2014 Fantasy Draft Values: San Francisco 49ers
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s too early to be talking fantasy football, my girlfriend already has the next 12 weekends of my life booked with apple picking and craft shows.” Fair enough. I’m sure you’re either still glowing in your championship glory, disappointed in your underachievement, or trying to forget that you passed on Jamaal Charles for C.J. Spiller with the No. 3 overall pick in your work league. That last statement is certainly nothing I did in 2013. I have also been known to fib on occasion. But, now is as good a time as any to get the wheels turning for 2014.
For the serious fantasy player, it’s never too early to think about next season, and part of the fun in fantasy football is getting a leg up on your opponents by researching early and often. Every fantasy season is filled with surprises, and the 2013 season was no different. Last summer it would have been nice to have guys on your draft board like that second-year player who played on one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL and still led the league in receiving after a two-game suspension; or that Mike Vick’s backup, who not only led the league in passer rating, but also had one of the best runs at the position in NFL history; or that LaDainian Tomlinson’s replacement not only finally looked like a reliable fantasy starter, but would also be a top-five back during the playoffs.
All three did so because of opportunities that came for various reasons – mainly coaching changes – but their paths were set before that in the talent they flashed when given chances. I’m going to put together a series of pieces on players from current rosters that could be drafted at a value in next year’s fantasy drafts. These guys may not be available in all dynasty leagues, but they should be available in almost all redraft leagues.
In late January it’s impossible to predict whether these players will get a bigger role or be downgraded because of rookies, a new scheme, or free agent signings, but there are plenty of players that showed flashes of potential in 2013 who could very well carry over to 2014 success.
San Francisco 49ers
49ers fans are still healing from their third heartbreak in as many years, but for fantasy players this 49ers team has a lot of potential waiting to break out in the 2014 season.
First and foremost, it comes from a position that’s been locked up with consistency for the better part of a decade. Frank Gore has been the one constant on a team that’s seen more than its fair share of highs and lows. He’s been the one guy fans and fantasy players alike could count on.
In 2013 – at the age of 30 – Gore finished the regular season with 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. He looked like the same old Frank Gore in the first half of the season when he seemed to be bucking the trend of running backs in their 30s dying a quick death. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well down the stretch.
|Frank Gore||Games 1-9||Games 10-16 (minus SEA)|
If we subtract the outlier from his last seven games – at home versus Seattle – Gore didn’t break the 100-yard plateau, and scored just two touchdowns in that span. Those stats also don’t show the former Hurricane taking himself out of several games at the goal line. Those goal line opportunities turned into touchdowns for teammates. When a guy either doesn’t have the gas or the desire to stay in for a touchdown opportunity, you know the end is in sight.
The 49ers don’t have much cap room in 2014, and Gore is set to cost them $6.45 million in 2014, all of which could be saved by cutting him. Aside from a restructured deal at or near the league’s veteran minimum, Gore’s time in San Francisco could be at an end.
If that happens what will the team do without its workhorse? Enter what could be the steal of the 2013 draft.
The 49ers have one of the best front offices in the NFL. Their foresight has led to friendly contracts that should make the team a contender for years to come. They offer fair extensions to burgeoning stars with great timing, rather than waiting for their contracts to end and being stuck paying a premium. They also only look to free agency to supplement the team, while their core is built through the draft.
In the 2013 draft, the 49ers knew Gore’s time was coming to an end. With change-of-pace backs like Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James on the roster, as well a special teamer like Anthony Dixon, the team knew it needed someone who fit their power scheme. In last April’s draft, the 49ers knew they could snatch up the oft-hurt Lattimore at a value in the fourth round, allow him to heal, and give him a chance to be the starter in 2014.
Lattimore burst onto the college football scene in 2010 as a freshman for South Carolina. He earned the SEC Freshman of the Year award after accumulating 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground, as well as 29 receptions for 412 yards and a touchdown through the air.
In 2011, the sophomore was one of the nation’s leading rushers through seven games before tearing ligaments in his left knee. The Gamecocks’ Swiss Army knife amassed 818 yards on 163 carries with 10 touchdowns, and also hauled in 19 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown before the injury.
You’d think that two injuries like that would deter a team from drafting such a player, but Gore came to San Francisco with a very similar story. He was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft after injuring both of his knees in consecutive years in 2002 and 2003.
Lattimore is a big back who won’t wow you with his speed, but he bursts through holes and fits the 49ers’ power scheme perfectly. The 49ers obviously aren’t afraid to take a chance on someone with knee injuries, and by the time the 2014 season starts it will be almost two full years since Lattimore last played. He should be fully healed and ready to grab the opportunity at full speed.
Two years are a long time to sit on the sidelines, and with one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league, and what should be a very fair opportunity to succeed, Lattimore could be the steal of the 2014 fantasy season.
The 49ers’ struggles at the wide receiver position were well documented in 2013. Michael Crabtree was out for two-thirds of the season with a torn Achilles, Kyle Williams was finally cut mid-season after squandering a bevy of chances, and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins was traded away after recording exactly zero catches in more than a year with the team. The one constant at the wide receiver position in 2013 was Anquan Boldin. Boldin became the reliable go-to guy for Colin Kaepernick while Crabtree was out, and provided the 49ers with just their second 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens.
Boldin was traded to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick and was in the final year of his contract in 2013. He is now an unrestricted free agent, and unless he gives the 49ers a major discount, he most likely won’t be a part of the 2014 equation. A player at his age who’s already experienced a lot of success in the league – to go along with a Super Bowl ring – is usually just looking for that last big payday before riding off into the sunset. Possible solution? Quinton Patton.
Patton came to the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2013 draft after a two-year career at Louisiana Tech that saw him amass over 2,500 yards receiving and 24 touchdowns. Patton came into the season being praised for his soft hands and work ethic. He showed great chemistry with Kaepernick in the preseason and looked to be in the mix for playing time. Things started slow, then a Week 4 injury sidelined him for the bulk of the season. Upon return, he made a few highlight catches and earned some trust from his quarterback to go along with increased playing time.
With Boldin most likely gone, someone else will have to step up and take the targets. Boldin was the go-to guy while Crabtree was gone, and since Crabtree will be back at full health next season, it wouldn’t be fair to compare his early season workload to what Patton could see in 2014. But, we can see what kind of action Boldin was getting when Crabtree came back and both were on the field at the same time:
As we can see, Kaepernick obviously trusted Boldin. If anything, Crabtree coming back gave Boldin more one-on-one coverage, which – because of his strength – he thrives in. Is Quinton Patton in 2014 going to be as good as a veteran like Boldin was in 2013? That’s highly doubtful. Will someone else need to take those targets? Yes, and from the looks of things, he and Kaepernick are getting things started early.
Patton has the ability and work ethic to be a productive NFL player. If he and his quarterback work together all offseason, who knows where the ceiling may be for the young 49er. We’ve seen what Kaepernick’s propensity to go to just one or two guys can do for a wide receiver’s fantasy value. There will be no WRBC problems here.
Of course Boldin could see how close the 49ers are to a championship and want to try for another ring with the team before retiring, but with the 49ers limited salary cap funds that looks highly doubtful at this point.