With the fantasy football draft season right around the corner, I’ve decided to do a breakdown on the fantasy-relevant players on every team, division by division. You can check out the previous columns here:
This column will cover the 49ers and the Seahawks. These two rivals have some of the most interesting and controversial fantasy football players around, from Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Strap in!
San Francisco 49ers
QB: Colin Kaepernick was ridiculously over-hyped going into last season, with Ron Jaworski even saying, “…Kaepernick could be one of the best quarterbacks ever.” To no one but Mr. Jaworski’s great surprise, Kaepernick failed to live up to those lofty standards, finishing as the ninth quarterback in fantasy football. However, there are reasons for encouragement.
Kaepernick started this season very poorly, but he looked like a different player in the second half of the season, scoring at least 17 points in six of his final nine games. Michael Crabtree will be healthy and the 49ers added Stevie Johnson, giving Kaepernick the most talented stable of wide receivers he’s ever had.
Kaep is one of my favorite values this season. Who else has more potential to surprise everyone and break into the top five players at their position? He’s safer than RGIII and he has just as much potential. If you don’t get one of the top QBs in the draft, don’t sleep on Colin Kaepernick.
RB: Frank Gore looked awful last year. In a league where staying healthy and keeping your starting job for a full season guarantees that you’ll finish as a top fantasy running back, Gore finished as only the 13th best fantasy RB. He averaged only 4.1 yards per carry behind the game’s best run-blocking offensive line and he completely disappeared in some games, scoring eight points or less in five of his final eight games. He has RB2 upside, but nothing more than that, and he isn’t a lock to keep his job.
You don’t draft a pro-ready running back like Carlos Hyde in round two if you aren’t planning on using him. If Gore is injured or ineffective, Hyde looks to have the first shot at the starting running back job. He’s a bruising, physical running back who averaged more than 7.1 YPC playing in the Big 10 last year. He has RB1 potential if he were to get 15+ carries per game behind that offensive line, making him my ideal RB3 this year, assuming you have a wide receiver for your flex position.
The only other thing hurting his value are the other running backs, Marcus Lattimore and Kendall Hunter, waiting to steal carries as well. Lattimore has torn every ligament in his right knee and his ACL in his left, making him a total wild card, while Hunter is a steady, if unspectacular runner. I like Lattimore as a late-round flier in a very deep league.
WR: The 49ers figure to throw more often this year, given their impressive group of wide receivers. Michael Crabtree headlines the bunch, and he figures to be a top 20 receiver in fantasy football this year. He was less than impressive during the regular season after returning from his Achilles injury, but YOU try running with a banged-up Achilles! He looked better by the end of the postseason and he’ll likely average at least eight targets per game. With Kaepernick, one of the best in the NFL at throwing the ball downfield, throwing to him, Crabtree should be a sure bet for 1000+ yards and 7+ TDs this year.
Anquan Boldin held down the fort marvelously last year while Crabtree was injured, but there just isn’t much upside for him this year. There are just
too many mouths to feed in San Francisco and the 49ers will still be a run-heavy team. On the bright side, you can get him for dirt cheap in most drafts so far this year, so he’s a guy I’m targeting as a solid backup, just don’t expect him to put up numbers like he did last year.
Steve Johnson will be more valuable to the 49ers than he will to fantasy teams, and i think it’s very unlikely that he’s worth anything in fantasy this year. Keep an eye on rookie Bruce Ellington. He’s the brother of Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, and he profiles as a very talented deep threat. Don’t draft him, but if he steals the third wide receiving job from Steve Johnson he could be worth a look on the waiver wire.
TE: Ah Vernon Davis. Last year Davis finished only behind Jimmy Graham at tight end with 850 yards and 13 touchdowns. I don’t know about you, but neither of those totals seem repeatable to me. Davis’ production dropped significantly once Crabtree returned, and the addition of Steve Johnson won’t help either. If you extrapolate Davis’ numbers over the last 7 games of the season, including the playoffs, he’d have about 500 yards and about 11 touchdowns, good for the number six tight end. His contract situation worries me as well, as the 49ers don’t need to acquiesce to his request given their new receiving option and their quality replacement in Vance McDonald.
