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Team Previews: 2008 San Francisco 49ers Preview

Corey Bertram

Corey Bertram writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


By Corey Bertram
RotoWire Staff Writer


If you were an out-of-work NFL signal-caller last season, odds are the 49ers made contact with you at some point during the season, as the team lost three starting quarterbacks to injury; Alex Smith (separated shoulder), Trent Dilfer (concussion) and Shaun Hill (finger). The 49ers entered 2007 with high hopes after an encouraging 2006 season, and the consensus around the league was that they were ready to dethrone, or at least challenge, the Seahawks for the division crown. Alex Smith was coming off a much improved 2006 season in which he threw for 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions (after a horrendous rookie season), running back Frank Gore was coming off a monster season in which he ran for almost 1,700 yards, and the 49ers also brought in much-needed weapons for Smith, acquiring receivers Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie. The defense was also much improved and the pieces seemed to be in place for the 49ers to make their first playoff appearance since 2002.

Those high hopes were dismissed early in the 2007 season, as the 49ers' offense sputtered out of the gate and never got back on track. The unit finished the campaign ranked dead last in total offense - the second time in the past three seasons the team has held that distinction under head coach Mike Nolan. The loss of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was given much of the credit for Smith's progress during the 2006 season, along with Smith's separated shoulder, had major impacts on the QB's disappointing season. Darrell Jackson, who was set to assume the No. 1 receiver role, was a major disappointment and released after only one season. On the other side of the ball, the defense held its own, led by NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, linebacker Patrick Willis. At times, Willis seemed to be a one-man tackling machine, as he amassed a league-high 174 tackles.

This offseason, Mike Martz was brought in as the new offensive coordinator. Martz, who has done little since his glory days of the "Greatest Show on Turf" with the Rams, will not have nearly the weapons he had in St. Louis. He inherits a 49ers' offense that has numerous question marks heading into 2008. The quarterback situation is unsettled and the offensive line is not talented enough to block man-on-man to take full advantage of Martz' pass happy offensive game plan. Historically, he tends to abandon the running game - which is the one strength the 49ers have on offense - in favor of opening up the passing game. On paper, at least, it appears the team will be attempting to fit square pegs into round holes this season.


2008 Draft

Round, Overall, Player

1. (29) Kentwan Balmer, DE, North Carolina
Joins free agent signee DE Justin Smith on the defensive line.

2. (39) Chilo Rachal, G, USC
Young, but may get an opportunity on an unsettled offensive line.

3. (75) Reggie Smith, CB, Oklahoma
A big hitter who can play both corner and safety.

4. (107) Cody Wallace, C, Texas A&M
Primarily a center but can also play guard.

6. (174) Josh Morgan, WR, Virginia Tech
Speedster whose best chance to stick is on special teams.

7. (214) Larry Grant, LB, Ohio State
Will get a chance to learn from the best rookie LB last season (Patrick Willis).

Key Acquisitions

Isaac Bruce, WR (Rams)
Reunites with Mike Martz, but how much tread is left on the tires?

DeShaun Foster, RB (Panthers)
Annual underachiever who could provide a capable backup to starter Frank Gore.

Bryant Johnson, WR (Cardinals)
Played behind superstars in Arizona but will get a shot this season.

Allen Rossum, CB/KR (Steelers)
Slated to take over as primary return guy.

Key Losses

Darrell Jackson, WR (Broncos)
Gone after one horrible season and won't be missed.

Trent Dilfer, QB (Retired)
Concussions and age caught up with him, but his leadership will be missed.

Derek Smith, LB (Chargers)
Was expendable after the youth movement at the linebacker position.



The Niners have invested big money in former number one overall pick, Alex Smith, and picked up his team option for 2008. Smith, who is coming off an ineffective and injury-filled season, played in only seven games last years. Offseason reports are that his shoulder should be back to full strength by training camp. Shaun Hill was the most effective quarterback for the team last season, but he played in only three games at the end of the season, starting two and winning both, before suffering a finger injury and missing Week 17. Unheralded J.T. O'Sullivan was hand-picked by new offensive coordinator Mike Martz to be the third-string quarterback, and given the injury issues and limited success that Smith and Hill have had, he could see some playing time this season. The safe money would be on Smith being the starter in Week 1, but he may be on a short leash.


Mike Martz was hired as offensive coordinator in an effort to kick-start an attack that has been downright "offensive" the past three seasons, finishing last in total offense in 2005 and 2007. Martz, who has been in football purgatory (a.k.a. Detroit) the past two seasons, will now get a chance to prove whether or not the title of "offensive genius" is legit. On paper, the 49ers' personnel does not fit the mold of the typical Martz offense. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The team's offense is geared towards ball control, with a solid running game and improving defense, whereas the typical Martz offense consists of a pass-heavy game plan.


Typically, a Martz offense generates wide receiver production, but the 49ers may not have a prototypical No. 1 target. Former Ram Isaac Bruce enjoyed some good years under Martz, but he's not getting any younger. Arnaz Battle was the team's most productive wideout last season, but he doesn't fit the mold of a top wide receiver. One of the potentially biggest acquisitions this offseason was the signing of Bryant Johnson, who played in the shadow of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in Arizona. A number of things need to fall into place for Johnson this season, but he could emerge under the tutelage of Martz.


Rising: Frank Gore is healthy, and with his receiving skills, he will be a dual threat in Mike Martz's offense. Gore will be undervalued in most leagues, and could catch 70 balls, to go along with 1,400 yards and 10-12 touchdowns on the ground.

Declining: Alex Smith seems lost since Norv Turner left and is coming off an injury to his throwing shoulder. Stay away.

Sleeper: Someone has to get those yards that a Martz offense will churn out in the receiving game and that someone will be Bryant Johnson.

Supersleeper: The Niners re-signed Shaun Hill for a reason, as they are not sold on Smith. Hill made the most of his limited playing time last season, and if given the opportunity, he could again this year.


Patrick Willis, LB
The undisputed leader of an improving defense racked up big numbers (174 tackles and four sacks) as a rookie.

Justin Smith, DE
78 tackles and two sacks in '07, but the Niners may have overpaid for a player on the downside of his career.

Nate Clements, CB
92 tackles, four interceptions, and one sack last year from the solid but unspectacular corner.

Team Defense:
RotoWire Rank: 26

Article first appeared 5/29/08