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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
Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:10 pm ET) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:09 pm ET) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:34 pm ET) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:26 pm ET) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:08 pm ET) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:03 pm ET) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


49ers CEO York: 'Defenses are not going to want to play against us'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) 49ers CEO Jed York confirmed the promotion of quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator during an interview with NFL Network on Friday. York is particularly excited about Chryst, who has been the quarterbacks coach since 2011, continuing to work with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“With Kap, you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said, per CSNBayArea.com. “You have a great guy in (quarterbacks coach) Steve Logan who is coming to come in to work with him on fundamentals and allow us to put together a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays.

“How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many. But you have to put Kap in a position where he can make those plays. And put Kap in a position where we can run the ball (and) we can throw the ball in ways that allow him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field. And I think that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”


 
 
 
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