San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene last season as he took over for previous starter Alex Smith who got injured midway through the year. Kaepernick never looked back as he thrived and led the Niners to the Super Bowl, but things may not come so easily this season.
Kaepernick's skill set is unlike anything football fans have ever seen. He possesses a rocket arm, an accurate touch, elite mobility and a 6'4", 230-pound frame. Simply put, Kaepernick is an athletic freak who can do essentially anything on a football field.
But he can't get the job done on his own.
While Kaepernick certainly doesn't have the worst arsenal of weapons in the NFL, he'll have to make due with some less-than-ideal options. The biggest strike against Kaepernick in 2013 is the fact that go-to receiver Michael Crabtree will miss a large chunk of the season with an Achilles injury. According to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, Crabtree was placed on the PUP list, so it is guaranteed that he won't play the first six games of the regular season.
The 49ers will then have a three-week window to activate him or shut him down for the remainder of the season. Even if Crabtree does manage to return at some point this season, the odds are that he will be lacking much of his explosion. Perhaps he could still be a quality possession receiver, but he'll undoubtedly be a different player.
That is significant when it comes to Kaepernick's value both on the field and in fantasy football. Kaepernick became a worthy starting quarterback in fantasy once he took over the reins in San Francisco, and Crabtree was a big reason for that. Dave Richard of CBS Sports put Crabtree's production under Kaepernick into perspective on Twitter.
While Richard is clearly trying to insinuate that Kaepernick made Crabtree better rather than the other way around, it was a mutual effort. Crabtree was easily Kaepernick's favorite target, and he is going to suffer without him to a certain degree.
Fellow wide receiver Mario Manningham will also start the year on the PUP list, making an even bigger dent in the 49ers' wide receiving corps.
That is important due to the depth at quarterback in fantasy circles this season. There are probably between 12 and 14 quarterbacks worthy of being solid fantasy starters this year, so there isn't much incentive to take a quarterback early. With that said, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will come off the board within the first 25 or 30 picks in most drafts.
According to ESPN.com, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan come next, which leaves Kaepernick as the No. 7 fantasy quarterback. He is being selected 42nd overall on average in standard ESPN drafts, and while that sounds reasonable, it doesn't necessarily represent great value.
ESPN is projecting roughly 4,400 total yards and 27 touchdowns for Kaep, and while that is certainly possible, it doesn't necessarily make him worth the 42nd pick. With other capable quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Tony Romo being selected well after him, there is incentive to pass on Kaepernick and wait.
Although he has obviously become a punch line in recent years, Romo is an intriguing alternative to Kaepernick as he is being selected 38 picks later on average. Romo is projected by ESPN to rack up 4,800 yards and 31 touchdowns, which would make him more productive than Kaepernick. Romo may throw a few more interceptions, but he also has elite weapons such as Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten at his disposal.
With Crabtree out of the picture for now, tight end Vernon Davis will have to step up and become Kaepernick's main target in all likelihood. Davis has had some great seasons in the past, but he had just 548 yards and five touchdowns last season, so Kaepernick may not be completely comfortable with him.
The Niners also brought in Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens, and while Boldin was a dominant force for the Ravens in the playoffs last season, he hasn't had a 1,000-yard campaign since 2009, and he has played 16 games in a season just once since 2007.
ESPN fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry believes that slot receiver Austin Collie could potentially be a starter for the 49ers despite the fact that they just signed him a couple weeks ago.
Collie had a couple solid seasons for the Indianapolis Colts; however, he played just one game last year due to complications stemming from concussions. If Kaepernick has to rely on Collie as a consistent contributor, then he could very well be in for a rude awakening.
Kaepernick has the potential to be a great quarterback in the NFL, and he still offers the added bonus of picking up rushing yards and scores from the QB position. Still, it would be wise for fantasy owners to temper their expectations this season. With so many other quality quarterbacks being taken significantly later, passing on Kaepernick may be the best course of action.
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