2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,769 yards (16th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 33 (23rd)
Offensive Plays: 1,003 (22nd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 580 (20th)
Rush Attempts: 423 (11th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 64 (25th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 111 (15th)
Kyle Shanahan’s record as head coach (10-22) isn’t a reflection of his coaching ability. It’s a reflection of his team’s tough schedule, poor health, and underwhelming roster. When Shanahan has had Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, the 49ers are 6-2 and have averaged 27.1 points per game. That would have been the fifth-highest average in the NFL last year. The 2019 outlook is optimistic with Garoppolo “good to go” for training camp and with new skill position additions to surround record-setting tight end George Kittle. But even with lackluster offensive talent in 2017 and 2018, the 49ers finished 12th and 16th in total yards. Most of that can be credited to Shanahan. Picking up enough yards and running enough plays won’t be an issue from a fantasy standpoint -- the Niners were 10th in Football Outsiders’ neutral-situation offensive pace last year -- but they need to score more touchdowns to take the leap many are expecting. Luckily, the schedule is projected to be easier than it was last year.
Jimmy Garoppolo is practically going into his second NFL season since he’s attempted fewer career passes than Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield. The sample size is obviously small, but Garoppolo has been effective. He owns a career 8.2 YPA average and an 8-2 record as starter. Jimmy G is in a good position to pile on passing yards in 2019 with coaching, pace, and playmakers looking like positives on paper. In fact, there’s decent odds Garoppolo finishes inside the top-10 in passing yards since the 49ers have finished 12th and 16th in offensive yards with backup-level quarterbacks the last two seasons. However, Garoppolo is returning from a torn ACL (he’s “good to go” for training camp) and Shanahan’s scheme forces quarterbacks to stay in the pocket and take hits. That’s obviously not the greatest combination, especially since Garoppolo offers close to nothing in terms of escapability and rushing ability. In early fantasy drafts, Garoppolo is rightfully being drafted as a late-round flier with QB8 upside. Pairing Garoppolo with a rushing-upside quarterback like Lamar Jackson makes a lot of sense for those wisely implementing a late-round quarterback approach.
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There are durability concerns, but the front office has to be happy with early returns on 2018 second-round WR Dante Pettis. Since 1992, only nine rookie receivers who saw at least 45 targets averaged a higher yards per target than Pettis (10.38). Most of his production came in the second half of the season when he emerged as the Niners’ WR1. Pettis averaged a 4-62-0.7 receiving line on 6.2 targets over his last six games, numbers that could’ve been larger with better quarterback play. Now in his second season, the 49ers have “huge expectations” for Pettis, who “turned the right heads at 49ers minicamp” after showing up stronger and more polished as a route runner. With Garoppolo under center and with the 49ers playing at an above-average offensive pace, Pettis has top-20 upside as the team’s X receiver, yet he’s being drafted in the WR28-36 range. Pettis’ ADP isn’t aligning with his positive offseason buzz. I’m buying.
Second-round rookie WR Deebo Samuel was a flashy receiver at South Carolina, arguably showing some of the best YAC potential in the 2019 class. However, Samuel only finished as a 58th percentile receiver prospect in my Analytics Top 300 model because of his average college production, age (23), and injury history. This offseason, Samuel missed some time with a hip injury, but he’s still expected to open the year as a starter. Dante Pettis and George Kittle should dominate targets while Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, and the trio of running backs fight for leftover targets. It’s easy to bet against rookie receivers in fantasy and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing with Samuel. He’s nothing more than a late-round flier in deep leagues.
Nagging injuries limited speedster Marquise Goodwin to just 23 receptions last year, but he still averaged 17.2 yards per catch as a capable deep threat. In 2019, Shanahan envisions Goodwin in a Taylor Gabriel-type gadget role, one that will keep him off fantasy rosters for as long as Kittle and Pettis are healthy.
The backup receivers are Trent Taylor, Jordan Matthews, and rookie Jalen Hurd. Of the three, Hurd is easily the most intriguing. Since being drafted, the 49ers have hinted at lining up Hurd at receiver, tight end, and running back. Hurd, a former five-star recruit, has the skillset and body (6’4/228) to thrive in a limited-touch “do everything” role. He’s a player to monitor on the waiver wire.
