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Straight Out of the Rabbit’s Hole: Drafting 49ers players for your fantasy team

Diego Del Barco
Aug 6, 2015 at 7:22 AM

The calendar turning to August means the start of training camp and 27 straight weeks of football starting this coming weekend. It also means a lot of our fantasy football drafts will be taking place in the near future. This will only be my seventh year playing fantasy football and as a result of picking up this beautiful hobby in the same forums of this website, I have come to notice a thing or two about 49ers fans and fantasy football teams: more often than not we draft 49ers players way too early. So as someone who has won more than a handful of fantasy leagues all over the place (Yahoo!, ESPN, FleaFlicker, NFL.com, CBS.com) over the last six years, I'm here to give you some advice about your fantasy draft and 49ers players, and just maybe give you the extra edge that will allow you to win your league.

(Note that because most leagues I have played in have had 12 teams most of this analysis will be based on a 12-team, snake-style draft).

First things first: No 49er should be drafted in the first two rounds. This rule should extend to the third round but the first 49er coming off the board in drafts so far may need to be picked at the end of the third round in some occasions. It is perfectly fine to believe a specific player is being underrated and is poised to have a breakout season but it is a complete waste of value to draft said player a couple of rounds too early. Pay attention during your draft, get a feel for how players/positions are coming off the board. If someone else reaches for the player you want in the early rounds that just means another really good player remains on the board for you.

Running Back: Carlos Hyde should be the first 49er drafted in your fantasy league but you would be doing yourself a favor if you draft him as your RB2. He's currently being drafted at the beginning of the 4th round in Yahoo! and ESPN leagues and that's where you should be looking to snatch him up. He's my 18th ranked RB and I think the world of him. However, a few things keep me from projecting him as near RB1. While it is difficult to project how the new staff will split carries among the RB's, my feeling is none of the three main RB's on the roster (Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter) will carry the rock at the rate Frank Gore carried it over the last three seasons (67.36% of RB carries in 2012, 68.83% in '13, 72.24% last season). Hyde should be able to solidify himself as San Francisco's starting RB, but he's likely to come off the field often on third downs to give way to Bush/Hunter, especially on third-and-longs. While Hyde actually had more receptions than Gore last season (12 to 11), Gore never had to deal with real competition from another RB on passing downs. Bush is clearly a better option on passing downs and Hyde may even be behind Hunter on that specific depth chart, which is more of a compliment to Bush/Hunter than anything against Hyde. Finally, there is this:

There's nothing to suggest opposing defenses won't continue to stack the box against the 49ers offense until Colin Kaerpernick consistently makes them pay for doing so. Gore had a knack for getting his numbers even against 8-man boxes but it remains to be seen whether Hyde will be able to do the same. The new 49ers starting RB has the potential to be one of the best in the league but until I see him reach that level, keeping in mind the hurdles he'll face this season, I can't justify picking him before the end of the third round at the earliest.

Because of his expected role as a pass-catcher in an offense that may actually even run screens to the RB's this season, Reggie Bush carries significant appeal in PPR leagues where he should be drafted a round or two before his current average slot around the 10th round. Nevertheless, that's right where you want to draft him in standard-scoring leagues, and should Hyde miss time due to injury, Kendall Hunter is my pick to get the early-downs work so #32 is someone you may want to target in the late rounds of your drafts if you're trying to handcuff Hyde (otherwise Hunter isn't really worth drafting unless you're playing in deeper leagues).

Colin Kaepernick isn't a starting QB in fantasy football right now. I can definitely come up with 12 QB's that you should draft before him. Notable regression last season plus question marks about how much better San Francisco's offense may be this season, combined with improved play from QB's such as Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill keep the 49ers QB from being considered a fantasy starter. That being said, Kaepernick is a hot candidate for a bounce back year this season and it wouldn't be shocking to see him finish as a top-10 fantasy QB. His ability to run the ball has a lot to do with this as reports indicate he'll have more of a green light to take off this season and he's a sure bet to score more rushing touchdowns than he did last season (one), especially behind an offensive line that may have problems in pass protection. Torrey Smith's presence also provides Kap with the legitimate deep-play threat he hasn't had in his career as a starting NFL QB and at the very least, Smith will stretch the field to help other pass-catchers get open. Kap's success will ultimately be tied to severe improvement on the 20-15 touchdown-to-turnover ratio he had last season. He should be high on your list as a backup QB since he carries low risk and high reward in that role and he should be drafted about a round earlier than his current 10th round average.

