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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: San Francisco 49ers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The 49ers ended the 2013 season in arguably the worst way possible. It made for a long offseason, and plenty of motivation for this year.

In last year's NFC Championship Game, the 49ers lost to division rival Seattle when Richard Sherman knocked away a potential game-winning touchdown from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree – and Sherman let the world know how he felt. San Francisco also lost standout linebacker Navorro Bowman (knee) in that game, and the 49ers had to watch the Seahawks go on to win the Super Bowl.

In April, coach Jim Harbaugh said in an interview with CBSSports.com that the 49ers can't wait for this season to start based on how last season ended.

"We definitely are," Harbaugh said. "Right now we're kind of like a bull just scratching at the ground and pawing at the ground and snot bubbles coming out, snorting a little bit, ready to get started. That's where we are as a team."

The 49ers didn't overhaul anything to try and overtake the Seahawks, but they made some subtle tweaks that could pay big dividends. On offense, the 49ers added receiver Steve Johnson in a trade from Buffalo, drafted running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Bruce Ellington and are checking to see if receiver Brandon Lloyd has anything left after not playing in 2013.

On defense, San Francisco changed things up in the secondary with Antoine Bethea, Chris Cook and rookie Jimmie Ward in, and Donte Whitner out as a free agent signee in Cleveland. The 49ers also could be without Bowman until the middle of the season, and rookie Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite will compete for the starting job until he returns.

Two significant question marks for the 49ers heading into training camp are Vernon Davis potentially holding out, and linebacker Aldon Smith's status regarding his off-field legal woes. We expect Davis to be there when it matters, but the 49ers might not know Smith's fate for the start of the season.

Best year of his career ... Colin Kaepernick

There's a lot to like about Kaepernick this season, and I would draft him as the No. 5 quarterback behind Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. He is headed for a career season.

Assuming Davis shows up for the start of training camp, Kaepernick has a tremendous receiving corps with Michael Crabtree healthy, Anquan Boldin, Davis and the addition of Johnson. If Quinton Patton, Ellington or Lloyd do anything on top of that, then Kaepernick could be better than even I expect. The key is Crabtree.

Kaepernick showed how good he can be with Crabtree healthy since he had five games with at least 19 Fantasy points during the 12 games Crabtree was out. He then closed the season, including the playoffs, with seven of eight games with at least 19 Fantasy points when Crabtree was active. In 2012, Kaepernick had at least 20 Fantasy points in six of 10 starts – all with Crabtree.

Another key for Kaepernick is his rushing. He had at least seven Fantasy points on the ground in four of his final five games, including the playoffs, and if that happens consistently this year his value will be incredible.

Not many owners will draft Kaepernick ahead of Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady or even Cam Newton, which is understandable. He hasn't played at their level yet, but his time is now. And this will be a monstrous season after he just signed a new deal for six years at $126 million in June.

Future of this backfield ... Carlos Hyde

2013 Touches Leaders
749 total touches
Frank Gore 292 (276 car., 16 rec.) 38.9%
Anquan Boldin 87 (2 car., 85 rec.) 11.6%
Kendall Hunter 80 (78 car., 2 rec.) 10.7%
Vernon Davis 52 rec. 6.9%
Bruce Miller 32 (7 car., 25 rec.) 4.3%
All Others 206 27.5%

There are four running backs who could start for the 49ers this season and legitimately produce quality Fantasy production. It's a backfield loaded with talented options.

Frank Gore is the proven veteran, and you know what he's capable of when healthy. Kendall Hunter could shine if given a bigger role. Marcus Lattimore might be a star if he can return at 100 percent from his knee injury in college. And Carlos Hyde is the rookie with tremendous upside.

Gore, 31, isn't going anywhere this season. Yes, his role will be reduced, but he had a lesser role in 2013 as well and still produced at least 1,200 total yards and eight touchdowns for the third year in a row and six times in nine seasons. He remains a low-end No. 2 running back worth drafting in Round 5.

Hunter will probably be overshadowed by Hyde and Lattimore even though he could handle the role, but we'll put him on the bottom of the depth chart for Fantasy owners. And even Lattimore should get pushed aside until he proves his health is OK. But Hyde is someone to draft with a late-round flier in seasonal leagues, and I like him as a first-round pick in rookie-only formats. In keeper leagues, he's a mid-round pick because he could be the starter in San Francisco in 2015.

He was drafted in the second round from Ohio State after he had 523 carries for 3,198 yards and 37 touchdowns, and the 49ers aren't expected to bring back Gore next season. We could see Hyde sharing the starting job with Lattimore next season, but he could run away with the job if he has a big year backing up Gore in 2014.

