Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the next edition of the series, we head back to the NFC West and check out the second-place San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were 8-8 last year, with an offense that scored 20.6 ppg (18th among 32 teams) and a defense that yielded just 17.6 ppg (4th).
Alex Smith - Smith missed almost two full seasons to injury before regaining the starting role in Week 7 last year. He showed some flashes during the final 11 games, but wasn't consistent enough to warrant a starting fantasy role. A good sign for the future was Head Coach Mike Singletary throwing the ball as much as he did, indicating his willingness to open up the offense. Smith has very good weapons in Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis and Frank Gore has decent hands out of the backfield. Your best fantasy option for Smith (ADP 140) would be in a "shared" strategy, utilizing him against the weaker defenses only. David Carr will be Smith's backup, but shouldn't threaten his role as the 49ers' starter.
Frank Gore - Fantasy players have been overrating Gore since 2007, expecting him to repeat his 2006 statistics of 2,180 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. He hasn't gotten close, yet continues to be one of the top five or six running backs off the board. In PPR leagues that's understandable based on his receiving ability, but in non-PPR leagues, that's simply too high. With so much talent at the receiving positions, I see the team turning away from the ground game a little more in 2010 and the 49ers already had a 59-percent vs.41-percent split favoring the pass in 2009.
Glen Coffee - Following a very good preseason, Coffee was expected to garner a bigger role. However, he couldn't sustain his preseason effort and when Gore got hurt in Weeks 3 and 4, Coffee didn't take advantage of the opportunity. He might not even be Gore's backup in 2010, unless he can fight off rookie Anthony Dixon, so drafting Coffee (ADP 184) in the 15th or 16th round is still a risky proposition unless you see him succeed during the exhibition season.
Anthony Dixon - Given Gore's propensity for getting injured (he hasn't played a complete 16-game schedule since 2006), taking a late-round flyer on Dixon (ADP 235) has a nice upside and very little downside.
Michael Crabtree - Crabtree missed all of training camp and the first five games of the 2009 season to destroy his fantasy value last year. However, when he finally arrived, he managed to catch at least three balls in every game the rest of the way. With a full camp and preseason schedule, he should become the player fantasy owners were expecting. He plays big at 6-foot-1 and has great hands and instincts. The only downside is that the team doesn't look for him in the red zone...yet. He's being selected in the fifth round (ADP 50) and that will seem like a bargain by the end of the year.
Josh Morgan - Morgan is a nice receiver, but he's now been relegated to the third or fourth option. He'll probably have a couple of big games when Crabtree and Davis are doubled-teamed, but his numbers won't be consistent enough to start...even as your third receiver.
Ted Ginn Jr. - Ginn (ADP 266) will likely be a kick return guy and get little opportunity to get on the field otherwise. Too bad, because he has the downfield ability to open it up for Crabtree and Davis. Unless return yards count in your league, it's likely a wasted draft pick. Neither Brandon Jones, Jason Hill nor rookie Kyle Williams figures to have much fantasy value in 2010.
Vernon Davis - Davis was one of the biggest surprises in 2009 winning the TSN Fantasy Tight End of the Year Award and the Best Bargain Award. He was the 20th tight end off the board, but finally lived up to his talent level with 13 touchdown receptions, 965 yards and a tight end-leading 212 fantasy points. He's now the third tight end off the board, but as long as the 49ers continue to throw the ball at a 60 percent clip and look for Davis near the goal line, he'll still be a good value.
Joe Nedney - Nedney suffered a hamstring injury down the stretch and, combined with just 21 field goal attempts, made the season look very bad. Because I believe the 49ers offense will be better in 2010 Nedney should have a better season as well. However, that still makes him a low-end starter at best.
The San Francisco defense is beginning to play like it's head coach and that's a bad thing for opposing offenses. In 2009, the 49ers finished fourth among D/ST with 128 points. They did it with a good pass rush (44 sacks), 33 turnovers (15 fumbles, 18 interceptions) and three defenses scores. The addition of Ginn Jr. to the special teams should be worth at least another six points and maybe more. The 49ers defense is currently going seventh with an ADP of 144 and should be a bargain at that price.