Sunday, August 5, 2012

PREDICTION: 49ers will produce big in fantasy football

By Dan Nowak

Last season in the NFL’s preseason, some people scoffed when I wrote early and often that Cam Newtown and the Carolina Panthers and A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals would be relevant fantasy football producers in the 2011 season. My preseason tout of Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning being an elite producer in 2011 wasn’t too shabby either.
In the 2011 New Haven Register Media/Arthur Guinness Memorial Fantasy Football League, Manning and Green helped contribute to a 10-3 regular season record for me.

This season, most fantasy football experts coast-to-coast are ranking San Francisco players as third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh tier players in drafts this season. However, I believe the 49ers’ offensive producers will offer impressive production as they work toward their goal of getting to the Super Bowl.

Many experts, and rightly so, base their predictions and advice on hard facts – previous season stats, trends, preseason workouts, etc. But sometimes you have to think out of the box and as a seasoned fantasy expert you need to - trust your gut instincts.

Motivation is a factor that plays a huge role in the NFL. In the NFC championship game last season, a non-fumble call on the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw late in the fourth quarter followed by an overtime field goal by the Giants denied the host 49ers from advancing to the Super Bowl.
Motivation? Imagine living this past offseason with that frustration.

One thing almost every fantasy football expert agrees on is the 49ers’ defense/special teams unit projects to be the best in the NFL this season. But don’t sell the 49ers’ offense short.
Starting with quarterback Alex Smith, his average draft position on is quite bad. Through Saturday’s (Aug. 4) drafts at the site, Smith was only being taken in 5.9 percent of the mock drafts and overall anywhere from the 141st pick to not being drafted at all.
As a game manager last season, Smith had his best season with 274 completions for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns and he rushed for two touchdowns as the 49ers ended up 13-3 in the regular season.

This season, in an attempt to improve offensive production, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh upgraded the secondary with playmaking receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The 49ers also drafted A.J. Jenkins and back LaMichael James who can also catch the ball.
The key with Moss, at least for one season, is that he will likely be motivated to work hard and produce to show he’s still got something left in the tank. He took last season off and that should help any wear and tear the 35-year-old receiver had playing for three different teams in 2010.
Manningham should also be motivated. After trying to get $7 million a year in free agency and no takers in the offseason, he ended up with a two-year deal with the 49ers for a total of $7.5 million. Only 26, he will likely want to prove he really is worth $7 million a year. When he wasn’t injured for the Giants last season he was certainly productive, including a TD catch in three playoff games en route to the Super Bowl title.
The speedy Jenkins will likely be used sparingly at first behind Moss and Manningham. But he is one injury away from making an immediate impact.
Then you have No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree who ended strong last season and elite tight end Vernon Davis, the only 49ers offensive player ranked in the top 10 on fantasy football websites at his position. The addition of Moss and Manningham should take some defensive pressure off Crabtree.

Many experts are saying avoid the 49ers’ receivers because individual production will be low due to spreading the ball around. There is also Smith who hasn’t exactly shown arm strength or accuracy on a consistent basis.
But I think this is Smith’s breakout season with his quality receiver depth that includes a future hall of famer (Moss). There is also motivation here with Harbaugh making a pitch to bring in Peyton Manning in the offseason. Smith will show that he belongs and that his recent upgraded three-year contract for $24 million was well spent.
I see Smith shocking the world with 4,000 yards and 35-plus touchdowns.
Obviously not every 49ers receiver will get 100 catches and 1,000 yards. But you start with Crabtree who I think will lead the pack with 95 receptions for 1,100 yards and 10 TDs and Moss follows with 70 receptions for 800 yards and 8 TDs. Davis is next with 70 receptions for 750 yards and six TDs and then Manningham with 60 receptions for 600 yards and five TDs.

Due to the depth at receiver and the apparent move to open up the passing game, many believe it will lower running back Frank Gore’s production. Backup Kendall Hunter and the addition of backs Brandon Jacobs and James are also expected to take some touches away from Gore.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Gore is still considered the every-down back. Last season he had 282 attempts and lowering that workload a bit should benefit Gore who has a history of being injured.
Another concern is Gore’s limited use as a receiver out of the backfield last season with only 17 receptions. But opening up the passing game should improve those numbers as well.
I see Gore with 1,300 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs and 300 receiving yards and four receiving TDs.

Bottom line: I see the 49ers taking no prisoners this season with offensive production improving on every level.

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