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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
Packers want to keep RB Eddie Lacy fresh this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:04 pm ET) Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is working on ways to keep running back Eddie Lacy fresh this season, reports the Journal Sentinel.

McCarthy had talks with Lacy at the end of the last two seasons talking about his number of snaps and what he expected of the running back.

"I really felt that last year's conversation was more important than this year's, the ability to make a huge jump from Year One to Two, being a three-down player, that was something we stressed from Day One, and I thought he delivered," McCarthy said at the NFL owners meetings this week.

The head coach liked the way that the team used Lacy last season, limiting his snaps early in the year before increasing them as the season wore on.

"Maybe not run attempts," McCarthy said of hitting the target he set. "But I thought we were really smart the way we used him....I thought his pass protection he made a huge jump, and his ability to play out of the backfield.

"Eddie has excellent hands, and just his understand and his feel with Aaron, he definitely made a step."

In his first two seasons in the NFL, the 24-year-old has 2,317 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. He has also added 77 receptions for 684 yards and four touchdown catches. 


Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn working to earn starting spot
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Although Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn likes the addition of Terence Newman to the team, he believes that he will beat him out for a starting job, reports twincities.com.

“I’m ready for the competition,’’ Munnerlyn told the Pioneer Press on Saturday. “I’m an athlete, so I never feel like anyone can beat me out. I feel I can hold onto the job. I’m betting on myself.’’

Munnerlyn, a six-year veteran, seems to embrace the competition that will be had at the cornerback spot.

“I think it’s great,’’ said Munnerlyn, a six-year veteran. “He’s a veteran. It’s great for competition. It will bring out the best in me. I’m excited about the competition. I just know that I’ve got to play a lot better than I did last year.’’

There have been a lot of questions this offseason as to whether or not he will settle in as the team's nickel back. He wants to shed the label of being relegated to the nickel spot.

“I don’t want that to happen,’’ Munnerlyn said. “I’ve been labeled my whole career as just a nickel back but I’ve been able to show people I’m more than that. But I know that I’ve got to work hard this offseason."
The 26-year-old has registered 343 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 44 passes defensed, nine interceptions -- five of which were returned for touchdowns -- and three forced fumbles.

Packers still interested in signing FB John Kuhn
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:09 pm ET) The Packers are still interested in signing fullback John Kuhn to the roster, reports the Journal Sentinel.

When head coach Mike McCarthy was asked if Kuhn still has value, he replied, "Absolutely."

"I've always looked at the fullback and tight end position as one. I feel you have to have flexibility and versatility within those two positions. It keeps you in and out of a number of different personnel groups."

Kuhn, 32, has spent eight of his nine seasons with the Packers, rushing for 591 yards and 18 touchdowns. As a receiving option, the fullback has 76 receptions for 516 yards and eight touchdowns.


CB Lardarius Webb wants to finish career with Ravens
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:02 pm ET) After restructuring his contract with the Ravens, cornerback Lardarius Webb wants to finish his career with the team, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Webb recently agreed to a contract restructure that dropped his cap number from $12 million to $9.25 million.

"My goal is to retire a Raven and, while it wasn’t an easy decision, I wanted to put the team first," Webb told The Baltimore Sun. "I wanted to prove myself this year that the Ravens sticking with me was the right decision. The Ravens reached out to my agent, Marc Lillibridge, a few weeks before the scouting combine and they were talking and working hard together to get something done. I'm glad it's done."

Webb, 29, has spent his entire six-year career with the Ravens, posting 301 total tackles, two sacks, 71 passes defensed, 11 interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Patriots DT Sealver Siliga still in walking boot
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) Patriots defensive tackle Sealver Siliga is still in a walking boot after undergoing surgery last season, per ESPN.

Siliga is considered to be one of the top-two options at defensive tackle for the team after the departure of Vince Wilfork. The 24-year-old started five of the seven games he played in 2014. He recorded 32 total tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.


LB Lance Briggs to visit with 49ers on Monday
(3:35 pm ET) Free-agent linebacker Lance Briggs said he will meet with the 49ers on Monday, reports ESPN.com.

Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowler, has played all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Bears.

Briggs appeared in just 17 games during the last two seasons due to various injuries.

The 49ers are looking to replace linebacker Chris Borland, who recently announced his retirement.

Texans LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) walking without a limp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:17 pm ET) Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said his rehab from microfracture surgery in his knee is going well, according to the Houston Chronicle. Clowney, who is four months removed from the procedure, was spotted walking without a limp during a promotional event on Saturday.

"It's going good. I'm taking it one day at a time, having some fun hanging out with fans," said Clowney, who made his first public comments since Thanksgiving.

Clowney wouldn't comment on his status for training camp.

"I'm not going to speak on that, but I'm making progress, and I'm very encouraged," Clowney said. "I'm working hard, but we're not going to rush it."


Report: Vikings LB Chad Greenway agres to take paycut
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:59 am ET) Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway has agreed to restructure his contract, reducing his $7 million base salary to $3.4 million, according to Field Yates of ESPN. The move created $3.2 million in cap room for the Vikings.

Greenway, 32, has spent all nine years of his career with the Vikings, recording 992 total tackles, 15.5 sacks, 30 passes defensed, nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles.


Cardinals coach Arians: I was not going to let Logan Thomas fail
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/27/2015) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians still believes in young quarterback Logan Thomas. Arians didn't want to ruin his confidence last season after being forced into action with multiple injuries to Arizona quarterbacks, reports the team's website.

"He's going to get a ton of work and those reps are invaluable," Arians said. "Just in decision-making, how fast you're getting it out of your hand, where you're going with it, where you're going when 'one' and 'two' are still covered. Are you still scrambling around or are you going to find your outlets? That growth process comes strictly from reps."

Arians still has a plan for the second-year pro.

"We drafted him for two years from now, not November," Arians said. "It just so happened his number got called (earlier.) I was not going to let him fail (in San Francisco) because once you fail those scars never go away.

"It's very hard to get the guys back in the locker room if you cost them the playoffs. I just wasn't going to put him in that situation. Right or wrong, it just was my decision."


DT Letroy Guion visits with Seahawks
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(3/27/2015) Nose tackle Letroy Guion visited with the Seahawks on Friday, adding another suitor into the mix as the Packers attempt to retain his services, per ESPN.com.

After Guion's criminal case was closed earlier in the week, with Guion paying only a fine, the Seahawks set up a visit. Guion recorded career-highs in tackles (32) and sacks (3 1/2) with the Packers in 2014. 


 
 
 
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