Earlier this week, I received an email from NFL.com trying to get me pumped up for fantasy football. The kickoff to the 2012 season is approximately three months away, with training camp getting underway in a month and a half. While fantasy football drafts won't really get going for at least two months, that doesn't mean we can't start to take a look at the 49ers fantasy options.
The 49ers actually have a limited number of definitive fantasy options where there is little doubt on draft day about what they will bring to the table. They have a lot of guys that have definitive upside in fantasy football, but it's tough to tell where to draft them because the 49ers offense could go in all sorts of directions.
The 49ers defense/special teams is a no-doubt top of the line defense for drafting purposes. It is entirely possible they take a step backward. Personally I don't see that happening given the return of the entire starting lineup, but injuries and struggles are not out of the realm of the possible. For the purposes of drafting, however, I view them as a top of the line defense. What round you grab them is going to be interesting depending on your defense/special teams strategy. If I can't get one of the top two or three defenses, I generally just wait until late and rotate defenses each week.
David Akers is coming off one of the greatest seasons in kicking history, and will likely be in for another solid campaign in 2012. I would hope for a drop-off in his numbers given that it would be nice to see the 49ers pick it up a notch in the red zone. However, he will remain one of the top options on your kicker draft board.
Frank Gore is going to be a tough fantasy call this year. He is the number one running back in San Francisco, but given the additions and some of Coach Rathman's comments, it's hard to tell what kind of touches he'll see in 2012. He'll see plenty, but I'm guessing not enough to justify him being your top running back in 2012.
The 49ers wide receivers and tight ends are big question marks when it comes to fantasy drafting. I think the 49ers have a talented receiver corps for the slightly more important purpose of winning football games. For the purposes of me winning my fantasy football league, it's not quite so simple.
Of all the 49ers wide receivers and tight ends, Vernon Davis is probably the safest bet. Crabtree may end up with better numbers, but given the way last season closed and given the relative draft depth at tight end versus wide receiver, I tend to think Davis is going to be the guy you grab higher in the draft. It will be a bit of a roll of the dice with any of the 49ers skill position players, but I do think the upside is tremendous for guys like Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.
Randy Moss has some fantasy upside as well, but given that he may end up just being an occasional deep threat, I wouldn't be surprised if he went really late in most leagues. I think he gets drafted mostly on name recognition at this point.
After that, we're talking about fantasy options that really are fringe guys for now. Mario Manningham could have some upside, but we really don't know how nuanced his role will be at this point. I suspect he gets plenty of playing time, but astrong camp from Kyle Williams and/or A.J. Jenkins could be enough to take away some looks, removing a lot of Manningham's fantasy value.
The young running backs (Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James) have value in dynasty leagues, and some early bye week value, but they are also tough to predict given the 49ers depth at the position. For the purposes of fantasy, the 49ers running backs are really a tough group to draft, unless of course you could pick by team position group ("49ers running backs"). I really expect to stay away from them for now.
As for everyone's favorite punching bag, Alex Smith? He won't be a starting candidate for most any fantasy team, but he could prove to be a decent backup option based on the bye week of your starter. Home games against Buffalo, the Seahawks and the Rams, and even possibly an inconsistent Bears defense, could prove to be decent fill-in options. And if he does put together a true breakout year, suddenly you'd have some serious trade value. When it comes to a backup quarterback, sometimes it is worth rolling the dice.