It's a lot to put on the fifth-year quarterback who has struggled with consistency for much of his career, especially when he'll be without coach Jim Harbaugh, and teammates Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith, who are either playing elsewhere or retired.
A season ago, when the 49ers finished 8-8, Kaepernick had career bests in attempts (478), passing yards (3,369) and rushing yards (639), but he also threw more interceptions, took more sacks and lost more fumbles than at any time during his four years in the league.
But according to offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, Kaepernick didn't take a step backwards in 2014.
"And then last year, you're playing with some different sets of challenges," Chryst said, via the MercuryNews.com. There was more change within the offensive line than he had experienced the last couple of years. How does that affect your production as a quarterback? You're behind more often in games. How does that affect your production as a quarterback? I cite the fact that we had six touchdowns nullified by penalty. You plug that back into his formula, he really wasn't ... he didn't regress off his line as much as perceived."
First-year coach Jim Tomsula said in March that Kaepernick not only didn't regress in '14, but he had his best season as a professional, according to the story. The piece added that Kaepernick ranked eighth in QB efficiency in 2013 and 13th the season before that, but none of that matters now because this 49ers team barely resembles the ones that had so much success under Harbaugh. Kaepernick ranks just 14th among QBs on our list. He could turn out to be a nice late-round QB2 who ends up having a bounce-back year, especially if the offense moves to more of a read-option.
It turns out that 69 percent of Frank Gore's rushing attempts last year with the 49ers were made against a defense that had seven or fewer players in the box. Gore rushed for 833 yards and three touchdowns on 179 attempts when there were seven men in the box.
When it came to facing at least eight men in the box, Gore rushed 76 times for 273 yards and a touchdown last season. Gore's 833 yards against seven or fewer defenders in the box would have been enough to lead the Colts in total rushing in each of the past seven seasons.
The Colts didn't have much success rushing the ball when teams loaded the box against them. Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Andrew Luck, Zurlon Tipton and Daniel “Boom” Herron combined to rush for 153 yards on 59 attempts, which is more than 100 yards less than what Gore rushed for.
The numbers don't lie.
The writer concludes that Gore should have plenty of success running the ball this season if the offensive line does its job, because the Colts have too many weapons on offense for defenses to load the box to try to slow Gore down. The hope for the Colts is Gore finally gives them a consistent rushing attack to go with Luck and give the team a bit of balance. Gore is listed 12th on our RB list making him a low-end RB1. Based on ADP, he falls right in that "next tier" of RBs - as the first 11 RBs on our list have ADPs in the first or early second rounds, while Gore's ADP is the early third round. He presents a nice value if you can land him in the third.
Sparano, a former NFL head coach, who spent last year as the Raiders' interim head coach, was blown away by the athletic specimen Davis still is at age 31.
“I’d like to drink from the same fountain as Vernon drinks from because he’s not a 31-year-old athlete,” Sparano said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This guy takes care of his body, he can really run, he’s athletic and still very, very explosive."
Davis turned in the worst performance of his career last season, catching just 26 balls for 245 yards and two touchdowns in 14 starts. As a result, Davis comes in at just 26th on our TE list this year. He's going very late in 12-team leagues with an ADP of the 14th round. If you're league uses two TEs, or even a TE flex, Davis may be worth a flier that late in drafts, but right now we list plenty more potential better options at the position.
The Redskins’ ranked 19th in the NFL in yards gained last year and their 4.2 yards per carry ranked 15th. That’s not good enough for a team that is as unsettled as the Redskins are at quarterback. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III behind center or Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy, the QB will benefit greatly from a running game that is better than something right around the league average.
So there will be changes in way they do things. One is a more power-oriented ground game. The other may be some form of running back by committee.
“The running game nowadays, you need to have a couple of guys that can tote it,” Jay Gruden told Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro on ESPN 980 earlier this week. “Sixteen games is a long time, that’s a lot of games, a lot of carries, that’s a lot of hits on these running backs.”
Gruden said that he would like to split up the carries more than he did last year, when he went with what was mostly a one-back attack. Alfred Morris had 265 rushing attempts. The other tailbacks on the roster, Roy Helu, Silas Redd, and Chris Thompson, combined for 59 rushing attempts. That is 82 percent of the carries for Morris, 18 percent for the rest.
Most backs come into the NFL with some innate ability to run the football. But it’s learning to do the other necessary, less glamorous work that separates an NFL running back from a guy who can find a hole and pick up some yards.
The story went on to say in his three years as the offensive coordinator with the Bengals, Gruden spread the workload in different ways in different seasons. In 2012 he had BenJarvus Green-Ellis take 80 percent of the tailback rushing attempts. But in 2011 it was a 70-30 split between Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott. And in 2013 Cincinnati drafted Giovani Bernard and gave him 170 carries to 220 for Green-Ellis (that’s a 56-44 split in percentage terms). The story also added the roster can often dictate who gets the carries, and Gruden, in the interview, added that Morris would get the bulk of carries with Matt Jones, Chris Thompson and Silas Redd getting chances to get the carries Morris won't get. However, the story continued to say if Gruden can find another running back or two, it could be more of a running back by committee approach than we have seen with this team in the past.