Wide Receiver
Torrey Smith is being drafted one to three rounds ahead of Anquan Boldin and honestly I have no idea what people are doing. While Smith possesses the ability to be on the end of explosive passing plays, he will be playing in a new offense with a new QB who has regressed the past two seasons in his deep ball accuracy. Smith has only had one season with more than 50 catches and/or more than 1,000 receiving yards and isn't likely to score 11 touchdowns once again if he only manages 49 catches. Smith is an intriguing pick undoubtedly, but he should be the second 49ers WR being picked in fantasy drafts.

Anquan Boldin should be the first WR that you target in your drafts. Boldin has continued to build a Hall of Fame resume in San Francisco with back-to-back seasons of 80+ catches (targeted 130 times both years) and 1,000+ yards. While he is not likely to score double-digit touchdowns (he has only achieved this feat once in his career -- in 2008), he has an established rapport with Kaepernick and is someone #7 regularly looks for when the QB needs to make a play. With Smith stretching the field, Boldin should have even more space to roam around and wreck havoc and another finish as a top-30 fantasy WR is not out of the question. Boldin is a higher end WR3 while Smith is a lower end WR3 at the moment.

Other than the two starters, no other wideout may be worth drafting. Vernon Davis rarely misses a snap and Bruce Miller spends enough time on the field that whenever a third WR joins the huddle, he isn't likely to gather up enough stats to be a difference maker for your squad. Bruce Ellington is an intriguing option in deeper PPR leagues but that's about it.

Tight End
Vernon Davis has fallen so far in fantasy football drafts he automatically becomes my candidate for a bounce back season. I mean, he's going UNDRAFTED in some leagues. In all fairness he did have his worst year as a pro last season but there are some reasons to believe he'll bounce back.

For one, he's no longer the only legitimate speed threat on the field. Much like Torrey Smith's presence will create more room for Boldin to roam around, it will also provide Davis with more room to exploit one-on-one matchups with his speed. Unlike last season, when he was holding out for a contract extension, Davis has been an active participant during the offseason and now training camp. He's also on a contract year, a time when a lot of players turn in their best performances as they seek that next big contract. Finally, how soon we forget he scored 13 touchdowns in 2013 as a result of being a red zone target. That, for whatever reason, changed last season, but it would make sense to see Davis become a go-to player in the red zone again which means he could very well double or even triple the amount of touchdowns he scored last season (2). Yes, he may be asked to pass block regularly this season, but he will still be involved plenty in the passing game.

A lot of fantasy football players don't even bother drafting backup TE's and if you are one of those, you're not going to worry about where Davis might fall in your draft. However, if you're one of those who misses out on drafting one of the top 5-6 TE's then you may want to consider stashing Davis in the later rounds and monitor how he performs the first few weeks of the season. You may just get the steal of the draft.

Individual Defensive Players
IDP's can add a fun dimension to your league if you don't mind tracking the performance of defensive players (this isn't as exciting to some as offensive stats). When it comes to IDP's there are a few players in the 49ers defense that you should keep in mind.

NaVorro Bowman will be hottest commodity out on the board. He was a hot candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and while it is reasonable to expect him to perform below that level after missing all of last season, it is also not out of the question to expect top 5-10 numbers out of him at the LB position. He won't last long once IDP's starting coming off the board in your draft so you may be forced to choose between taking a gamble on him early or trying to wait him out for value. Either way you won't get much criticism for me. If you do choose to wait and end up missing out on #53, you might be able to get a late steal with Aldon Smith who, like Vernon Davis, will also be playing for a new contract and is poised for a bounce back season. Assuming he stays out of trouble off the field, the main question mark about #99 is whether he'll be able to perform at a high level without an elite DE in front of him (we'll miss you Justin Smith), but at the price he'll cost you (late rounds) he'll be very low risk with possible high reward.

