QB Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco)
In the 8 games Kaepernick played with Michael Crabtree last season, Kaepernick completed 59.2% of his passes for an average of 7.78 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in those 8 games, numbers more reminiscent of 2012. That’s as opposed to 56.7% completion, 7.41 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in their other 11 games. Now he has a full season of Michael Crabtree healthy, to go with Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Steve Johnson. The 49ers’ receivers are now more talented than their running backs and with NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Glenn Dorsey all expected to miss significant time with injury on defense, their defense won’t be as good, which will force them to pass more often. There’s a lot of potential here.
3750 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 400 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns (302 pts standard)
RB Frank Gore (San Francisco)
Frank Gore is going into his age 31 season with 2187 career touches. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000-yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Gore is “only” 29th all-time with 9,967 rushing yards and he could easily see his abilities completely fall off of a cliff this season or suffer some sort of significant injury.
He already showed signs of decline last season, rushing for 1128 yards and 9 touchdowns on 276 carries, an average of just 4.09 yards per carry. That’s the worst YPC season of his career. He was even worse in the 2nd half of the season, averaging 3.61 yards per carry on 164 carries in his final 10 games, going over 4 yards per carry in just 3 games and totaling 3 touchdowns. He also doesn’t do much as a pass catcher anymore, with 61 catches for 489 yards and a touchdown over the past 3 seasons combined.
210 carries for 840 yards, 7 total touchdowns, 15 catches for 100 yards (136 pts standard)
RB Carlos Hyde (San Francisco)
Carlos Hyde, a 2nd round rookie, will be Gore’s primary backup and has a good chance of being their lead back long-term. He could end up having a significant role as a rookie if Gore gets hurt or declines significantly this season. That’s certainly not unlikely, so Hyde is worth a late round flier, especially for owners who ended up with Gore.
120 carries for 520 yards, 5 total touchdowns, 18 catches for 140 yards (96 pts standard)
WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco)
Down the stretch in 2012, Crabtree looked on his way to finally becoming the top receiver the 49ers envisioned he’d become when they drafted him 10th overall in 2009. After Kaepernick took over as the starter full time in week 11, Crabtree caught 61 passes for 880 yards and 8 touchdowns in 10 games, including playoffs. That’s 98 catches for 1408 yards and 13 touchdowns over 16 games. The issue is he tore his Achilles in May of 2013, which caused him to miss 11 games in 2013 and limited him upon his return.
Last season, he caught 34 passes for 487 yards and a touchdown in 8 games (including playoffs), 68 passes for 974 yards and 2 touchdowns over 16 games, which is nowhere near as good as he was down the stretch in 2012, but incredibly impressive considering he was just 6-8 months removed from that injury. Assuming he’s healthy, and he should be as he’ll be 16+ months removed from his injury, Crabtree could surpass his career best line of 85/1105/9 from 2012, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked wide receiver, catching 72.0% of targets for an average of 2.55 yards per route run. The 49ers will pass more often this season with Frank Gore aging and their defense taking big hits this off-season and Crabtree should be Kaepernick’s #1 guy.
84 catches for 1160 yards and 9 touchdowns (170 pts standard)
WR Anquan Boldin (San Francisco)
The 49ers’ leading receiver last season in Crabtree’s absence was Anquan Boldin, who caught 85 passes for 1179 yards and 7 touchdowns on 123 targets (69.1%) and 462 routes run, an average of 2.55 yards per route run. Unlike Davis, he didn’t have his production affected by Crabtree’s return. In fact, he was even more productive with Crabtree in the lineup, as he caught 49 passes for 682 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 8 games that Crabtree played, as opposed to 52 passes for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns in the other 11 games.
The issue is he’s going into his age 34 season. That being said, he didn’t show any decline last season. In fact, he had one of the best seasons of his career, going above 1000 yards for the first time since 2009. He also doesn’t have a significant injury history and has only missed 4 games over the past 5 seasons combined. On top of that, he’s never been someone reliant on his athleticism, dominating with his ability to make contested catches first and foremost, and that’s not something that’s going to go away with age as fast as athleticism might. He won’t be as good as last season though. He could also see fewer targets just because Crabtree is now 100%. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he finished with a receiving yards total between 837 and 921, like he did in every season from 2010-2012.
68 catches for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns (133 pts standard)
TE Vernon Davis (San Francisco)
One player that Crabtree’s return will hurt is tight end Vernon Davis. When Crabtree is in the lineup, Kaepernick tends to ignore Vernon Davis. In 18 games with Crabtree in the lineup and Kaepernick under center, including playoffs, Davis has 43 catches for 679 yards and 8 touchdowns and he has 38 catches for 623 yards and 9 touchdowns in the other 10 games he’s played with Kaepernick under center. The 49ers haven’t passed enough for both Crabtree and Davis to put up big numbers. The good news is the 49ers might open it up more this season, with their defense taking big hits this off-season and their pass catchers now being better than their running backs, which would get Davis more targets. Don’t expect huge things from him though.
48 catches for 700 yards and 7 touchdowns (112 pts standard)