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2012 Fantasy outlooks: San Francisco 49ers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Last year expectations were small for the 49ers after going 6-10 in 2010. They finagled Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford to coach the team and kept quarterback Alex Smith. Some thought they could finish 8-8, maybe 9-7.

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Instead, they took advantage of a weak division and upset plenty of opponents on their way to a sensational 13-3 record and a trip to the NFC title game. If not for an errant special-teams play, they might have gone on to Super Bowl XLVI.

Now sights are set on making the championship game as evidenced by several offseason moves to boost the offense. The 49ers improved their receiving corps with the additions of Randy Moss (who sat out 2011 after struggling through 2010), Mario Manningham (who helped beat the Niners as a member of the Giants last January) and A.J. Jenkins (who was the team's surprise first-round pick). San Francisco's run game also got some much-needed depth when they signed another ex-Giant, Brandon Jacobs, and drafted Oregon speedster LaMichael James. The three-year extension given to Alex Smith isn't big news compared to these five moves.

A team defined by its defense for several seasons will now try to make gains on both sides of the ball. The Niners' commitment to Smith is a tough pill for some Fantasy owners to swallow even though he set career-highs in pass attempts, completions, yards and rush yards last season. With the new receivers in tow along with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree still in the fold, there's reason to believe Smith can take another step in his development this season.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Alex Smith 12
Running Backs
Frank Gore 4
Brandon Jacobs 10
Kendall Hunter ND
LaMichael James ND
Wide Receivers
Michael Crabtree 10
Randy Moss 10
Mario Manningham 11
A.J. Jenkins ND
Tight Ends
Vernon Davis 5
Delanie Walker ND
Kickers/Defense
David Akers 13
49ers DST 11
ND - not expected to get drafted

Sleeper ... Randy Moss, wide receiver
From all accounts, Randy Moss isn't parading around like your typical established 35-year-old receiver. Players, coaches, front-office staff and media alike have raved about Moss' commitment and speed during spring workouts. And Moss himself seems particularly motivated to return to the NFL and play like he knows he's capable of playing. Playing on a one-year deal means he'll have to prove himself before earning a larger contract, and it's also worth noting that Moss has put up solid numbers in his first season with each of his first three teams (we're throwing out Tennessee). The days of him catching between 60 and 85 passes seem like history, especially in a receiving corps as varied and deep as the Niners', but he's worth gambling on as a quality reserve with potential to start at points during the season. We even think he could show up in the end zone in Week 1 when he plays at Green Bay, a place he has a lot of history in and an opponent he's scored a personal-best 14 touchdowns against.

Bust ... Frank Gore, running back
If you're looking for the pre-2010 version of Gore, you probably should check out Fred Jackson or DeMarco Murray. The ship has sailed on Gore being a 275-touch, 1,500-yard kind of running back. Though he stayed healthy for all of last season, Gore lost a lot of work on third downs and it showed with a six-year low in receptions (17) after averaging 51 catches in his previous five years. That's thanks to Kendall Hunter coming on for the Niners, and he should keep that role from Gore. But with Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James new to the Niners, Gore could lose even more work including at the goal line -- a Jacobs specialty. He'll still be their primary rusher so long as he's healthy but the last time Gore didn't get 240 total touchdes was his rookie year in 2005. He could be headed for below that total in 2012 thanks to the moves the Niners have made.

Keeper-league target ... A.J. Jenkins, wide receiver
Niners fans have high hopes for 2012 but they'll be patient with rookie Jenkins, a surprise first-round pick. Jenkins came on in his last two seasons in college, totaling 140 grabs for 1,945 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's already said he plans on learning as much as he can from Moss, who probably isn't in the Niners' long-term plans like Jenkins is. Point is, Jenkins might take his time to learn the ropes and make an impact down the line whereas other rookie receivers will get more time on the field and make an impact sooner. Think long-term on him.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@GB DET @MIN @NYJ BUF NYG SEA @ARI bye STL CHI @NO @STL MIA @NE @SEA ARI

I don't know how the Niners pulled this one off but they'll play one road game (at Arizona) between Weeks 5 and 11. Besides that perk, the schedule is a challenge. Roughly half of their matchups won't be cakewalks for their run game, which means Alex Smith will have to step up in order for the Niners to get close to 13 wins again. His new receivers might make all the difference.

