- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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You know all about the Arizona Cardinals, enjoying first place and aiming for the franchise's second winning record and playoff appearance since Ronald Reagan's first presidential term. It's been a while. This current group features a possible MVP quarterback in Kurt Warner (NFL and fantasy), an emerging stud running back in Tim Hightower and a pair of productive wide receivers we routinely rank in our top 10.
What do the San Francisco 49ers feature? There's a pretty decent running back there in Frank Gore, but chances are the only time you paid attention to this team recently was when the new interim head coach sent his malcontent tight end to the showers during a game and delivered a memorable postgame rant.
It's time for Mike Singletary's 49ers to step up, show some pride in their lone Monday night appearance, and be the offensive powerhouse guru Mike Martz was expecting. For this potential scoring show to happen, the team needs its quarterback to do more positive than negative; thus, it has summoned a new leader, bringing in relief pitcher Shawn Hill. Wait, isn't Hill a starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals?
Oh, we mean Shaun Hill, the starting quarterback for San Fran in a few December games a season ago, and hey, he looked pretty good doing it. The 49ers gave Hill a chance, then Martz brought J.T. O'Sullivan with him from Detroit and gave him the job. A flurry of league-leading turnovers later, a much-needed change has been made. To be honest, I would have liked to have seen Hill play from Week 1 and see whether this 2-6 campaign would have turned out differently.
What Hill did in starts against the Vikings, Bengals and Buccaneers in 2007 is really not much to go on. He led the sad-sack 49ers to a pair of wins, completing 75 percent or more of his passes in two of those games, and finishing with five touchdowns and one interception before an ill-timed back injury cost him a Week 17 start -- and probably the momentum to win the job in 2008.
Hill didn't win the job, but now that the opportunity has come his way, expect him to make the most of it. He's no kid; he's got four years on former franchise darling Alex Smith, and the last time he put up big numbers, he was leading NFL Europe in passing yards with the Amsterdam Admirals.
You won't see an arm like Warner's out there, but Hill's got legs and knows how to use them. He'll certainly keep Gore involved by throwing short passes to his running back, and while he's not going to burn too many defenses deep, he's likely to spread the ball around and be accurate. Most of all, Hill can make the 49ers better by not giving the ball back to the other team, which O'Sullivan managed to do more than twice per game (17 turnovers in eight games).
ESPN Fantasy projects that Hill will more than hold his own against an Arizona pass defense that has been generous to quarterbacks. Only five teams allow more fantasy points to signal-callers, so even though Hill seems like an unknown option, he's not necessarily a poor one. The 49ers feature a terrific running back among the leaders in rushing and receiving. Former Warner target Isaac Bruce was off to a good start with four touchdown catches through five weeks, and Bryant Johnson and Josh Morgan have had their moments this season as well. Vernon Davis has showered and will take the field, eager to prove he can play.
Hill isn't someone fantasy owners should count on for top-10 numbers, but neither should he be automatically dismissed as someone who cannot help you. In a week with Mannings and other top options in tough matchups, looking Hill's way should net you double-digit fantasy points.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
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