Speaking of the Cowboy, not even #94 himself was ever a legitimate DL option in fantasy football leagues over the last few seasons. It is difficult for defensive linemen in a 3-4 defense to accumulate the amount of stats needed to be fantasy football relevant. While the 49ers defensive line is made of a lot of promising prospects that may very well keep that group's performance at a high level, the fact is no single player from that group is worth even considering for fantasy football purposes. Good luck drafting JJ Watt.

At DB your options for drafting 49ers players come down to just one guy: Antoine Bethea. In his last 5 seasons in Indianapolis, Bethea averaged over 100 tackles per season and whope he fell short of that mark last season, he made up for it by tying his career-high for interceptions (4), establishing a career-high for passes defended (10), and scoring a touchdown for the first time in his career. With the uncertainty of what the 49ers may be able to get out of their pass rush and cornerbacks, Bethea and fellow safety Eric Reid may rack up a lot of tackles in 2015.

Team Defense
Over the last few seasons, you have probably aimed at drafting the 49ers DEF because of their outstanding stats. If you drafted them last season it probably hurt you and you ended up with a different defense on your roster at season's end. The painful reality is that San Francisco's defense probably is not worth drafting this season. The uncertainty of how the defensive line will perform after Justin Smith's retirement, the perceived lack of depth at inside linebacker after the early retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, and the unknown of how well the cornerbacks may perform add up to too many question marks when there are at least 12 other defenses out there with more promise at this point. And please, for the love of humanity, please oh please do not draft a backup defense unless your league offers a deep bench and high-scoring options for defenses.

Before I get to Phil Dawson there is a rule that I need to establish, which is second only to the rule that no 49ers player should be drafted in the first two rounds. Ready?


I'm serious. It's worse than drafting a backup defense. Take the money league I run, for example. Last season Matt Prater was the first K drafted towards the end of the 9th round (106th overall). It made sense to make him the first kicker to be drafted after he barely finished 2nd in scoring (in our league) and earned 2nd team honors in the All-Pro rosters in 2013, plus he was playing in Denver where the ball flies and Peyton Manning can put up a lot of points. However, the risk of drafting a kicker before the last round of the draft rarely gets a matching reward and as chances would have it, Prater had a forgetful season last year (partly due to the suspension early in the season, but still). Other than Stephen Gostkowski no other kicker over the last few seasons has consistently finished in the top-3 in scoring at this position and even the Patriots' kicker is a risky bet to gamble on earlier in the draft when there's a high chance you may still get a top-scoring kicker in the last round. Me? I stuck to my rule last season as I watched six kickers be drafted (five before the last round) before I rostered Adam Vinatieri with the second pick of the final round. The Colts kicker would end up tied for the second most points by a kicker in our league (trailing only Gostkowski). And why do you want to wait until the last round to draft a kicker? Because those last rounds are your opportunities to buy low on players that your competition might be sleeping on. Ben Roethlisberger was drafted eight spots after Prater and all Big Ben did was finish as the 6th highest scoring QB in the league. The team that drafted Prater? They didn't have too much fun trying to get consistent scoring from the starting QB he drafted in the 7th round (Philip Rivers) and the QB he drafted AFTER picking Prater (Andy Dalton). That team finished last in the league.

I'm not saying there is a direct correlation between picking a kicker before the last round and finishing last in your league, but I'm trying to paint a picture here. DON'T DRAFT A KICKER BEFORE THE LAST ROUND! Once you get to that last round? Sure. Take a flier on Dawson because chances are high that whoever you draft at the K position will be off your roster at some point during the season (even if you end up rostering him back).

Without trying to make more of my strategy more obvious, I'll be happy to answer some general questions in the comments section. Happy drafting everyone.


  • Which 49ers will have the biggest fantasy football season in 2015?
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Carlos Hyde
  • Anquan Boldin
  • Vernon Davis
  • 49ers' Defense
  • Torrey Smith
  • NaVarro Bowman
  • 71 votes
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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