Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
Before getting injured last year, Alex Smith led the 49ers to a 6-2 record while throwing for 1,659 yards and 12 touchdowns against five interceptions. Most observers assumed Colin Kaepernick would just be keeping the seat warm until Smith returned, but when Kaepernick led the Niners to a 32-7 win over the Bears, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns, Jim Harbaugh had a new starting quarterback. He started the final seven games of the season, and ended the year with 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns and 8.32 yards per attempt. He added 415 yards on the ground, to go along with five rushing scores. Heading into the 2013 season, he's widely viewed as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. So what can he do for an encore?
With his mobility and an offense built around his strengths, Kaepnernick has the chance to put up hybrid pass-rush numbers similar to what we've seen from Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III in recent years. I'm not saying he's Newton 2.0. What I am saying is that he doesn't need to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns to be an elite fantasy quarterback. Remember, he was only on the field about half of the time last year, and he still ran for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Imagine what he can do on the ground starting for the entire season.
The Niners appeared to upgrade his receiving corps, trading for Anquan Boldin and drafting Quinton Patton out of Louisiana Tech. Unfortunately, the team suffered a huge blow when Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles during the offseason. He recently started working out, but there's still no timetable for his return to the field. With Mario Manningham's status also unknown as he returns from a torn ACL, the burden to stretch the field falls to Patton, A.J. Jenkins and tight end Vernon Davis, who fell off the map once Kaepernick took over last year. Frank Gore is still trucking along, and while he'll likely cede more carries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James this year, he can still keep the pressure off Kaepernick. He also remains a pass-catching threat and a great safety valve.
One interesting development to watch this preseason is how the team uses Kaepernick with James, the explosive running back out of Oregon. There's no doubt the 49ers are developing packages to get the two athletes in the backfield together. It's possible they could create a strong option game, similar to what Griffin and Alfred Morris did in Washington last year.
The loss of Crabtree is a blow to Kaepernick's draft stock, but there's too much talent here for that to knock him from the ranks of the fantasy starters. While I would feel comfortably with him as my starter, I'd make sure to have a reliable backup, just in case.
|San Francisco 2013 schedule analysis|
|Including a look at how the Seahawks' foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
Four games against the Seahawks and Cardinals won't be a walk in the park, but matchups with both South divisions look pretty darn nice right now. We know there will be volatility from year to year, but those two divisions were arguably the two worst, in terms of defense, from top to bottom last season. Should that hold, after a tough Week 14 game in Seattle, your Niners could carry you to a championship; they get the Buccaneers Week 15 and Falcons Week 16.
QB -- Colin Kaepernick, Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien
RB -- Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James
WR -- Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams
TE -- Vernon Davis, Al Netter, Luke Marquardt
|San Francisco 49ers' 2012 defensive rankings|
It was an offseason of relatively high change for a defense as good as it already was last year. When the dust settled, the rich got richer. Back are Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and NaVorro Bowman. If that weren't enough to strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks everywhere, they drafted Tank Carradine from Florida State and Corey Lemonier out of Auburn. The pair will strengthen the middle of the 49ers' defense, and give the outside pass rushers more room to roam. And taking a shot on former first-rounder Glenn Dorsey was a great low-risk, high-reward move.
The one area where they may have gotten worse on defense is the secondary, thanks to the departure of free safety Dashon Goldson. He really was the quarterback of the last line of defense, and now that responsibility falls to strong safety Donte Whitner. However, they also made a splash by acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha from the Eagles. They weren't necessarily desperate for a corner, but bringing in Asomugha makes it a position of depth for them. He'll likely play a lot of nickel, but could line up in his traditional corner spot, too, though Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown hold down the starting spots.
If you're into fantasy defenses, this should be one of your prime targets.