The 2013 NFL season is around the corner, and that means fantasy football is coming. It also means it's time for fans to start their annual fantasy preparations.
Every year, fantasy owners are tasked with finding out which players will light up the stat sheet. When players do so, they gain points in fantasy football. NFL players aren't too concerned about fantasy football, but fantasy owners everywhere read magazines and watch highlights to analyze which players they should pursue.
Fans are often tempted to take players from their favorite team, and sometimes, it works out. However, it often backfires. It's best to know how well a player will do before spending a valuable draft pick on him.
Which San Francisco 49ers players should be targeted in fantasy football, and when should they be targeted?
Note: The defense is analyzed as a unit because most leagues don't use individual defensive players.
Former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith isn't known for piling up a ton of fantasy points, but Colin Kaepernick will likely develop a different reputation.
San Francisco's dynamic quarterback stepped in midseason and did a stellar job, as he started 10 games and won seven of them. Kaepernick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl, and he did it by spearheading a lethal aerial attack.
However, Kaepernick made his presence felt in a different way in one playoff game. Kaepernick set a record with 181 rushing yards in the divisional round of the 2013 NFL playoffs, as he shredded a weak Green Bay Packers defense in every way. Kaepernick ran for three touchdowns in the playoffs and finished with seven postseason touchdowns.
While he is a threat to run, Kaepernick is also an explosive option at quarterback. He completed 76.2 percent of his passes in the NFC Championship Game and averaged a remarkable 8.77 yards per attempt in 2012 (including the postseason).
Star wide receiver Michael Crabtree's injury will impact Kaepernick, but it won't stop him. Kaepernick worked with limited help at wide receiver last season, and he has more depth and two reliable targets in Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis to catch passes.
With limited depth at wide receiver, Kaepernick threw 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in his 10 starts. He's likely going to build on that this year. While he isn't the best quarterback in the league, he is capable, he can gain chunks of yardage in multiple ways, and he can protect the ball.
Expect Kaepernick to throw around 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and expect him to chip in with his legs as well.
If your league awards quarterbacks points for rushing, Kaepernick should be picked as early as the fourth or fifth round. If not, he still deserves a good look near the sixth or seventh round. Kaepernick is one of the league's better quarterbacks, and he'll put up a good amount of fantasy points.
Kaepernick is obviously the only 49ers quarterback who deserves a look, as backup Colt McCoy won't play unless Kaepernick gets hurt, and Scott Tolzien and B.J. Daniels may not play at all. An injury is the only thing that can slow Kaepernick and the 49ers down, which is why Kaepernick should be taken fairly early in drafts.
Frank Gore isn't a big-play running back, but he's a consistent workhorse who can handle the grind of a 16-game season and light up a stat sheet.
Gore isn't extremely explosive or quick, but he still knows how to gain yardage. Gore is a north-south runner who rarely loses yards and is hard to bring down. The 217-pound back isn't gigantic, but he runs hard and can overpower defensive players with ease.
Last season, Gore set San Francisco's franchise record for rushing touchdowns. Gore is a good goal-line back, as he compiled 12 touchdowns last season (including the playoffs).
Injuries have hampered him in the past, but he's stayed on the field lately. He has started his last 37 games, which is fairly assuring for fantasy owners.
While Gore is extremely durable, he doesn't get every carry. Kendall Hunter saw the field often before his season-ending ACL injury, and LaMichael James got a good amount of touches after Hunter's injury.
Both are big-play backs who can slip by tacklers and make plays in space, but neither is better than Gore. Gore is San Francisco's starting running back, and Hunter, James, Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton, Marcus Lattimore or any other running back won't see enough touches to make a fantasy impact.
On the other hand, Gore should be targeted as early as late in the first round. He shouldn't slip past the second round, as he's one of the NFL's best running backs, and running backs are usually targeted early. However, if he does slip, he should be scooped up as a great value pick.
As long as he can stay healthy, Gore can be counted on to put up good numbers. In 2012, Gore finished fifth among running backs with at least 210 carries in yards per carry (4.7), and he found the end zone a good amount of times.
And that's all he needs to do to live up to fantasy expectations.
Michael Crabtree won't play until November, but that doesn't mean you should completely shy away from 49ers receivers.
Boldin was picked up in an offseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens, and he's poised to make an impact as Kaepernick's top target. Boldin caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns in four playoff games, and he shredded the 49ers defense in Super Bowl XLVII.
He only caught four touchdowns and only picked up 921 yards last season, but he was sharing targets with Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith and Ray Rice. With Boldin taking charge in San Francisco, he and Kaepernick should click right away.
And that should lead to an increase of production from Boldin.
While he can't be relied on to carry a fantasy team, Boldin can put up solid numbers as a second or third receiver. He's provides good value in the middle rounds of a fantasy draft, as he should be targeted around the eighth or ninth round.
