The San Francisco 49ers have extremely high expectations headed into this season, and are still led by one of the league's few remaining first-tier running backs, Frank Gore.
San Francisco's defense proved to be one of the most-productive fantasy D/ST units in the league last season, and, obviously that's the team's strength.
The franchise hasn't been to the playoffs since 2002, and with the rest of the NFC looking weaker by the day, anything less would be a major disappointment.
Here are five predictions regarding the impact the San Francisco 49ers can have on your fantasy league.
1. Vernon Davis will not disappoint
Last season, Vernon Davis went from major draft bust to the top fantasy tight end in the NFL. He had 78 catches for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He was drafted sixth overall in 2006, and combines his great size (6'3", 250 pounds) with wide receiver speed.
Given his past, it's not completely out of the question to assume that Davis could slip back into fantasy obscurity this season. It doesn't help that the guy throwing him the ball, Alex Smith, has never been on the fantasy radar.
However, last year it seemed as though everything suddenly "clicked" for him.
Considering he was able to score 13 touchdowns with just 13 total targets in the red zone in 2009, it's safe to assume that there's even more room for the former Maryland Terrapin to grow in terms of production.
Davis is still likely behind Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark on your fantasy draft board, but don't fret about making him the third tight end taken.
With a lack of many other legitimate receiving options out there, Alex Smith should be finding lots of Vernon Davis in 2010.
2. The D/ST will be even more productive in 2010
In 2009, the 49ers' defense, led by Patrick Willis and Dashon Goldson, emerged as one of the most consistent defensive units in the league.
Goldson emerged last season as one of the best run-stopping safeties in the league, when he recorded 94 tackles, and also led the team with four interceptions.
Former first-round pick Manny Lawson also enjoyed a career-year in '09, and appears poised to improve upon his output.
Ted Ginn, Jr., a former first-round pick by the Dolphins out of Ohio State, has had a disappointing pro career in terms of receiving, but he's proven that he can be a real threat in the return game.
His presence as a kick returner will likely bolster a 49ers return game that ranked 23rd in the league in kick return average and scored no touchdowns last season.
This defense is full of playmakers, and, with the addition of a dangerous kick returner, the San Francisco D/ST unit should be amongst the top-tier groups in the league this season.
3. Frank Gore will score double-digit TD's again
In 2009, for the first time in his NFL career, Frank Gore scored double-digit touchdowns, when he ran for 10 and caught an additional three scores.
He's had injury issues throughout his five years in the league. Still, with the way the 49ers believe they've shored up the offensive line, there's a chance that the former Miami Hurricane could play the entire season injury-free.
Gore has played in all 16 regular season games just once, in 2006, when he led the league with 1,695 yards on the ground.
If he's able to stay healthy, there's no reason not to believe that numbers like that can't be put up yet again.
The 49ers appear to have a much more balanced offense than they've had in the past, which should help to open up running lanes for the two-time Pro Bowler.
If San Francisco is going to reclaim the division, they'll need Gore to have a big year.
Don't put it past him.
4. Don't draft Alex Smith, but watch him
First of all, we must say this: Alex Smith is not a starting fantasy quarterback.
Unless your league is especially deep, Alex Smith may not even be a quarterback worthy of being your no. 1 backup.
However, he's certainly worth keeping an eye on.
The 49ers have plenty of receiving talent, and, at times, Smith showed last season that he's capable of putting up some numbers.
He completed over 60 percent of his passes for the first time in his career in '09, and threw 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Until he proves that he can be consistent and productive for an entire season, he won't receive legitimate fantasy starter consideration.
If Smith can forge good connections with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, he could definitely break through as a sleeper.
5. Michael Crabtree can be a starter
We all know the story of Michael Crabtree's rookie season, during which he played in only 11 games due to a lengthy contract holdout.
With a full training camp under his belt, there are many that feel the former Texas Tech Red Raider is ready to emerge as one of the league's best receivers.
The aforementioned concerns about Alex Smith's ability to improve upon last season's success are the only issues with Crabtree's fantasy value.
However, with their weak NFC West schedule, expectations and aspirations are especially high for the 49ers. If Crabtree is able to show No. 1 receiver potential, they'll be all that much more dangerous this season.
If Smith is able to get off to a hot start this season, expect Crabtree to reap a large percentage of the fantasy benefits.
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