Murray rushed 82 times for 424 yards (a 5.2 YPC) and two touchdowns, including an incredible four-carry, 112-yard, two-TD performance against the Chiefs in Week 12. He still averaged a solid (if unspectacular) 4.0 YPC when that game is excluded. With good size (6'2, 223 lbs) and great speed (4.38 40-yard dash), Murray has all the physical tools to succeed at the position. He even showed solid hands with 17 receptions on 23 targets. Per beat writer Jerry McDonald, Murray will be “given every chance” to win the starting job. According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, a Raiders source said that Murray is “freak” and has a chance to have “a huge year” in 2015.
Saturday, July 11, 2015, 10:06am
Williamson: Sebastian Janikowski is completely safe. He actually had a nice season in 2014. He missed just three field goal attempts after missing nine in 2013. Yes, Janikowski's length is not what it used to be. But at the age of 37, he is still very much a threat. The new PAT rules will result in 33-yard extra-point attempts. Janikowski is 151 of 158 on field-goal attempts of 33 yards or less in his career. I wouldn't expect that mastery to change anytime soon.
Janikowski is way down our kicker list at 28th. It's hard to trust the Raiders despite the fact they seem to be collecting some talent that could allow them to improve offensively. There are safer options at this point.
Sunday, July 5, 2015, 9:00pm
There’s no clearer sign that running back Trent Richardson’s career has not gone as planned than the fact that he’s starting his fourth NFL season on his third team after being the third overall pick by the Browns in the 2012 draft.
If there’s an optimistic spin to put on Richardson signing with the Raiders after an ineffective pair of years in Indianapolis following a trade with Cleveland for a first-round pick, it’s that Richardson will get a fresh start with a new coaching staff. While discussing all of the team’s options at running back, offensive line coach Mike Tice said that the Alabama product has made a good early impression in Oakland.
“Each one has their own style,” Tice said on Sirius XM NFL Radio, via the Raiders website. “I like the [Latavius] Murray kid. He really came on in that veteran mini-camp. He got his legs under him and showed some quickness, some good finish. I thought the young man out of Alabama came on. He lost some weight, his quickness came around.”
Thanks to Murray, Richardson is way down our RB list at 97. Richardson hasn’t gotten high marks on quickness in his first two stops in the NFL, making Tice’s observation a step in the right direction for a player who hasn’t taken enough of them in the last three years, the story said. The Raiders also have Roy Helu, so Richardson will have to battle for playing time.
Sunday, July 5, 2015, 10:12am
Keim: As of now I'd lean toward Alfred Morris being the starter. That's because I haven't seen any proof that Matt Jones will develop into that guy. I also believe Morris will remain productive. After talking to people in the NFL, it's not as if everyone loved Jones and some rated him well below the third round. His game action from Florida was mixed, though I do think he can be a bigger threat on third down than he was at Florida. Jones has the size coaches love and he's shifty so he has a chance. But before I start thinking about discarding Morris I want to see what Jones can do.
Morris ranks 15th on our RB list and continues to be a nice RB2 option for fantasy owners. He continues to be limited by his use in the passing game. Even with Roy Helu out of the picture, we figure on Jones getting more receptions than Morris.
Dorial Green-Beckham spent weeks sidelined by a hamstring injury. That aside, his former college coach believes the Titans have landed the equivalent of a "nightmare matchup for any cornerback at any level."
"I was with the Colts with Jim Mora when he had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, I was with the Raiders when they had Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Jerry Porter and some other guys on the Super Bowl team," University of Texas receivers coach Jay Norvell told the Tennessean.
Norvell spent last season coaching the red-shirted Green-Beckham in practice at Oklahoma, saying: "When you go through the history of the draft and look at the guys with size and speed and all that, he is just unique. Calvin Johnson is probably one of the closest comparisons physically because of his size."
"He's not a finished product, but most players aren't," Norvell said. "So he's going to have to learn the pro game and that's a completely different game from college. But he's got some natural gifts that will help him in that game, and in some ways, the NFL is probably a better game for him than college football, just because of the bump rules and (less) contact and all of that. So there are some advantages he has. ... That's why they picked him."
If Green-Beckham picks up things quickly and proves he’s not as raw as his detractors say — one offensive coordinator said he was “completely lost” at the whiteboard in a pre-draft interview — he could certainly start early in the season opposite Kendall Wright, since it seems that Justin Hunter is on the outs with the current coaching staff. If he sees starter’s snaps, he should be fantasy relevant as a rookie, though he'll have to prove he's ready for the mental side of the game. Long-term, he has a chance to flourish if both he and Marcus Mariota are the real deal.
Amari Cooper possesses the natural talents that could help transform the Raiders' passing offense from a smorgasbord of faulty short threats and singles hitters to one with a playmaker boasting the ability to hit a home run at any moment.
