At the same time, Michael Turner was safely near the top of fantasy mock draft boards, prepping for a season in which he would churn out nearly 1,400 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
The 49ers, coached by Mike Singletary, were halfway to an undefeated preseason, one which suggested some optimism for when the games began to count. That optimism faded quickly in the form of an 0-5 start, one which would eventually cost Singletary his job and lead San Francisco to pursue an upstart college coaching prospect, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh.
Yes, things were a little different three years ago.
And yes, they'll be different three years down the line.
But that won't stop us from taking out the long-range lens.
So, thinking ahead, let's assess the top 20 players who will be worth an early pick in fantasy drafts or command a substantial investment in auction leagues. If they're already on a roster in your league, these names will make tempting targets on the trade market (though owners should be sure to demand top dollar). Note that our criteria for these keeper targets is that we believe they project to be worth an early-round pick or an extremely high bid for at least three seasons down the line, not just for a single season. Simply put -- keepers.
Some are fantasy-relevant (or even stars) now. Others? We're going with our instincts.
Richardson has dealt with some injury issues already, but hasn't suffered a major tear or break in his lower half. His ferocious, physical style of running will lead to bumps and bruises along the way. But at age 22 -- and with the ability to play on all three downs and in a favorable offense under Norv Turner -- Richardson is as good as it gets from a keeper perspective.