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Sneaky fantasy pickups entering Week 13

11/30/2012

The San Francisco 49ers' quarterback situation has been a hot topic for fantasy owners over the past few weeks that seemingly won't go away.

But as we dig deeper in yet another Friday Sneaky Pickups blog entry, it's time to focus on a different area of the 49ers: their running back depth. Frank Gore owners have nothing to worry about at this time, as the veteran has played splendidly and there's little reason to expect that to cease, but his top backup is out for the season, creating opportunity for others.

Gore ranks ninth in standard running back scoring for the season, but Kendall Hunter was averaging more than seven touches per game and five yards per carry. Hunter, done after tearing his Achilles, was owned in more than 10 percent of leagues, reasonable since he was the handcuff for a 29-year-old running back.

The 49ers will now turn to one of three options in relief, an older and experienced Brandon Jacobs, a potentially exciting rookie who hasn't touched the football in a regular-season game in LaMichael James or the well-liked but barely used veteran Anthony Dixon.

Jacobs is the obvious pick, and if he can be at all effective, it's hardly a reach to expect him factoring into goal-line and short-yardage opportunities right away. James was ultraproductive at Oregon, is built much like Hunter and has the speed to get to the outside (Jacobs surely does not) and the pass-catching ability. While it seems unlikely that James would see an opportunity anytime soon, remember this is a team that recently handed its quarterback job to an untested sophomore despite the reliable veteran being healthy enough to play. Normal rules don't apply. Jacobs has experience, and even last season, when he plodded his way to 3.8 yards per rush, he scored eight touchdowns. He is owned in only 6 percent of ESPN standard formats.

The overlooked option is Dixon, a 25-year-old with 41 rushing attempts since the start of the 2011 season. Dixon is a capable blocker, which still matters even with a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, but fantasy owners should rank Jacobs first among the Gore backups, then James on the upside and finally Dixon. If you're a Gore owner, this is something to consider.

Quarterback: With the fantasy playoffs approaching, it's tough to find anyone sneaky to add among the quarterbacks, since there are at least 15 guys worthy of starting in a 10-team league. One situation to watch in deeper formats is in Oakland, where the Raiders are going nowhere and former Ohio State athlete Terrelle Pryor is under contract. Carson Palmer has done nothing wrong, but neither had Kyle Orton for a terrible Denver Broncos team when he lost the starting role in December 2010. If you're a Palmer owner, make sure you're prepared for anything. ... I don't see any other awful teams making quarterback switches just because they can. The Eagles and Browns have their rookies playing. The Cardinals and Chiefs have nothing appealing. The Jaguars will go with Chad Henne. The Bills could take a look at Tarvaris Jackson, but good luck with that. What about the Jets? No, not with Tim Tebow but with Greg McElroy. Hey, what do they have to lose?

Running back: Keep an eye on what the Giants do with the touches when Ahmad Bradshaw isn't in the game, though word from North Jersey is that Bradshaw might not be sharing much. It's wholly presumed that rookie David Wilson is next in line, and I don't really doubt that, despite seeing what the Denver Broncos did in Week 12 with Ronnie Hillman. Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin were signed as depth this week. Torain saw carries in only one game against the Giants in his two seasons with the Washington Redskins, but one Wilson fumble and this situation changes. ... Philadelphia Eagles rookie Bryce Brown went from unowned to fantasy's top running back in Week 12. Who does that in Week 13? Well, nobody has been entrusted with the obvious opportunity, but Chris Rainey in Pittsburgh is somewhat intriguing. Everyone seems to love Jonathan Dwyer, but he has averaged less than 3 yards per carry in two of the past three weeks. I don't buy the team committing to him. ... Similarly, why presume DeAngelo Williams will suddenly step in and rock with Jonathan Stewart out in Carolina? Mike Tolbert has had a miserable season statistically, but he should get more chances in Week 13.

Wide receiver: There are so many wide receivers playing at a high level, as opposed to running back, so there's less need to be sneaky. Still, the 49ers lost Kyle Williams to a torn ACL, and some guy named Randy Moss -- ever heard of him? -- could see more targets. ... Cole Beasley stepped up in Week 12 with Miles Austin out, and the Cowboys face a brutal Eagles defense this week. Austin could miss the game. ... Speaking of Philly, with DeSean Jackson done for the season -- give him some credit, he had zero dropped passes -- it means Riley Cooper will start. Cooper should be a red zone option, at the least. ... The Chargers' Vincent Brown is supposedly running at full speed and ready to start practicing. Can he give us two or three relevant weeks? ... The Giants threw all over the Packers in Week 12. In Week 13, Christian Ponder and the Vikings get that chance. Jarius Wright, who had seven catches on 10 targets against the Bears, should again replace an ailing Percy Harvin. ... I doubt we see Travis Benjamin get major snaps for the Cleveland Browns anytime soon, but he's a speedster and the schedule is friendly.

Good luck to all in Week 13 and beyond!