Training camp topics

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Frank Gore 311 carries, 30 catches
Kendall Hunter 122 carries, 17 catches
Vernon Davis 77 catches, 2 carries
Michael Crabtree 77 catches, 1 carry
Anthony Dixon 32 carries, 1 catch

Of the Niners 1,067 plays in 18 games, 648 of them went through Gore (341), Hunter (139), Davis (79) and Crabtree (78). That's over 60 percent of the offense rolling through four people. Considering the age and abilities of those four people, it's really no wonder why the Niners added so much offensive talent this spring -- how they shake out this summer will be very interesting.

The Niners added a veteran in Moss, a youngster in Jenkins and a receiver in-between in Mario Manningham. Where does that leave Michael Crabtree? Last year's leading receiver will participate in his first training camp this year after holding out in 2010 and getting hurt in 2011. He'll need to get in there and work hard for playing time given the infusion of talent at receiver this offseason. Questions about his speed might haunt him this summer and keep him from being more than a possession-type. Moreover, defensive coordinators won't sweat Crabtree much considering the rest of the threats on the Niners: Of Crabtree's 72 catches last year, 12 went for 20-plus yards and three went for 40-plus yards.

Might the Niners' upgraded receivers impact Vernon Davis? Yes and no. Sure, they'll take some targets away from him, but in theory they should put him in a position to exploit single coverage some of the time. Unlike Crabtree, it wouldn't be a shock to see Davis match the 67 catches and 792 yards he had last season.

The wild card is Smith, and the key for him is being able to make quick decisions and throw with improved accuracy. An elite quarterback at the helm of an offense like this would be considered an elite Fantasy option. But Smith has proven to be far from elite -- in his breakout 2011 he still finished behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton in Fantasy points in standard formats. The Niners are raving about Smith just as they are about Moss, so if he can deliver tight spirals this year, the Fantasy points should follow. A strong preseason showing would help his cause.

We'll also have to see how the Niners use their running backs early on. Gore is still expected to work on most first and second downs, but everything after that is up in the air. Kendall Hunter is pegged into a third-down role and Brandon Jacobs will focus mostly on short-yardage and goal-line work. When the Niners decide to sprinkle in LaMichael James should prove to be interesting; if James picks up where he left off in college he could further push Gore off the field. Obviously the focus is on keeping Gore fresh for the back half of the season and postseason, so the more he can do this summer to prove he can handle over 15 touches per game, the better.

No news is good news for the Niners defense as every single starter and key contributor from last season returns. For a defense that racked up 42 sacks and 23 interceptions, that's a very good thing. It was because the defense returned in full that allowed the Niners to spend as much attention on offense as they did. So long as the principal figures in this defense stay healthy, namely Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Dashon Goldson and Justin Smith, the Niners DST will be worth taking first at the position with a pick once the rounds get into the double digits.

Injury update

None to report

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
'Humbled' Richardson explains 2013, promises a better 2014
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:21 pm ET) Colts running back Trent Richardson spoke openly about his disappointing 2013 season, saying that it took him too long to learn a new playbook and get over leaving Cleveland after Week 2. Richardson also told the official team website that he's planning to do everything within his power to be as prepared as possible for 2014. 

"Y'all will see a big significant difference in the way I play, the speed. I won't have to think about a lot of stuff," Richardson said earlier this offseason. "It's going to be big -- timing with the offensive line, timing with Andrew (Luck), just knowing a lot more with the program, the whole system.

"They haven't seen everything they're going to get out of me yet. A lot of it is going to come next year. A lot of it is going to come in the offseason. I'm going to put in a lot of work, as I've been doing this whole season. This season humbled me. ... This season was a lesson to me."

Colts coach Chuck Pagano has had Richardson's back, says the running back, and the coach stressed back in March that his running back's involvement in the offseason program will be key. 

"It's going to be very, very important for (Richardson) to be here for the offseason program and to dive into this thing full steam ahead, which he will," Pagano said. "He wants to be great. He's got all the talent. He's got all the ability. We would have never done what we did if we didn't believe that deep down in our core. So we look for him to have a great offseason and to have a great 2014 campaign."


