INSIDE THE NUMBERS
There was a lot of talk about the season Alex Smith had, and how his career was revitalized. Heck, there was even chatter about Smith being a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. But, in the NFC where the names Brees, Manning and Rodgers dominate, Smith does not belong beside those names. A closer look at his numbers reveals a QB who is nothing more than a backup fantasy QB. Yes, he threw for more than 3,100 yards last year (by far a career high), but a lot of those yards were meaningless from a fantasy perspective. In standard scoring systems, Smith only put up 20+ points one week last season and only threw for three TDs once all season. Compile that with very average or downright awful weeks nine times, and you have a QB who cannot carry your fantasy squad to a championship.
The 49ers have the 24th easiest schedule, according to Vegas. In fact, there’s few lockdown opponents lurking on the Niners schedule. Down the stretch, during the fantasy playoff weeksthey play the Rams, Dolphins, Patriots and Seahawks. That could be fantasy gold right when you need it. And it will certainly make the 49ers defense a top fantasy choice again this year.
Vernon Davis was an inconsistent fantasy tight end last year. He showed flashes of greatness like his two-touchdown performance in week five, and then just broke his fantasy owners’ hearts at other times like his one catch for 32 yard performance in Week 14. But, then in the NFL playoffs, Davis went off, and finished strong. He had back-to-back two-touchdown games in the postseason, which is reason to put Davis in the top 10 of fantasy tight ends. GSI rankings have him at #5 overall, which is about where he belongs. More playoff-like performances await Davis, than Week 14 performances.
A four-running back rotation in San Francisco will greatly diminish the value of Frank Gore. The Niners signed Brandon Jacobs in the offseason, drafted LaMichael James in the second round to add to Gore and Kendall Hunter. That might be great for the Niners as a whole, but spells fantasy doom for those expecting big things from Frank Gore. Once a stalwart of the first round, Gore cannot be counted on as anything more than a RB2 at this point. Jacobs will steal his TDs, James will knock down his pass-catching attempts and Hunter is always lurking too. There’s just too many players involved which spells diminished touches to his 282 carries last year. Expect that number to be way down this year, and thus, steer clear of Gore.
The Niners receiving corps is as crowded as their backfield, so trying to find who will be the standout performer is a challenge. Mario Manningham seems like a logical choice. With attention being on Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and the newly signed Randy Moss, Manningham will have friendly assignments and is savvy enough to put up decent numbers. Manningham could be a solid WR3 and a nice little late-round find for your fantasy squad. Expect similar numbers to last year, where he was in a very similar situation with the Giants. Pencil Manningham down for about 40-50 catches and around five touchdowns, which will bebetter than Randy Moss gets.
The Niners were busy in the offseason, rading the Giants of some of their talent and adding a future Hall of Famer in Randy Moss. As mentioned, Brandon Jacobs joins the team to serve a role similar to what he did last year for the Giants. At age 35, Moss is more of a name than a talent. He was always one dimensional, known mostly as a deep threat. Now older,Moss has a limited skill set, and the Niners coaching staff knows it. Look for a limited set of plays and packages for Moss, which means limited opportunities for him. Jacobs is a big, hulking back, who never seemed to know how big he was. In New York, Jacobs tried to run small, and was accused of being soft. If he can learn to be a pounder (and hold onto the ball), the Niners can exploit him as a short-yardage back.
Where isn’t there a position battle in the Bay area? The backfield is loaded with talent, and the receiving corps is full of veterans wanting the ball. The presence of Manningham and Moss will have a positive impact on Michael Crabtree. He led the team with 72 receptions last year. Some believe that Manningham and Moss will make that number go down, but it may actually drive Crabtree to raise his performance, and he may also learn from the two vets. It may also mean more single coverage for Crabtree which will greatly benefit his fantasy value.
LaMichael James has to earn his touches and playing time. It’s a crowded backfield situation. Niners running backs coach Tom Rathman, who knows a thing or two about performing in the NFL, believes the backfield by committee will sort itself in the preseason. So watch these games close to see how James performs. The rookie running back is dynamic. Playing time will be tough to come by, but with his specific skill set, James has tremendous upside. In dynasty/keeper leagues, James is worth a look as someone to stash on your bench. And, if/when Gore or Jacobs goes down hurt, be ready to pounce on the waiver wire for James.
Fantasy Football, NFL