I’ve compiled projections from Football Outsiders (FO), ESPN, Yahoo, and CBS Sports. What I’ve found might come as a surprise to some: Neither the 49ers nor Raiders have much in the way of draftable players. Shocker, I know.
I should note that projections can’t really capture the uncertainty of the season. Two seasons ago, I drafted Arian Foster, thinking, “Why not?” His contributions helped me win both the leagues I participated in that year. Last season, in an attempt to find that “lighting-in-a-bottle” type player, I selected Peyton Hillis — in both my leagues — and was utterly disappointed. I’ve concluded that fantasy football success is something of a crapshoot. I mean, who could have predicted the success of the 49ers defense? Or of Matt Forte?
If you think you can, you’re lying to yourself. If you’re citing your intuition as proof, you’re delusional. Sure, your intuition might be right on occasion, but, more often than not, it’s wrong. You’re just not keeping an accurate count. This is what the scientific community calls “confirmation bias.”
Anyway, on to the distilled fantasy projections:
Palmer’s projections are all over the place, which is to be expected. I see Palmer as something of a wild card. He’s certainly got plenty going for him: A wealth of speed at receiver and a dynamic running back to keep defenses honest. Still, Palmer’s bugaboo is his interception rate. He’ll probably throw quite a few touchdowns, but he’ll likely match those touchdowns with interceptions. Depending on your league’s scoring rubric, the interceptions might be too costly to chance picking Palmer late. In any case, he’s worth keeping an eye on.
I’m not sure I believe Smith’s projections. Unlike Palmer, it is clear that Smith doesn’t have much touchdown potential. The 49ers don’t seem ready to abandon the run-first offense just yet. The 49ers added two running backs this offense and have also installed some sort of option-game with back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick. These facts alone make Smith undraftable. I know, they signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and drafted AJ Jenkins. But last year, they signed Braylon Edwards and promised to use Delanie Walker more. If Dennis Green were here, he’d say the 49ers offense is who we think they are: Pass anemic.
McFadden is easily the most intriguing player on either team. He has the biggest potential, especially now that Raiders head coach Dennis Allen has declared McFadden his goal-line/short-yardage back. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp even went so far as to mention Foster’s name when discussing McFadden’s goal-line potential. “I’ve always had a belief that the No. 1 back can still be the goal-line back, doesn’t have to necessarily be a bigger, stronger guy,” said Knapp. “My experience tells me so, last couple years it was Arian Foster (who) had a lot of success. Warrick Dunn was one the best inside-tackle runners I’ve ever been around as a coach. It’s not just the back that requires the execution of the play. So it didn’t bother me to have him in there, we just didn’t get it executed across the board.”
McFadden has the potentially to carry a fantasy football team; however, like Palmer, McFadden comes with great risk–injury risk, that is. McFadden’s injury history should remove him from the first three rounds or so, but it won’t. His average draft position is the middle of the first round, according to CBS Sports. Proceed with caution.
Gore is an enigma–he has been much of his career, actually. He’s never been one to get many touchdowns, but he has been a consistent yard-getter (am I making that term up?). He’s averaged over 1,000 yards per season for his career –rushed for 1,000 or more in all but two of his seven career seasons. Still, with Gore, there are a number of concerns, most of which would be his age. As crazy as it sounds, at age 29, Gore is primed for regression. Many of the more prolific runners in NFL history have seen precipitous drops in production after the age of 28. Gore could be among them.
Another concern with Gore would be the company he shares in the 49ers’ backfield. With Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, and Brandon Jacobs, carries are going to be difficult to come by, which doesn’t bode well for the aging Gore. In all, I wouldn’t be comfortable drafting him.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Darrius Heyward-Bey / Denarius Moore / Brandon Myers
Heyward-Bey (DHB) practically redeemed his “bust” status last season, accumulating 975 yards on 64 receptions. Not surprisingly, no major publication, aside from CBS, has much faith in DHB to continue last season’s success. And I don’t really blame them. A second season with Palmer certainly helps DHB, but I’m just not a believer. I wasn’t when the Raiders drafted him, and I still wasn’t after realizing he’s been statistically more productive than Michael Crabtree. That said, he might be worth a late-round selection, as he’ll definitely get a good amount of targets this season — especially if Denarius Moore’s injury issues persist.
Speaking of Moore, he’s got a lot in common with McFadden, insofar as Moore is a boom or bust type selection. If he builds on last season, Moore could be a top-15 wide receiver in the league — maybe even better. Still, the risk is very real. According to ESPN’s KC Joyner, Moore was the AFC’s most overrated wide receiver. “The problem for Moore is that he has yet to display any type of ability to beat tough competition,” Joyner writes. “As noted in my 2012 fantasy football guide, when Moore was covered by red- or yellow-rated cornerbacks (the two best cornerback ratings), he was a non-factor. His 4.0 YPA against that coverage level was 46th out of 47 wide receivers with at least 30 targets under the same circumstances.” This is obviously cause for concern. The Raiders certainly don’t have another receiver who can take the pressure of Moore — well, unless you count DHB.
What is there to say about Myers that he hasn’t already said himself? “Definitely,” said Myers when asked if he was the starter. There you have it, Raiders’ fans. Myers is the starter. How much potential does he have? Well, it’s dubious. But if you ask him, he’s got a good chance at making a difference. “There’s a lot of different formations and so many opportunities to make plays,” Myers said. “I’m not going to line up wide but I’m an all-around tight end. I can run block, pass block and catch passes across the middle” (my emphasis).
Michael Crabtree / Mario Manningham / Vernon Davis
Crabtree might have all the tools — speed excluded — to be a productive wideout, but he doesn’t have the track record. In fact, Crabtree’s track record is one of underachievement. Whether this is the result of the offense in which he plays or his own issues with motivation, I can’t say. What I can say is don’t draft him. Crabtree might get yardage, but he won’t get touchdowns. He had only four touchdowns last season, one of which was thrown by David Akers — or was it Andy Lee? This season, he’ll have to compete with the likes of Randy Moss for passes. It’s a recipe for fantasy disaster.
Everything I wrote about Crabtree could be written about Manningham. As a college player, his skills were so pronounced that he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award in 2007, a season in which he accumulated 72 receptions for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns. But, as a pro, he has yet to translate his physical skill into production. Even last year, despite playing in a prolific offense, Manningham recorded only four touchdowns. In this offense, we can expect even less.
Vernon Davis might be the only 49ers’ receiver we can expect production from. He is a staple in the 49ers offense, having a pretty clear chemistry with Alex Smith. He should lead the team in targets this season. He is also a huge mismatch for opponents, which means he’ll likely have more opportunities to score. While I don’t love the 49ers’ offense, I love Vernon Davis. Somebody is bound to score; so why not Davis?
Davis and McFadden aside, it is difficult to endorse any Bay Area player. There are just too many unknowns. Sure, neither the 49ers or Raiders are unique in this uncertainty. But neither team has produced a true fantasy star of the past decade or so, kickers notwithstanding. Because of that, I am more inclined to look elsewhere in my fantasy draft–perhaps Seattle.