Saints bring back Robert Meachem
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:06 pm ET) The Saints announced Friday that the club has re-signed veteran free agent wide receiver Robert Meachem to a one-year contract.

Meachem is a seven-year NFL veteran who was originally the club's first round draft pick (27th overall) in 2007. He re-signed with the Saints prior to the start of the 2013 regular season and appeared in 15 games with five starts. He finished with 16 receptions for 324 yards with two touchdowns.

Meachem said signing with the Saints now should help with his preparations as he will be able to take part in the team's offseason conditioning program, OTAs and mini-camp. Plus, "this is home," he said.


Can Chris Johnson turn into Tomlinson?
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:12 am ET) The Jets are hoping running back Chris Johnson can do for them what LaDainian Tomlinson did in 2010, reports ESPN.

That season, Tomlinson came from San Diego to New York after he was released. He responded with a team-high 914 yards with six touchdowns on 219 carries and caught 52 passes. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Maybe Johnson, who was let go by the Titans, can do the same thing.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday.

Johnson had a disappointing year in 2013 when he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but he played 13 games on a torn meniscus and was running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season. The situation in New York should be improved, and hopefully being teamed with Chris Ivory will allow him to play like Tomlinson did in 2010.


Aikman worried about Tony Romo
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:01 am ET) Former Cowboys quarterback and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is worried about current Dallas quarterback Tony Romo coming off back surgery, reports the team's official website.

Romo, 34, is coming off back surgery in December, which was the second procedure on his back in a year.

"I came back in a relatively short period of time because of when I had my surgery, so he's at least afforded more time to get ready," Aikman said. "But having said that, two back surgeries in less than a year at his age, I would be a bit concerned.

"I'm hopeful that he's able to come back -- everybody is. This team won't be the same if he's not able to. I anticipate that he will come back. But to say that, 'Hey, he's ahead of schedule and everything's going fine,' I'm not sure how you can really measure that here in April."


Bengals, A.J. Green not talking extension - yet
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:54 am ET) The Bengals are expected to exercise the fifth-year option on receiver A.J. Green's contract by May 3, reports Pro Football Talk. But the sides have yet to discuss a long-term contract extension, according to the report.

The Bengals hold the rights to Green through the 2015 season. And in 2016, if a long-term deal hasn't been signed yet, the Bengals can use the franchise tag on Green for that season.

The report says Green can force the issue by trying to boycott offseason workouts or hold out from training camp. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is confident Green will be there.


Chris Snee will give it a shot this spring
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:52 am ET) Giants guard Chris Snee will attempt to go through the Giants offseason program once he's healthy, the New York Daily News reports. Snee had hip surgery last season and an elbow surgery earlier this year. There is no timeline for him to be at 100 percent but he is expected to be on the field for the "bulk" of offseason activities. 

Report: Niners won't release Aldon Smith
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:50 am ET) The 49ers might expect a suspension for pass rushing linebacker Aldon Smith, but they are not planning to release him, NFL Network reported on Friday.

Smith was arrested recently for making false bomb reports at a Los Angeles airport, the latest of a string of troubles for the highly talented linebacker. He was also arrested for suspicion of DUI in January, 2012 and again September, 2013. He also had marijuana on him during that September arrest. In October, 2013 he was charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon. 


Russell Allen among Jaguars' latest releases
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:43 am ET) On Thursday the Jaguars released veteran linebacker Russell Allen along with Will Pericak , D'Aundre Reed and Jabin Sambrano, ESPN reported. Allen was released with a failed physical designation, a sign that he might not quite be over the effects of a concussion suffered late last season. 

Ravens reinstate Rolando McClain
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:41 am ET) Despite a poor workout earlier this month the Ravens have reinstated linebacker Rolando McClain from the reserve/retired list, NFL.com reports. It remains to be seen if McClain has a legitimate chance of staying on the roster this summer. 

J.J. Watt locked up through 2015
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:39 am ET) The Texans have exercised their option to keep defensive end J.J. Watt on the roster through the 2015 season. The Houston Chronicle believes that Watt won't even play under the terms of that fifth year (roughly $10.6 million guaranteed) because the Texans will agree to a long-term extension with him before then. 

 
 
 
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