2013 Outlook: In '12, Gore played 16 games for the second straight year, easing concerns that he'll inevitably get hurt. How have the 49ers kept him healthy? It's tempting to say a diminished workload, but Big Frank was still 12th in the NFL in rush attempts last year. More than anything, we think it's the quality of his offensive line. As a road-grading group, this 49ers offensive line is unmatched. Gore averaged more than three yards before contact per carry, a number that put him among the NFL's elite speed RBs last year, and he's no speed merchant. He's just got room to run. Gore won't get near 300 touches in '13, but he doesn't need to. If he stays healthy, even at age 30 another solid season awaits.
2013 Outlook: Kaepernick's physical tools are an unholy amalgam of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, and when the 49ers unleashed the full power of their read-option attack in the playoffs, he was well-nigh unstoppable. Big-armed, accurate, athletic freaks who break 50-yard TD runs don't grow on trees. A couple drawbacks: We're not positive Jim Harbaugh will unshackle Kap's downfield ability, given the team's lack of a proven speed receiver, plus when a QB runs the chances for an injury increase. But Kaepernick started seven regular-season games last year, and his prorated stats would've been 3,675 pass yards, 544 rush yards, 23 pass TDs and five rush TDs. That would've made him fantasy's No. 9 QB, and he was just getting started. We're buying.
2013 Outlook: Ranking Davis as a fantasy starter requires a leap of faith, because he was a disaster in '12, catching fewer than two passes per contest in the seven regular-season games after Colin Kaepernick became the 49ers' QB. But in the playoffs, Davis had two 100-yard efforts, disproving the cranky notion that he and Kaepernick can't coexist, and he's just too darned talented not to figure this out. No question, he's a tough man to trust. But a bounce-back to '10 and '11 levels feels like a given, and we've seen Davis' monstrous upside before: He had 13 TDs back in '09. He's still only 29, and may be the fastest pass catcher on his team. We're buying low.
2013 Outlook: During the '12 season, Boldin put up stats you'd expect from a receiver on his career's downside. Then he posted one of the best WR postseasons in history (22 catches, 380 yards, four TDs), convincing the casual fan he's still in his prime. Now Boldin lands in San Francisco, where Jim Harbaugh has raved about him. But this is a player who had seven combined TDs the past two years while failing to eclipse 1,000 yards in either season. Michael Crabtree's torn Achilles is going to put pressure on Boldin to produce, but we're not optimistic that's enough to make Boldin more than a flex option.
2013 Outlook: This San Francisco defense is mean. They may have ranked outside the top 10 in picks and fumble recoveries last year, but they ranked inside the top four in rushing yards and passing yards allowed and were second in fewest points allowed. The Brothers Smith (Justin and Aldon) are ferocious coming off the edges, and Navorro Bowman recorded 149 tackles in '12. Losing Dashon Goldson might hurt, but the Niners have high hopes for rookie strong safety Eric Reid, a first-rounder this April. Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio have built a winning defense by the Bay.
2013 Outlook: Dawson had spent his entire 14-year career lost in a mostly mediocre Browns offense, but now he moves to San Francisco at the same time as the Colin Kaepernick Era truly begins. Dawson converted a league-high 93.5 percent of his field-goal attempts in '12, which should be a refreshing change for a 49ers squad that was saddled with David Akers' 69 percent conversion rate last season. The Niners actually provided Akers with a league-high 42 attempts last year; if great percentage meets elite attempts, Dawson will be a fantasy star.
2013 Outlook: James was a healthy scratch for the first 12 games of his rookie season, until Kendall Hunter tore an Achilles'. After that, James proved he's not too small to play at least a part-time role in the NFL. In December and January, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry as Frank Gore's understudy and provided a spark in the playoffs. Hunter is expected back in time for training camp, but we're skeptical he'll have his regular burst right away. Nevertheless, should Gore suffer an injury in his age-30 season, we'd probably be looking at a James/Hunter platoon.
2013 Outlook: At the tail end of an impressive sophomore campaign, Hunter tore his left Achilles' and missed the 49ers' playoff push. The team expects him back by training camp, but we're skeptical he can regain his old burst right away after such a severe injury. LaMichael James was terrific in December and January, so although we've long been fans of Hunter's career potential, it's hard to view him as a clear handcuff to Gore. In the event of an injury to the 30-year-old veteran, we imagine a Hunter/James split would frustrate fantasy owners.
2013 Outlook: Jenkins was a surprise first-round pick by the 49ers in '12, but played in only three games and had zero catches as a rookie. We're skeptical a breakout is forthcoming, because Jenkins seems to us like a straight-line runner without natural receiving skills, but he could get a chance to log significant snaps in '13, as Michael Crabtree tore an Achilles this summer. Theoretically, Jenkins could be the deep threat the Niners lack, and until the team acquires another veteran WR, he could be a favorite to start. Still, we consider him more waiver-wire acquisition than fantasy draftee.
2013 Outlook: Patton was ultra-productive at Louisiana Tech against inferior competition, but his skills should translate to the NFL. A fluid athlete and pro-level route runner, he also has nice hands and good enough speed to turn into a legit outside NFL receiver. In his rookie campaign, he'll be a candidate to return punts and kicks, but he could also get involved on offense, where Michael Crabtree's torn Achilles could open up playing time. Anquan Boldin and A.J. Jenkins may be ahead of him to start the season, but Patton has enough polish to contribute early, having drawn pre-draft comparisons to Reggie Wayne.
2013 Outlook: McCoy is only 25, and it's unfair to say he'll never start in the NFL again. But to truly be effective as a pro, he'll need a system that caters exactly to his skills: He's an accurate thrower and a smart guy, but he's got a popgun arm. The 49ers are a weird fit for him. Colin Kaepernick has a rifle for a throwing arm and is incredibly mobile. For sure, running the read-option makes Kaepernick a candidate to get injured. But would McCoy take advantage of the opportunity to start in this system? We have our doubts.