49ers Year in Review
2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 29th (487)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 9th (470)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 20th (1,009)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 23rd (5.2)
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Rocket armed and an explosive scrambler, Colin Kaepernick appeared destined for stardom when he overtook Alex Smith in 2012 and rallied San Francisco to Super Bowl XLVII. “Kap” has been in a backslide ever since. His pocket skills have not improved, absorbing an NFC-high 52 sacks last year behind what was generally regarded as one of the NFL’s best lines, while Kaepernick’s field reading and ball placement have remained deficiencies. At least partially to blame is the erosion of talent around him, putting Kaepernick in adverse on-field circumstances. The Fake Football’s Rich Hribar did terrific work this spring dissecting how certain quarterbacks perform in certain game scenarios. As noted by Hribar in this graph, Kaepernick has been far more effective when the 49ers are tied with or leading their opponent. When the 49ers have trailed — particularly late in games — Kaepernick has become turnover prone and inefficient, and his rushing effectiveness has diminished. Decimated by surprise retirements, the departure of coach Jim Harbaugh, and several critical free agent losses, the 49ers continued to get worse this offseason. Their Vegas Win Total stands at 6.5, tied with the lowly Browns and Redskins for fifth worst in the league. I still love the idea of Kaepernick’s physical skill set and theoretical ceiling, but it’s difficult to take an optimistic stance on his fantasy outlook for 2015.
Anquan Boldin has spent the last two seasons in San Francisco, posting fantasy finishes of WR15 and WR22 with back-to-back campaigns of 80-plus catches. While Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis‘ performance went in the gutter last season, Boldin served as Colin Kaepernick‘s security blanket and recorded a top-20 catch rate among 78 receivers who played at least 50% of their team’s offensive snaps, per PFF’s charting. Now going on 34, Boldin isn’t quite as dominant as he used to be after the reception, but he is an elite route runner with an incredibly physical playing style, which has allowed Boldin to remain productive even in the twilight of his career. Barring an unforeseen fall off the age cliff, Boldin is headed for another season of 125-plus targets, and perhaps more if San Francisco trails on the scoreboard as often as many expect. In some respects, the addition of lid-lifter Torrey Smith could be seen as a net positive for Boldin, clearing out coverage on the perimeter. Boldin isn’t a “sexy” fantasy pick because he’s old, but he’s a savvy one. He often lasts until rounds nine and ten in best-ball drafts. FF Calculator has Boldin’s ADP in round 11, where he is the WR50 off the board. Put simply, that’s stealing.
By all accounts slated for the high-volume X role in Gary Kubiak‘s Baltimore offense entering 2014, Torrey Smith instead was utilized as a low-volume vertical streaker. He scored a career-high 11 TDs and cumulatively finished as a top-24 fantasy wideout for the fourth consecutive season, but lost a whopping 48 targets off his 2013 and was incredibly inconsistent week to week. Much of Torrey’s on-field value was tied up in drawing pass interference penalties; he drew a league-high 11 flags of this variety, totaling 229 yards. The 49ers aggressively pursued Smith in free agency, landing him on a five-year, $40 million deal. Leaving the Ravens, Smith downgrades in quarterback play, pass-game efficiency, and pass-game volume, joining a club that last year ranked 29th in pass attempts while Baltimore was 17th. At his ninth-/tenth-round cost, there are some reasons to believe Smith could be undervalued, particularly if Anquan Boldin falls off in his age-34 season. There aren’t many reasons to believe Smith will suddenly become consistent, however. I like him as a best-ball pick, but will fade him in re-draft this year.
Vernon Davis opened the 2014 season with two touchdowns against the Cowboys. He posted a 22-201-0 receiving line the rest of the way, torpedoing fantasy weeks before owners wound up dropping him. Among 67 qualifiers, the only tight ends who finished lower in Pro Football Focus’ grading system were rookie C.J. Fiedorowicz, Levine Toilolo, now-retired John Carlson, Mychal Rivera, and Jeff Cumberland. Once one of the NFL’s top blocking tight ends, Davis’ run blocking also tumbled off a cliff. Is Vernon Davis done? It’s a fair question to ask based on last year’s play. Offseason reports have been positive, but Davis is 31 years old at a position where age drop-off tends to be especially unkind. He’s a late-round TE3 in best-ball leagues and nothing more.
Running Game Outlook
The 57th overall pick in last May’s draft, Hyde spent his rookie year as Frank Gore‘s clear-cut backup, wresting only six touches per game from the 49ers’ 31-year-old starter. Hyde’s YPC average was a modest 4.01, but lagged primarily due to frequent short-yardage and red-zone carries. Hyde held his own in pass protection and dropped just 1-of-16 passing-game targets. Hyde is now set up for lead-back work after Gore’s exit, and San Francisco will theoretically remain a run-first team under new coach Jim Tomsula. Hyde should also benefit from Colin Kaepernick‘s dual threat. Concerns include the loss of dominant run-blocking LG Mike Iupati and RT Anthony Davis, plus the signing of Reggie Bush to swipe receptions. Hyde has a tough schedule, facing the Rams, Cardinals, and Seahawks twice as well as the AFC North and NFC North outside the division. The good news for value seekers is the perception of Hyde has been so negative that he’s begun falling into the late fourth and fifth rounds. I like him in round five of 12-teamers, but couldn’t take Hyde much higher. He could easily end up as a frustrating two-down back on a bad team, losing snaps to Bush and seeing only a handful of TD chances.
Dogged by a recurring ankle injury in Detroit last season, Reggie Bush posted a six-year low in YPC average (3.91) while earning only 116 touches in 11 games, and getting outplayed by Theo Riddick and Joique Bell. The performance seems bleak for a 30-year-old running back at surface level, but the eyeball test provided a more optimistic view in the (admittedly very few) instances Bush was healthy. I definitely could be wrong about this, but I don’t believe Bush is done. The 49ers agree, signing Bush to a one-year, $2.5 million deal amid interest from the Patriots and Saints. If San Francisco devolves into a cellar dweller this year — a distinct possibility considering all of their personnel and coaching losses — Bush could be in store for a much larger role than many expect as the passing-down specialist on a team that often plays from behind. In PPR, Bush is an intriguing potential value pick at his double-digit round ADP.
Vegas Win Total
The 49ers’ Vegas Win Total was 7.0-7.5 games for most of the spring. It dropped to 6.5 after the draft, as well as the retirements of LB Patrick Willis, LB Chris Borland, RT Anthony Davis, and DE Justin Smith. Lost in free agency were RB Frank Gore, LG Mike Iupati, CB Chris Culliver, CB Perrish Cox, OLB Dan Skuta, and WR Stevie Johnson. It’s fair to wonder if Niners’ win-total drop might suddenly make San Francisco a value. It’s also fair to wonder if this could be a 2-4 win team. Although billed as one of the NFL’s top GMs, Trent Baalke has done a poor job of keeping his roster stocked, and Jim Tomsula seems like a good bet to go down as a one-and-done coach. The NFC West has no pushover teams, while the 49ers’ non-division schedule is unforgiving, facing the AFC North, NFC North, Giants, and Falcons. I’m still taking the under on 6.5 victories.
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