Second-year quarterback Derek Carr sang high praise about his rookie target to 95.7 The Game on Tuesday.
"He (Cooper) is ridiculous in and out of his breaks," said Carr, via the team's official website. "His style of play is perfect for this league. He's good at getting on toes and creating separation. He's good at when the ball is in his hands making those fast-twitch movements to make a guy go one way so he can take it to the house. It's just little things that honestly people don't even notice."
"His work ethic is second to none," Carr added of Cooper. "I was throwing with him as soon as mini-camp was over so we can get more reps in, and our plan was to throw a couple more times, but he texted me that night. He said, 'Hey, let's throw at least three more times. I need to get this one route right.' Just him telling me that kind of stuff, it blew my mind."
"I think the sky's the limit for him, obviously," Carr said. "Hopefully I just get the ball into his hands so he can make the plays."
Cooper should immediately step into the team’s WR1 role. By all accounts he looks like the real deal, and his coaches and teammates have been effusive in their praise of the rookie. He is the safest of the first year wideouts, but touchdowns may be an issue for the offensively-challenged Raiders.
Tandler: If [Chris Thompson] stays healthy he is definitely a threat to get the job but I’m putting my hypothetical money on [Matt Jones]. I think that Jay Gruden and company think that they might have quite an unusual weapon in the rookie and they will give him a shot to see what he can do.
El-Bashir: After getting a good look at Jones in OTAs and minicamp, I’m now expecting the Florida product to end up as a direct replacement for Helu, meaning he’ll occasionally spell Morris and fill the role of third down running back.
Helu finished the season as the #31 RB in PPR formats, and that was with Alfred Morris playing a full season. It's possible that Jones will post RB3 numbers in PPR leagues as Morris's direct backup and Washington's third-down back.
49ers.com writer Joe Fann calls Torrey Smith the team's best free agent addition:
The 49ers needed a compliment to Anquan Boldin, and they found the perfect man for the job. Smith is far more than a one-trick pony. Yes, he excels at stretching the field and getting behind defensive backs, but he’s already shown the ability to catch balls in traffic on short and intermediate routes as well. On two specific minicamp plays, Smith caught the ball on a stopping route, then spun away from his defender and accelerated away from everyone in pursuit. I’m not sure I saw him drop a ball this offseason.
Smith got off to a slow start in 2014, posting just six catches for 85 yards in the first three games. Over the final 13 games of the season, he averaged 3.3 receptions for 52 yards and 0.85 touchdowns, which equates to #20 WR-type numbers in PPR formats. As it stands, he finished as the #29 WR in PPR and #19 in standard formats (thanks to the high touchdown rate), which is the fourth time he has finished in the top 23 (in standard formats) in his four-year career. He joins a 49ers receiving corps that has lost Michael Crabtree and has a still-effective Anquan Boldin as a possession receiver. Smith will serve as a deep threat for QB Colin Kaepernick, though this move has to be considered a downgrade from an offensive/quarterback standpoint since the 49ers are typically run-heavy and Joe Flacco is pretty adept at putting touch on the deep ball. Throwing with touch has not been one of Kaepernick's strengths, though he has been working on his passing technique his offseason.
Redskins beat writer John Keim on the team's backfield split:
Last season Alfred Morris took 66 percent of the Redskins' 401 carries. And in his first three seasons with Washington, Morris took 64 percent. That's a good number for him, and if he's running well then I'd expect that to continue. I think the other part is that we don't know how well Matt Jones will run the ball in the NFL. If he's running well, then I could see him getting a handful of carries per game. Regardless, he'll have a role as a third-down back. Also, if the Redskins are as committed to the run as they say, then they should have at least 50 more carries than last season's total of 401. That won't change the percentage, but it would mean more chances for both. Another factor is how often they use the zone-read option. If it's less of a factor, then that's more carries for Morris/Jones to split.
Morris should continue to be a fringe RB1 in standard formats and a solid RB2 in PPR leagues. It sounds like Jones will take over the role vacated by Roy Helu.
Montee Ball had a disappointing 2014 season in which he was supposed to run away with the starting job. While Ball’s downfall can be linked to his appendectomy before the season, this season he finds himself behind Denver’s breakout star from 2014 C.J. Anderson.
While Ball remains optimistic that he’ll find a way to regain his position as Denver’s featured back, Troy Renck says his time has come and gone.
“If C.J. Anderson stays healthy, his commitment is at a new level,” Renck said. “I don’t see Ball getting the chance to prove that anymore. I think the window closed on him last year. It’s a bellcow offense, the back doesn’t rotate in and out.”
Anderson began to see starter-type touches in Week 10 with 17 touches for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. Over the final eight weeks, he averaged 24.0 touches for 132 yards and 1.3 TD, and was the #1 RB in that span. If the Broncos commit to Anderson (and why wouldn’t they?), he should thrive under new HC Gary Kubiak, who just coaxed a career year out of journeyman Justin Forsett.
Redskins beat writer Rich Tandler:
Matt Jones was on the field with the first unit early and often. I think they have major expectations for the rookie.
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