San Francisco Fantasy Preview: 49ers Offense Surprises In 2010

Dave StringerCorrespondent IAugust 20, 2010

ST. LOUIS - JANUARY 3: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers hands off the ball to Frank Gore #21 during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on January 3, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The 49ers beat the Rams 28-6.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The 49ers had a respectable season under Mike Singletary’s first full year as head coach. While the record wasn’t spectacular at 8-8, few predicted that San Francisco would reach the .500 mark in 2009.

Expectations are higher this year as the 49ers enter the season as the favorite to win the NFC West. In order for that to happen, quarterback Alex Smith is going to have to continue the strong play that he had in 2009; and the pass defense, their weak link, will need to improve.

The 49ers entered last season with the goal of running the ball heavily and utilizing play action in the passing game. However, after Smith replaced an ineffective Shaun Hill, the team switched to more a spread-based offensive attack with less reliance on the running game. In 2010, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye hopes to find the proper balance that will maximize the strengths of Smith and running back Frank Gore.

After Smith took over at quarterback, Gore became less of a featured player on offense, with 16 or fewer carries in seven of the team’s final ten games. He remains one of the league’s few remaining workhorse backs, however, excelling as a runner, receiver, and pass blocker.

Tight end Vernon Davis finally fulfilled his promise, having a Pro Bowl season in 2009 with 965 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Despite a holdout that lasted five weeks into the season, wide receiver Michael Crabtree performed well in his rookie season and figures to be a Pro Bowl performer either this season or next.

QB Alex Smith

Smith rebounded from missing all of 2008 and played well last season once he moved into the starting lineup. With Smith starting, the 49ers moved away from the heavily ground-based offense they used early in the season in favor of a spread attack that was better suited to Smith’s ability.

Smith was up to the task, putting up 2,350 passing yards with 18 touchdowns over 11 games after replacing Hill—production that, on a points-per-game basis, equals that of a solid fantasy backup. The 49ers spent a pair of first-round draft picks on offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, and the team features one of the most talented groups of young skill position players in the league in Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree.

The 49ers offense should surprise in 2010, given the young talent on the roster. The ingredients are there for Smith to have a solid fantasy season as well. Draft him as a backup for your squad, but as one with the potential to sneak into starter status.

RB Frank Gore

Once again, Gore shapes up as a top ten running back in all fantasy formats for 2010 because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Since his breakout campaign of 2006, when he accumulated 1,695 rushing yards, 485 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns Gore has been solid.

Gore's talent is undeniable, but he hasn’t approached his 2006 production because of either injuries (2008 and 2009), inconsistent use (2009), or a lack of talent around him (2007). While this may be the year he finally regains his 2006 fantasy form, the better bet based on his history is that Gore will tantalize his owners again, giving them solid but unspectacular production.

With Alex Smith under center, the 49ers will employ the spread offense more in 2010 than last year, which figures to reduce Gore’s touches. While Gore has upside given the upgrades to the offensive line and the talent surrounding him, he doesn’t rate with the consensus top four backs for fantasy purposes. Put it this way: He’s closer to Steven Jackson than he is to the big four.

RB Brian Westbrook

Westbrook is an intriguing player for fantasy purposes, given his history of production and ability to produce in a limited capacity as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

The 30-year-old Westbrook is coming off a season in which he suffered two concussions, causing him to miss eight games. He finished the season with 274 rushing yards and 181 receiving yards to go along with two touchdowns—easily his lowest production since his rookie season.

Although Westbrook has hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark for running backs (he will be 31 on opening day), he was productive when in the lineup in 2009, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. However, given his age and injury issues, he is clearly viewed as a backup capable of assuming a change of pace, receiving role and filling in as a starter.

Expect Westbrook to put up reasonable production provided he can stay healthy.

WR Michael Crabtree

Crabtree is coming off of a very solid rookie season and he figures to approach the 1000-yard mark in 2010. With Crabtree, the sky is the limit given his production during a rookie season in which he missed all of training camp and the first five games of the year before stepping right into the starting lineup in Week Six.

Despite the lack of preparation, he still managed to catch 48 passes for 625 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With a full training camp to gain rapport with quarterback Alex Smith, Crabtree is a breakout candidate in 2010.

However, keep expectations in check since tight end Vernon Davis gobbles up both targets and touchdowns, which limits Crabtree’s fantasy upside.

WR Josh Morgan

Morgan looks the part but seems to lack big play ability. After a great training camp during his rookie season in 2008, Morgan seemed to be a solid prospect for keeper leagues; but he has done little since to suggest that he’s ready to approach fantasy starter status.

Maybe the light goes on in 2010, but with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis hogging targets, and running back Frank Gore an excellent check-down option, Morgan will not likely get enough looks in 2010 to be relevant for fantasy purposes.

Basically, there’s no chance of him surpassing Crabtree or Davis, so why bother? He’s not worth drafting in all but the deepest leagues.

WR Ted Ginn Jr.

Ah, Ted Ginn.

He runs fast—but too often right out of bounds. He gets open—but too often drops the ball. He makes people miss—but too often makes moves before he has the ball.

Potential is nothing without productivity. After three years, the Dolphins gave up on Ginn; and, after three years, you should too.

While there is the possibility that Ginn will develop into a solid backup wide receiver in San Francisco, he’s equally as likely to be surpassed on the depth chart by Jason Hill or rookie 6th-round pick Kyle Williams. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

TE Vernon Davis

Davis had a huge, unforeseen breakout campaign in 2009 that included 13 touchdowns and helped make him the top fantasy tight end. While Davis has always had exceptional speed, too often he was running the wrong route, missing blocking assignments, and blaming anybody but himself for his mistakes.

However, he put it all together last year, showing a maturity and dedication that didn’t exist previously. While it is difficult to imagine that he can repeat his 2009 campaign, it’s just as difficult to view him as a one-year wonder.

The question is, Do you believe? Here’s the answer: You should. Expect a repeat of his 2009 breakout campaign, but without the 13 touchdowns he had last year.

Dave Stringer is a staff writer at, home of the popular Cheatsheet Compiler & Draft Buddy custom cheatsheet and draft tracking software.


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