Fantasy football roundtable (cont.)
3. What can fantasy owners expect from the Niners' offensive weapons with Colin Kaepernick now at quarterback?
Beacom: The 49ers have actually passed the ball more these last two weeks with Kaepernick under center than when Alex Smith was in the lineup -- from passing 35.7 percent of the time to 44.4 percent. Long term, though, the change may not mean much. No wide receiver has emerged as Kaepernick's "favorite" yet, and Frank Gore's fantasy production will likely be more affected by Kendall Hunter's health than by the change at quarterback.
Carroll: They certainly feel more free and it seems like it's opened the field, but I'm trying to rein people in. The Saints' defense has been loose all year and it felt like Chicago just had no book on him. Both have been impressive performances, but I want to see what happens over the next few weeks before I really buy in on him as a good quarterback. Seeing St. Louis again will be a challenge and if he can adjust to the Patriots' defense -- which confused the heck out of Andrew Luck -- then I'll be willing to adjust as well. My biggest question now is where he ranks for next year. Is his ADP much above where we would have ranked Smith?
Mack: It is still too early to say. Against a great defense (the Bears), Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree looked like viable fantasy starters, if not stars, with Kaepernick at the helm. But, against an awful defense (the Saints), Davis and Crabtree were huge disappointments. Kaepernick has the big arm and will learn on the fly, but the only information we have from him on how he will assist his primary targets' fantasy owners is inconsistent. Start Crabtree and Davis next week, but consider it an audition week for the crucial fantasy postseason games ahead.
Sabino: I try to shy away from hyperbole whenever possible, but I believe Kaepernick will be for the 49ers what everyone has hoped Tim Tebow would become: a great runner who is also a technically-sound mobile pocket passer with a strong arm. His ability to run the ball both to escape trouble and as part of the game plan gives the Niners a dimension they didn't have with Smith under center and insulates Kaepernick from having a truly dreadful fantasy week. He has yet to fully mesh with the 49ers' weapons like Davis, Crabtree and Mario Manningham, most of whom saw their fantasy numbers muted by playing in a conservative offense with a game manager at quarterback. With Kaepernick in the huddle it's safe to look for things to continue to open up for San Francisco's playmakers.
4. What players on NFL also-rans do you trust to produce down the stretch for fantasy teams?
Beacom: The Detroit and New Orleans passing games should finish the year strong, of course, and I see no reason to believe the Titans will shut Chris Johnson down early. One lesser-talked-about player who could give fantasy owners a boost come playoff time is San Diego wide receiver Danario Alexander. Over the past month he has transformed from bit player to No. 1 receiver (73.0 yards a game). It will be exciting to see what the next month has in store.
Carroll: I think Trent Richardson will continue to produce and will have to be considered in the top tier of fantasy running backs next season. Justin Blackmon continues to emerge for the Jags (and he seems better with Chad Henne.) I'm very curious to see Cam Newton over the next few weeks. I seem like one of few people that still believe in his talent. I'll be happy to draft him as my QB2 next season.
Mack: You have to like what Blackmon and Cecil Shorts have going with Chad Henne as the quarterback in Jacksonville now, while Newton showed Monday night he is still a beast when he's not playing a top contender. Newton should be at his best down the stretch, while Blackmon and Shorts are nice sleepers to use as needed. Your Chiefs, Browns (ones not named Richardson), Raiders, Eagles and Cardinals are all suspect. Those are the ones to be worried about. All the other teams in the NFL still have some kind of pulse right now.
Sabino: It's funny that this early in the season there are so many also-rans. A few who jump out at me are the Lions' Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson with Ryan Broyles following behind. I also love the productivity that Shorts, Blackmon and Henne have been giving the Jaguars lately. Chris Johnson also has been lights-out since his 1½-year slump ended, and I'm also high on C.J. Spiller, who has hit double-digit standard league fantasy points in nine of his 11 games, including six in a row.