith as he looks to take another step in his long running journey towards elite NFL QB status. While the steps have been slow, they have been mildly progressive. Smith jumped from a mid-twenties QB ranking the past couple of seasons to the mid-teens last year.
San Francisco was aggressive during the off-season as they tried to address their biggest weakness – the wide receiver position. As will be discussed later, there are some new big names in the 49ers camp. With their help, Smith is looking to build on his 3,150 pass yards and 19 total touchdowns in 2011. Trying to pass for over 250 yards in a game consistently would be a good start as Smith managed to top that number just three times during the NFL 2011 campaign.
49ers QB Analysis: The new receiver weapons Smith has at his disposal are destined to be a double-edged sword. Smith enjoyed most of his success when he was tossing check-down and short passes last season. His ridiculously low five INT were part and parcel with that passing philosophy. If Smith is asked to air it out to his new "big play" receivers - that could spell trouble. Smith is a classic play the match-up type fantasy QB and will be a serviceable backup or bye week replacement player. If you are looking for solid fantasy gold, it's best that you don't do your panning in the Bay area.
San Francisco 49ers Running Back Fantasy Options
One has to wonder if it's finally time to say goodbye to an old fantasy friend. After posting a career year in 2009, SF RB Frank Gore hasn't cracked the 200 FP barrier during the past two seasons. While 2011 was the first year that Gore played a full 16 game season since 2006 his production was far from stellar. The majority of his damage (634 yards and 4 TD) came during weeks 4 through 9. After that, his touches and production dropped off considerably.
Offseason acquisitions, RB Brandon Jacobs and 2nd round draft pick RB LaMichael James, further cloud the murky running back situation in San Fran. Those pickups not only affect Gore, but his former heir apparent RB Kendall Hunter and RB Anthony Dixon as well. Coming over from the Giants, Jacobs should continue his goal line TD stealing ways in SF.
49ers RB Analysis: Just as it is at the QB position, we can't see very much full time fantasy value out of any of the five players who will be looking for touches in the 49ers backfield. Even if one of the SF backs gets moved out or cut prior to Week One, this will be a dicey RBBC scenario all season long. Our best advice is to avoid this situation all together.
San Francisco 49ers Wide Receiver Fantasy Options
After WR Michael Crabtree (874 yards 4 TD) was the top receiver in San Francisco during the NFL 2011 season, the Niners attempted to shore up their wide receiver position(s) through the free agent market during the off-season. That included luring Super Bowl XLVI hero Mario Manningham away from the Giants and the signing of former super-stud WR Randy Moss .
Both of these moves are like putting a band-aid on a gapping wound. Manningham is a journeyman wideout who has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving plateau just five times in 50 games played and has 18 career TD catches. After a disastrous 2010 season with three different teams (NE, TEN, MIN) Moss spent the 2011 season snooping around for a job that never materialized.
San Francisco used their 2012 NFL Draft round one pick to select WR A.J. Jenkins out of Illinois. Reports out of camp have Jenkins being out of shape and he will be a work in progress during his rookie season. WR Ted Ginn Jr. and WR Kyle Williams are battling to win a roster spot on the suddenly expanded SF receiver depth chart and should not be on any fantasy radars.
49ers WR Analysis: Simply put, from a fantasy perspective, the wide receiver situation in SF is a cluttered mess of maybes. We can't see the Niners going all-vertical this season, as that's not the MO needed for Smith to be successful. Crabtree will likely remain as the top receiving option (possibly behind TE Vernon Davis ) but his value still ranks as nothing much higher than a low-end WR3. Manningham and Moss are enigmas that will either mildly pan out or be nothing more than fool's gold.
San Francisco 49ers Tight End Fantasy Options
When it comes to fantasy stars in San Francisco, none have been a brighter beacon recently than TE Veron Davies. That said, there has been a rather disturbing downward trend in his numbers over the past three seasons. Davis dropped from 965 yards and 13 TD in 2009, to 914 yards and 7 TD in 2010, and then down to 792 yards and 6 TD during the 2011 NFL season.
Davis does however come with some good news – and some bad news. The good news is that blocking TE Delanie Walker won't be cutting into his targets anytime soon. Davis is also durable, as he has played in 64 straight games. The bad news is the fact that there are a lot more hands to feed in San Fran this season.
49ers TE Analysis: It's always a concern when a player's numbers drop off at a noticeable and consistent rate as they have with Davis. Though he is still an elite fantasy TE1, we won't be reaching very high for Davis on Draft Day. He should be available during the second wave of tight ends and can be expected to produce lower-end top ten TE fantasy numbers.
San Francisco 49ers Fantasy Bottom Line: One would think that a 13-3 team would produce a healthier fantasy report card but that's simply not the case in San Francisco. This team is all about defense, ball control on offense, and turnovers – they led the league with a +28 differential last season. Ramping it up vertically in 2012 will mean that those numbers won't be repeated this season as pressing more on offense is not a good fit for Smith & Co. Tread lightly across the board with the entire Niners offense on Draft Day 2012.