Don't look now, but the San Francisco 49er wide receiving corps has something it hasn't had in a long, long time - depth. A good thing for the real game, but fantasy players should only consider two of these wide outs as legitimate fantasy assets.
Ranking wide receivers is a headache, especially after you get past the 4-5 elite players. Now try looking at the field of WR2 candidates (where you'll find Michael Crabtree) and you can make a case for nearly any order you choose. This is half the fun in fantasy; creating arguments for either supporting or dismissing players.
Crabtree is primed for a career season. I've discussed the likelihood of the 49ers having to throw the ball more in 2014 and there isn't a better receiver on this team than No. 15. If you want some of that action it will currently cost you a late 4th or early 5th round pick. This is also the time in many drafts where those who went QB, RB, RB, or some version of this order, will be looking to begin filling their receiver spots. There are several high quality WRs going in rounds 4 and 5, but for the sake a brevity I'll take a look at: Andre Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin and our very own Michael Crabtree
Here is how I would rank the 5 in a standard non PPR league:
1. DeSean Jackson
If Washington had any defense then I would have to rank Jackson lower. As it stands, he is an excellent deep route receiver with a QB who loves to take shots down field. The new regime in DC will switch to a pass heavy philosophy, so the presence of Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed give me little pause when drafting D-Jax. If I had to bet my ice cream money on any of these receivers breaking into the top 10, it would be Jackson.
2. Michael Crabtree
Crabtree's ranking climbs in PPR leagues, but even in standard formats his hands and strong connection with Kaepernick make him a wide out to target in the early rounds of your draft. Forget 2013, that was the knock-off version of Crabtree found on the bottom row of the cereal aisle. Look at his numbers with Kaepernick in 2012 for a better idea of what to expect in 2014 (10 games = 8 TDs and an average of 5 receptions and 88 yards). Boldin and Johnson are better counterparts than Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham, but No. 15 is the clear go to receiver.
3. Andre Johnson
If Johnson could pay the bills through Matt Schaub's effort to sabotage every game (note to self: patent the term "Schaubotage') and even Case Keenum's tenure, I like his chances with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Andre's age is concerning and Houston's defense should limit their need to play catch-up, but Johnson is the Frank Gore of receiving. I won't say he is done until he is toast. If he only found the end zone more I may have to bump him up over Crabtree.
4. Cordarrelle Patterson
It's a good thing most fantasy leagues factor in return yardage and touchdowns or Patterson's 2013 season would have put him in WR4 territory. You can't deny his talent or speed, but those hyping Patterson in 2014 are counting on some of that old Norv Turner magic that vaulted Josh Gordon to elite levels in 2013 (note to self: patent marijuana strain named "Norv Turner's Magic©"). The latest reports have Matt Cassell as the favorite to get the start week 1 in Minnesota, but sooner or later Teddy Bridgewater will be his QB and who knows if he is legit on the NFL level? Also, some dude named Adrian is likely to take away a more than a few passing targets under the new system. Unlike Crabtree and Johnson, Patterson will get some fantasy help from the Viking defense that gave up the most points in the league last year. Still, I'll take the risk of being late on Patterson this year and find another WR2 option.
5. Percy Harvin
There are some comparisons to be made between Harvin and Crabtree. Both are on run heavy teams that seem to believe there is a hefty fine for each pass attempt. Both had very short injury riddled 2013 campaigns and both have young mobile quarterbacks. Harvin is the faster of the two, while I believe Crabtree has better route running skills and hands. If Percy stays healthy then I like his chances to be a real factor in fantasy. That "if" is the size of the Sky Needle and drafting Percy Harvin should inspire you to draft a WR3 a bit earlier which harms his value.
There is little reason to believe that Crabtree won't reach or exceed his 2012 numbers (85 receptions, 1105 yards, 9 TDs). He could fall well into the fifth round as gamers shy away given the 49er run heavy offense and his dismal 2013 numbers. Let their hesitance be a gift to you, because not only is he a play maker in a contract season, but when healthy his ability to rack up receptions keeps his fantasy floor relatively high.
Projected Stats: 90 receptions, 1200 yards, 8 TDs
Boldin did a tremendous job filling in as the primary option in the 49er passing attack in 2013. For that, he deserves our gratitude, but he has a long road to another 85/1179/7 year. There is finally depth at all levels of the 49er passing attack and while Q's role will be significant he won't have to shoulder the load. His average draft position in 12-teamers currently puts him late in the 10th round. I'd rather try my luck with Cecil Shorts, Kelvin Benjamin or Jordan Matthews (I wish Jeremy Maclin could play a full 16, "but a wish is only a wish"). If you are in a 14 team league or greater, then Boldin deserves to be on your WR3/4 radar, but don't expect a duplication of his 2013 campaign.
Projected Stats: 60 receptions, 850 receiving yards, 5 TDs
Next up I'll break down what to expect from Vernon Davis. The key word there is "down".
Happy drafting gamers!
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