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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
Packers' Davon House unlikely to return in regular season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) Packers cornerback Davon House is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season while recovering from an injury to his right shoulder blade, the Journal Sentinel reports.

"I have the mind-set, I'll be back tomorrow," House said. "Will I be back tomorrow, most likely not. I can't give a time frame. Hopefully, sooner than later. Talking to Doc (team physician Patrick McKenzie), we're going to take it week by week, day by day. But they said my improvement is where we want it to be. The good news was that I was able to start running today, which was great."

House may be able to return during the postseason, so the team has decided not to place him on injured reserve at this time.


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(12/18/2014) Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller will require surgery on his meniscus injury, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Miller sustained the injury during the team's Week 15 loss to the Ravens and was inactive Thursday. He'll end the season with 30 tackles and one sack.


Titans kicker Ryan Succop hits both field goals Week 16
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(12/18/2014) Titans kicker Ryan Succop hit both his field goals Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Succop was tested early, but managed to convert on a 50 yard attempt. Things got easier late in the contest, as Succop hit from 23 yards. He added one extra point. Succop will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Leon Washington makes an impact Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Leon Washington made an impact Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Washington wasn't a huge factor in the running the game, gaining 11 yards on four carries. He excelled in the passing game, however. Washington hauled in seven catches, gaining 62 yards. He finished second on the team in receiving for the game. Washington was the only player on the team to score, pulling down an 8 yard touchdown pass on the team's first drive. 

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans WR Kendall Wright leads the way Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans wideout Kendall Wright led the team in receiving Week 16.

Wright came into the game questionable due to a broken hand, but was able to excel despite the issue. He only hauled in four passes, but was able to connect on some deep passes. In the fourth quarter, Wright pulled down a 39 yard reception. He finished with 73 yards on five targets.

Wright will look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Shonn Greene receives seven carries Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Shonn Greene carried the ball just seven times Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Greene took a backseat to Bishop Sankey during the contest, though neither did all that much on the ground. Greene gained 28 yards, good for a 4.0 yards per carry average. Greene was not involved in the passing game, and did not receive a target.

He'll look for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans RB Bishop Sankey fails to do much Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans running back Bishop Sankey failed to do much Week 16 against the Jaguars.

Sankey led all Titans runners, carrying the ball 14 times for 44 yards. He was held to just 3.1 yards per carry. Sankey had a hard time breaking anything loose, with his longest carry going for just 8 yards. He wasn't all that involved in the passing game either, coming up with one reception for 9 yards.

Sankey will hope for more Week 17 against the Colts. 


Titans QB Charlie Whitehurst tosses one score on Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Titans quarterback Charlie Whitehurst tossed one touchdown on Thursday against the Jaguars.

Whitehurst completed 24 of 35 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over during the contest. Whitehurst looked to attack Jacksonville down the field, averaging 8.2 yards per completion. This sometimes came back to bite him, as he wound up taking four sacks. Whitehurst's only score came on the team's first drive. On the 13th play of the drive, Whitehurst found running back Leon Washington for the 8 yard score. Whitehurst also picked up 12 rushing yards on three attempts.

Depending on the team's injury situation at quarterback, Whitehurst may be in line to start next week against the Colts.


Jaguars K Josh Scobee scores three points vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee was limited to just three extra points in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

It was the third time this season Scobee wasn't called upon to attempt a field goal. Thursday's win marked just the second time this season Scobee kicked three extra points in a game. He'll travel to Houston to face the Texans in Week 17.


Jaguars WRs quiet in Week 16 win vs. Titans
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/18/2014) Jaguars wide receivers Marqise Lee led his team with four receptions and 65 yards in his team's 21-13 win over the Titans in Week 16.

The Jaguars managed to pick up just 124 receiving yards on the day and Lee was responsible for more than half of that total while seeing six targets. Allen Hurns was also targeted six times, picking up 26 yards on three receptions. Cecil Shorts caught just two of his seven targets for 15 yards but also completed a nine-yard pass.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis managed just six yards on two receptions but did secure the team's only receiving touchdown on a four-yard strike at the end of the first half. The Jaguars will hit the road to face the Texans in the season finale next Sunday.


 
 
 
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