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With just a few weeks remaining until the official start of the fantasy football calendar year, all would be wise to purchase eye drops as soon as possible.
Once the plethora of leagues commence this June, it is a safe bet to assume that many will suffer from dry eyes due to countless hours of studying, planning, and drafting their teams, all the while obsessively gazing into a computer screen.
That doesn't even begin to cover the occurrences during the 17-week fantasy football campaign, when jobs, family, and friends take a backseat to a chance at internet glory.
With that being said, it is never too early to begin dissecting the fantasy outlook for the 2008 San Francisco 49ers. With the 49ers' '07 fantasy statistics being an accurate yet poor rendering of the teams' on-field production, this upcoming season should be looked upon optimistically, with nowhere in the rankings to go but up.
The following is a fantasy skill-position breakdown for the 49ers in 2008:
Quarterback - The saying often goes, "It always starts with the quarterback". So, shall we? The '07 season was a washout for Alex Smith due to injury, but the '06 season along with the first two games in 2007 displayed that the former #1 overall draft pick has the talent and ability to lead his team to wins. With Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz' history of making good on unproven quarterbacks, the 49ers can expect Smith to have a bounce-back, if not career year. Many are quick to wonder if Smith will even be a starter this season in San Francisco after career-backup Shaun Hill won over much of the fan base inside Candlestick Park by guiding the team to two straight victories late in the season, but let's not kid ourselves. Smith is the most talented of the group, and is making the most money. With a better supporting cast, along with Martz in his ear, Smith can expect his first 20+ touchdown season barring injury.
Sleeper: Shaun Hill. As mentioned, Hill led the team to two consecutive wins late in '07, and was easily the teams' best passer, accounting for five touchdown passes to just one interception.
Running Back - Without question, Frank Gore will be shouldering the load in the ground game again this season for San Francisco. The past two seasons, Gore has been the teams' leading rusher and receiver, and is easily the 49ers' best fantasy football contributor. This year, Gore may be "under the radar" as a runner if that is even possible. Due to Martz' emphasis on a big-time passing attack, Gore should be able to catch teams off guard and post numbers similar to his '06 season under Norv Turner. But as a receiver out of the backfield, Gore will be counted on as much as ever, and should surpass his career mark in receptions in a season (61 in '07).
Sleeper: DeShaun Foster. Although he was never a big-time performer for Carolina, he has the dual-threat capabilities that Martz covets. Gore will surely be seeing most of the snaps, but Foster will allow Gore to rest his legs and shoulders, all of which have been operated on in the past.
Wide Reciever - Another position that will take a turn for the better under Martz. Newcomers Issac Bruce and Bryant Johnson were brought in to bolster the cause, and should certainly do so. The early front-runner is Bruce, who has shown that he can still make the plays in the Martz offense during the 49ers' recent mini-camp. Johnson meanwhile, has the speed, size, and redzone presence that Martz will undoubtedly look to on many occasions this season. Arnaz Battle, Ashley Lelie will battle it out for the third spot on the depth chart.
Sleeper - Jason Hill. After making just one catch in his rookie season, many expect Hill to be a steady contributor in 2008. Martz has raved about him in interviews, and the fans are definitely behind him. Hill has the speed and talent to be a target in Martz' scheme.
Tight End - Along with Gore, third-year pro Vernon Davis is the most versatile threat offensively for the 49ers. Martz will lose sleep over fantasizing about putting Davis in so many different formations and offensive sets. While Davis excels as a blocker, his raw speed, strength, and size will allow the 49ers to gamble a bit. Davis will be split out at wide receiver on occasion, and will give Smith a consistent target when flushed out of the pocket. After recording 50 catches and four touchdowns a year ago under the anemic offense of Jim Hostler, his potential under Martz is almost maddening to consider.
Sleeper: Delanie Walker. A capable receiver with a strong body, Walker will be a much-needed asset in an offense that often calls for two tight-end sets.
Defense - The 49ers have one of the better defensive units in the NFL, but there is a glaring problem. They are on the field way too much due to terrible play on the other side of the ball. Patrick Willis anchors the defense as the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, and cornerback Nate Clements is beginning to earn the money on his monstrous contract. The team has attempted to address its biggest deficit - generating a pass rush - by the free-agent signing of former Cincinnati Bengal Justin Smith, and the 2008 first-round draft selection of North Carolina defensive end/tackle Kentwan Balmer. Martz and Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky will become the best of friends if the defense is more effective due to less trips onto the field.
All in all, the talent is there in fantasy and reality for the 2008 San Francisco 49ers. So, when you are making your picks in fantasy leagues in the coming months, remember that you don't have to feel so afraid to draft a 49er to help your team win a championship.