Headed for a down year ... Anquan Boldin

Boldin was so good last season, but the return of Crabtree for a full season plus the addition of Johnson should lower his production. He's a bust candidate in 2014.

Boldin finished 2013 with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. The catches were his best total since his last season in Arizona in 2009, his yards were his best since 2006 and he last scored seven touchdowns in 2010.

He actually played well when Crabtree returned with 35 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns in the final five games, with at least nine Fantasy points in four of those outings. But factor in Johnson, along with some production from Patton and Ellington, and Boldin will suffer, especially going on 34 years old.

I have no problem drafting Boldin as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, especially in PPR leagues, But he was a Top 15 receiver in standard formats in 2013, which won't happen again.

Schedule analysis

Start all your 49ers in Week 1 because the matchup against Dallas' defense should be tantalizing based on how bad the Cowboys are expected to be. The run game should continue that momentum in Week 2 against the Bears at home. Playing in the NFC West isn't easy, especially with Seattle, Arizona and St. Louis all having exceptional defenses. But the 49ers don't face the Seahawks until Week 13 (the rematch at Seattle is Week 15) and the Rams for the first time coming off a bye in Week 9. Philadelphia and Washington also have to travel to San Francisco, and the 49ers lone trip to the East Coast is at the Giants in Week 11.

Training camp battles

Who's the No. 2 running back? I expect Hyde to be the second-best running back behind Gore this season, but he has to prove he's better than Hunter and even Lattimore. Hunter might not be as explosive as Hyde, but he did score three touchdowns in his first six games last season and would be capable of a nice stat line with more touches. He also has the trust of the coaching staff, but keep an eye on Hyde if he can leap over Hunter on the depth chart. The same goes for Lattimore, who is the wild card if healthy.

What's the pecking order at receiver? We know the starters will be Crabtree, Boldin and Johnson as the Top 3 guys, but it should be interesting to see if Patton and Ellington get an extended look. Crabtree is No. 1 without a doubt, but Johnson might challenge Boldin for the No. 2 job with a strong training camp. Most likely, Crabtree and Boldin are the only receivers worth drafting in the majority of leagues.

Bold prediction

I prefer drafting Crabtree as my No. 2 receiver in all formats, but I'm OK with him as my No. 1 option. That's because he could easily finish as a Top 10 receiver this season.

Crabtree missed the first 11 games with a ruptured Achilles last year, so he had a lost season. He still managed three games with double digits in Fantasy points in the eight games he appeared in, including the playoffs.

But go back to 2012 for a better indication of what Crabtree is capable of with Kaepernick. In the seven starts Kaepernick made in 2012, Crabtree had 41 catches for 595 yards and five touchdowns. If you project that over 16 games, Crabtree would have finished with 94 catches for 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns. That equates to 202 Fantasy points, which would have made Crabtree the No. 3 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues behind Calvin Johnson (214) and Brandon Marshall (210).

This is also a contract year for Crabtree, and we're expecting him to play big this season. He's a great pick in Round 4 or 5, and you can definitely plan on him being a Top 15 Fantasy receiver with the chance to be Top 10 if he plays to his level of potential.

Injury report

Quinton Patton (foot), questionable for start of training camp … Navorro Bowman (knee), doubtful for start of season … Marcus Lattimore (knee), probable for start of training camp

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Player News
Cardinals' Larry Foote '50-50' on playing in 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Though Larry Foote is on the Cardinals' coaching staff at the moment, he hasn't ruled out a potential return to the team

Speaking to the team's website, Foote said he's "50-50" about playing in 2015. He talked about the factors that could play into whether or not he returns to playing. 

“Draft, what happens with (suspended linebacker) Darryl Washington, stuff like that, how my knee feels (after offseason surgery),” Foote said. “I’ll sit down with (Bruce Arians) and the next couple of months are really going to be the deciding factor.”

If Foote doesn't play, he'll be the linebackers coach for Arizona's upcoming season. He's been adjusting to the role of being a coach this offseason. 

“I am starting to like coaching,” Foote said. “It’s a little tough in the office, eating M&Ms, snacking all day, drinking coffee. I started my diet a couple days ago.”


Panthers pick up option on Luke Kuechly contract
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/25/2015) What was promised by general manager Dave Gettleman is now official - the Panthers have picked up the fifth-year option on the rookie contract of standout linebacker Luke Kuechly, per the team website.

The two-time Pro Bowler has led the NFL in tackles in two of his three seasons and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He has racked up 473 tackles since 2012, the most in the NFL.


Ravens TE Dennis Pitta hopeful for 2015 return
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/25/2015) Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta hopes to take the field in time for the 2015 season, but admits it's too early to determine if that goal can become a reality.

Pitta has undergone surgeries to repair a fractured and dislocated hip in each of the last two years.

