27th in a series.
Can Alex Smith grow into a viable fantasy quarterback?
Smith can grow into a No. 2 fantasy quarterback this year if the team upgrades the wide receiver corps. Smith's problem was not a lack of talent but a lack of wide receivers. The team's best wideout, Michael Crabtree, is an injury-prone player who has a reputation as a prima donna. After that, the No. 2 slot was a revolving door with Braylon Edwards, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams and Brett Swain. Smith ended the season throwing for 3,144 yards, 17 TDs and five interceptions — an average of 196.5 yards, 1.15 TDs and 0.31 interceptions. Smith is a free agent but wants to be a 49er and probably will come back at an affordable price as he's sure to lock up the starting job in camp. He will be a late-round draft pick in 2012.
Will the team use a committee role at RB?
There is no doubt Frank Gore was overused in 2012 and he broke down toward the end of the season. Gore will be 29 years old next season and has finished a season on the active roster only twice in his 49ers' career — 2006 and this past season. In Weeks 4-9 (including a bye week), he had 100-634-4 rushing and was not a factor in the passing game as he has been in years past. He eclipsed 100 yards every week during that run. However, from Weeks 10-17, he did not hit the 100-yard mark and scored only three TDs in that span. He ended the season with 282-1,211-8 — an average of 17.6 attempts for 75.7 yards and 0.4 TDs in 16 games. Look for the team to begin using other backs to keep his legs fresh throughout the season. Gore's draft stock looks to drop a bit because of age, injury history and the potential that the team has him share time in the backfield. However, he's still a No. 1 fantasy back, though not elite.
Kendall Hunter is expected to see a greater role in 2012 after ending his rookie season with 112-473-2 rushing and 16-195-0 on 26 targets. The team likes his big-play ability and he's a player to watch in the offseason, especially in training camp to see how the team uses him. He has some upside heading into the offseason. I would recommend holding on to him in keeper leagues right now.
What does the team do at the WR position?
Michael Crabtree had his best season in his three-year career, totaling 72-874-4 on 114 targets — an average of 4.8 catches for 58.27 yards and 0.27 TDs on 7.6 targets in 15 games. Some believe Crabtree is no better than a No. 2 but regardless, the team understands its needs at the position. Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr. are both free agents, but neither has been able to raise his game to the level needed for the team to compete. Morgan ended the season on injured reserve with a broken leg and Ginn missed the NFC championship game with an injury. Kyle Williams, the NFC title-game goat, is under contract and ended the season with 20-241-6 on 31 targets.
Look for the team to target one of the high-end free agents like Marques Colston or Mike Wallace or grab a wideout in the draft. Built to win now, a free-agent acquisition with NFL success will lower the learning curve and could be the better option. Keep your eyes on what the team does because it affects Alex Smith. If the passing game improves, it will affect the rushing attack as well.
Can TE Vernon Davis make the leap to elite?
We know Davis has elite talent, but outside of the 2009 and ’10 seasons, he has disappointed. Most agree this was more to do with the various coaches and schemes he played in rather than Davis himself. He ended 2011 with 67-792-6 receiving on 95 targets. According to the team, he learned the offense by the end of the season and flourished. In Week 17, he ended with 8-118-0 on nine targets and in two playoffs games he totaled 10-292-4 on 15 targets — monster numbers. As others target the elites, you could wait for Davis later in the draft but don't wait too long as he's always a high-end second-tier draft pick for tight ends.
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