George Kittle is coming off a record-breaking season where he posted 1,377 yards on 136 targets, finishing as fantasy’s TE3 behind Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. Kittle should remain the team leader in targets, but there are certainly more mouths to feed in 2019. It’s more likely that Kittle finishes in the 115-130 target range. The third-year tight end is also a regression candidate after breaking the yards after catch record with multiple long runs. Kittle’s athleticism will keep him near the top of the YAC leaderboard, but it’s unlikely that he repeats his 9.9 average. However, Kittle could be in line for more five touchdowns with the 49ers likely to improve upon last year’s 23rd-most offensive touchdowns (33) with Garoppolo healthy. Overall, Kittle is arguably being a little overdrafted at the Round 2/3 turn, but there is a dropoff from Kittle and Ertz to O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, and Hunter Henry.
One of the trickiest evals of the 2019 offseason is projecting touches for the 49ers’ trio of running backs (Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Jerick McKinnon). Injuries and similar skillsets make the projection cloudy, but it’s a puzzle worth trying to figure out since Shanahan’s backfields have finished top-10 in yards for four consecutive seasons.
Coleman has the best odds of leading the group in fantasy points. For starts, he’s been healthy this offseason unlike Breida (chest) and McKinnon (ACL). But Coleman also thrived in Atlanta with Shanahan as his OC. In 2016, Coleman set career highs in overall PFF grade, rushing touchdowns (8), and receptions per game (2.4) while averaging an elite 10.5 yards per target. This offseason, the Niners have prioritized making Coleman comfortable as a slot and/or outside receiver, which is a good sign that he’ll be, at the very least, the team’s primary passing-down back. In fact, Coleman is a sneaky bet to finish third in team receptions. He’ll need to keep Breida off the field in rushing situations to earn every-week RB2 value but his efficiency and receiving volume should keep him in the mix as a weekly low-end flex option. Coleman seems accurately priced as fantasy’s RB29 in early drafts.
Matt Breida is a modern-day warrior. Nobody turned more questionable or doubtful tags into top-20 weekly finishes last year. But that’s part of the problem; Breida just can’t stay healthy. He even suffered a partially torn pec this offseason. When he’s near full-health, Breida is the best runner on the roster (5.3 YPC last year) and he’s a capable receiver (8.4 YPT last year), giving him plenty of upside at his 13th-round ADP. Breida is an affordable bench option and late-round target, who could end up being an every-week starter if things break his way.
Jerick McKinnon is the back that’s easiest to fade relative to ADP since he’s still inching back from his torn ACL. McKinnon is a quality receiver out of the backfield, but he’s the worst runner of the three and his pass-catching role is replaceable with Coleman and Breida on the roster. Valuable special-teamer Raheem Mostert is also a near lock for the active roster, so the Niners will be choosing between either having four active running backs or making one of Coleman, Breida, or McKinnon healthy scratches. There’s a chance the 49ers give McKinnon a few extra weeks to get into football shape by keeping him inactive to start the season. The 49ers can also save $3.7 million against the cap if they cut McKinnon. Overall, there are too many red flags to draft McKinnon at his 11th-round ADP when backs like Ito Smith, Justice Hill, and Breida are being drafted later.
The 49ers’ over/under is set at 8.0 with an equal -110 return on both sides. Since they only won four games last year, this win total implies the 49ers are going to take the biggest leap in the NFL. That’s certainly possible given last year’s poor injury luck, this year’s relaxed strength of schedule, and the 49ers additions during the offseason (Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Jimmie Ward, Jason Verrett, Tevin Coleman, others). Unfortunately, my post-NFL Draft models gave the 49ers a D+ for their 2019 efforts, but Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel are Week 1 starters, assuming Bosa’s contract dispute doesn’t linger. With a lot of moving parts on both sides of the ball, I find it easier to take the under, but the 49ers will still be a much-improved team.