"We still have some time to be able to assess where I'm at," Pitta told the Baltimore Sun. "I sure hope that I'll be on the field next year. That's my hope; that's my goal. We'll just see if I can get there."

Pitta has played in just seven games in the last two seasons combined.


Mark Sanchez: Eagles said Tim Tebow was just a camp arm
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/25/2015) Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez said he wasn't concerned that the team signed Tim Tebow, because the Eagles told him Tebow was just there to throw in camp.

"We needed another guy to throw while Sam's (Bradford) still recovering. So that's the reason (for the signing), at least as explained to me," Sanchez said, per CSN Philadelphia

The Eagles signed Tebow on Monday. He hasn't played in the NFL since getting cut by the Patriots at the end of training camp prior to the 2013 season. He spent last year as a television analyst for the SEC Network. 

Tebow and Sanchez were teammates on the Jets in 2012. Tebow's presence as a back-up created a quarterback controversy among fans and media that last ed throughout the season. 


Vikings CB Terence Newman has familiarity with Mike Zimmer
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Vikings cornerback Terence Newman won't have a steep learning curve now that he's with his new team. 

Newman played under Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when he was the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. Drafted in 2003, Newman learned Zimmer's defense from his rookie season through 2006, before Zimmer left to take the same position with the Falcons. 

“I just know exactly what to expect from him as a coach, as well as everybody else in this locker room,” Newman told the Vikings' website. “You play your best football under him.”

In his career, Newman has recorded 741 tackles and 37 interceptions. Entering his 13th NFL year, Newman has already impressed his teammates with voluntary workouts underway. 

“I met with him and he seemed like a great guy,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Like he’s going to come in and teach us what we need to know about the technique of the game and about the defense because he’s been in it before, so he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a big asset to this team and the defense.”


Chiefs pick up option on NT Dontari Poe
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Chiefs have exercised their fifth-year option on two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe, per NFL.com. He is set in Kansas City through 2016, when he will earn $6.146 million.

The 350-pound Poe has earned the money. He racked up six sacks and contributed to 46 tackles in 2014.


Lions GM Mayhew OK with James Ihedigbo skipping workouts
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Safety James Ihedigbo was the lone absence from voluntary workouts this week for the Lions. But general manager Martin Mayhew understands. After all, Ihedigbo's agent has stated that he would not work without a new contract.

"I look forward to talking with James," Mayhew told ESPN. "I understand what he's going through. I've been through that myself as a player, when I felt that a time in my career that I was underpaid and I had to deal with that.

"So I have empathy for him. I understand what he's going through and I look forward to sitting down and talking with him. I have great respect for him as a player, as a man. I've gotten to know him a little bit away from football and I understand how he feels."

Mayhew declined to discuss whether the Liins will rework Ihedigbo's contract.

The 31-year-old Ihedigbo contributed 71 tackles and two sacks with a career-high four interceptions in 2014 despite missing three games at the start of the year with a nerve injury. He earned Pro Bowl alternate status.


Eagles withdraw qualifying offer to RB Chris Polk
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Running back Chris Polk is now a free agent. 

According to the NFL transaction wire, the Eagles rescinded their $1.6 million tender they offered this past March. The Eagles placed the tender on Polk, previously a restricted free agent, before signing both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in free agency. 

With Darren Sproles on the roster, it didn't make much sense for Polk to stay with the Eagles. 

In 2014, Polk ran for 172 yards and four touchdowns. 


RB Bobby Rainey signs qualifying offer with Buccaneers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) The Buccaneers have announced that running back Bobby Rainey has signed a one-year qualifying offer the team extended to him before the free agency period. He was a restricted free agent and was given an opportunity to negotiate with other teams.

Rainey will compete for playing time with Tampa Bay. He rushed for 406 yards in 2014, but faded at the end of the season with just two carries in the last six games combined.


Jaguars planning to play 2015 season without Justin Blackmon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) As far as the Jaguars are concerned, Justin Blackmon will not be lining up at receiver for them this season. 

At least that's the approach Jacksonville is taking. Blackmon has been indefinitely suspended since Nov. 1 2013 for three violations of the substance-abuse policy under the old CBA.

"Our process hasn't changed," Caldwell said, via ESPN.com. "[We] plan to go without him, but if he emerges, he emerges, and he's going to go in with those top guys and compete with those other guys. Hopefully we're able to get some news, but if not we weren't planning on [having Blackmon]. We're just going to go [without him]."

Before he can re-join the Jaguars, he'll need to file an application for reinstatement, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell making a decision within a 60-day window. The application letter would include details of the treatment he's received. 

Since being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Blackmon has only played in 20 games. He has 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in his career. 


 
 
 
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