As for San Francisco's other receivers, none of them should be drafted. Owners should keep an eye on Crabtree when he is cleared to play, but he'll miss at least half of the season and isn't worth a draft pick.
If Crabtree was hurt last year, the injury would have killed the 49ers. This year, they currently have some solid pass-catchers to help compensate for Crabtree's injury. A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette and Quinton Patton are talented, and all of them are worth keeping an eye on. However, none of the three have proven themselves, and none of them should be drafted.
Mario Manningham came up clutch for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, made some nice catches for the 49ers last season, and he could contribute when he returns from his knee injury. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller rated Manningham as the NFL's 32nd-best receiver, although Manningham didn't put up great numbers last year.
As for guys like Marlon Moore, Brandon Carswell and Chad Hall, stay away from them. None are likely to do anything big, and none are worth a draft pick.
While the speedy Jenkins will be interesting to watch, Boldin is the only 49er worth checking out in the draft. He is experienced and is coming off of a big postseason, and he could end up being a steal in the middle rounds.
There has been speculation about the lightning-fast Davis moving to wide receiver, but he'll likely stay at tight end.
However, production-wise, it won't matter. Wherever Davis plays, he'll put up big numbers. Davis struggled a bit in 2012, as San Francisco's quarterback change didn't help Davis in the regular season, but he rebounded in a big way in the playoffs.
Davis caught 11 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco's final two games, and he did that because of his chemistry with Kaepernick. Davis and Kaepernick will likely pick up where they left off, and that will inflate Davis' fantasy numbers.
While there are better tight ends, Davis should be one of the first picked. He is extremely fast and strong, and he's a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. As long as he stays healthy (which is likely given his lack of injuries), he is a safe bet to put up good numbers.
And that's all fantasy owners need.
Second-round draft pick Vance McDonald isn't exactly a safe bet to consistently do his part, but he could surprise. McDonald put up decent numbers in college and has done well so far. He weighs 267 pounds, so smaller players will have trouble covering him.
McDonald isn't worth a draft pick, but he is worth keeping an eye on. Davis, on the other hand, is worth a mid-round draft pick. He has consistently put up solid numbers, and there's no reason to believe that he won't do that again this year.
Davis and McDonald could make up a devastating tandem at tight end, one similar to the look formerly employed by the Patriots with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Both will be on the field often, so backups like Garrett Celek and Demarcus Dobbs won't play much.
If you need a tight end in the seventh or eighth round, Davis is a good, safe bet. He has picked up 36 touchdowns in his last 69 games (including the playoffs), and he's poised to do more damage this season.
The 49ers are known for having a punishing defense, as Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and other defensive stars reside in San Francisco.
However, San Francisco isn't exactly a defensive juggernaut just yet. There are question marks in the secondary, as safety Donte Whitner didn't exactly flourish in 2012, and first-round draft pick Eric Reid is unproven. As for the corners, the 49ers don't have much quality depth behind their two starters.
Chris Culliver was burned in coverage often last season, and Carlos Rogers was a liability. Tarell Brown stepped up for the most part, but he gave up some big plays as well. Nnamdi Asomugha may end up rekindling his dominance from Oakland, but he's aging and coming off of a horrendous stint in Philadelphia.
In other words, if the 49ers don't apply pressure on the quarterback, the secondary will collapse and the defense will surrender points.
Aldon and Justin Smith will both help the 49ers apply pressure on the quarterback, as Justin can absorb defenders and create blitzing lanes for Aldon. Aldon led the NFC with 19.5 sacks, and he has perfected a multitude of moves to help him get to the quarterback more effectively.
Ahmad Brooks is in hot water with the law, but he may not miss any time, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com. If he plays, the 49ers will have a dominant tandem of pass-rushing outside linebackers. Even if Brooks misses time with a suspension, the 49ers will be fine.
Parys Haralson, who has been with the 49ers for seven years, is back from an injury, and rookie Corey Lemonier, who registered 15 sacks in his final 21 college games, has a chance to do something big.
As for the linebackers, there aren't any better middle linebackers in the game. Bowman and Willis combined for 268 tackles in 2012, and Willis finished second among middle linebackers with nine passes defensed.
San Francisco's linebackers will continue to dominate in all facets of the game, and the defensive line will do its part. However, there is uncertainty in the secondary. If Asomugha can't become the shutdown corner who was rarely targeted in Oakland, the 49ers will have trouble stopping potent aerial attacks.
In a pass-heavy league, that's not a good thing.
Overall, the defense is solid, and it deserves a look in the draft. It should be one of the first defenses targeted, as it allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season. However, if the secondary's problems aren't solved, it will cause a conflict in San Francisco.
The defense should be targeted around the 10th or 11th round, but it shouldn't be counted on to lead a fantasy team. There are question marks, and that could lead to a dip in production from the group.