Right now he’s being drafted in the sixth round, ahead of players like Michael Floyd, Torrey Smith and Steven Jackson. Davis will still be a startable fantasy tight end, but he’s going WAY too high and his value is very touchdown-dependent. You can wait 4-5 rounds and pick up Kyle Rudolph or Dennis Pitta, both of whom should be more consistent, if not as dynamic, than Davis this year anyway.
D/ST: The 49ers defense should be better this year than last year. Carlos Rogers was bad last year, and Jimmie Ward should provide an immediate upgrade. The loss of Bowman for the first few weeks will definitely hurt though, and they play the Cowboys, Bears, and Eagles in 3 of the first 4 weeks, all teams that should have explosive offenses. If you love the 49ers, I’d pass on drafting them, wait until they inevitably are worse than expected in the first four weeks and then try to buy low from the guy who drafted them. They should feast on the Raiders, Seahawks, Cardinals and Chargers in the fantasy playoffs.
QB: Russell Wilson is a fantastic NFL quarterback, but he leaves something to be desired in fantasy. Many thought he’d be a breakout star last season after he finished so strong in 2012, but it just never materialized. He finished as the eighth best fantasy quarterback, but he only scored more than 22 points in one game last season. However, there is plenty of reason to think that this is the year Wilson takes a big step forward.
The Seahawks seem destined to air it out a little more this year given all of the off season drama surrounding the running game, and the return of Percy Harvin. Wilson is in that group of quarterbacks that will go in the middle rounds, all with top five upside. If you choose to wait on QB, Wilson is a guy to target around the same area as Kaepernick. And last year he was the 8th ranked QB. There’s almost no way he finishes worst than last year, so he’s one of the safest QBs in that area as well.
RB: Marshawn Lynch has always been a weird dude, but he seems on track for some sort of public breakdown any day. One day the Seahawks are going to use a running back-by-committee, the next Lynch is still the feature back. One day he wants a contract extension, the next he wants to retire. One day he hates the media attention, the next he’s schmoozing at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards. One thing that won’t change, is Lynch is still a top 10 RB.
He’s not the easy top five choice it looked like he would be at the end of the season due to the various off season chatter, but anyone telling you to drop him out of the top 15 overall are overreacting. He’s still going to get at least 230+ carries and the majority of the carries in the red zone.
However, Christine Michael is a MUST own if you draft Lynch this year. I don’t think the Seahawks will actually use a legitimate RBBC, but it seems likely that Michael will receive a few carries per game, and he’s certainly one of the most valuable handcuffs in football this year. Don’t hesitate it grab him in the middle rounds of your draft this year.
WR; The conversation about Seattle’s wide receivers has to start with Percy Harvin. The last we saw of Harvin, he was a border-line top 10 WR with the Vikings before injuries derailed more than a full season of games. Harvin is potentially the most explosive player in football, and he’s available this year near the end of the 4th round after players like Larry Fitzgerald and Pierre Garcon. He’s definitely risky, but there are NO wide receivers in that range with the upside of Harvin.
The only other interesting wide receiver for standard leagues is Doug Baldwin, and he’s a late-round flier at best. It’s not as if the Seahawks are going to throw more than last year, and I think they’ll feed the ball to Harvin when they do throw. I doubt Baldwin sees more than five or so targets per game.
TE: Zach Miller is only interesting in deep leagues or as a spot start because of a bye week, don’t draft him in a standard league.
D/ST: Every year, the most highly ranked defense goes around the 9th-10th round, and they almost disappoint. Except for last year, when the Seahawks went early, and they carried many an inferior team to victory. Their turnover differential is bound to decrease, but it would shock me if the Seahawks aren’t a top 3 fantasy defense again this year. If you are picking in those middle rounds and there aren’t any sleepers left that you particularly like, don’t hesitate to grab the Hawks. Being able to fill a position and never have to think about it again other than a bye week is rare, and even with some regression, the Seahawks will provide that for fantasy owners again this year.
Thanks for reading! Check back later this week for the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams, and in the mean time, tell me what I got wrong in the comments below.