San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers came excruciatingly close to a Super Bowl victory in 2019, only to lose to a super-human performance by the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes. A missed deep connection in the final moments from Jimmy Garoppolo to Emmanuel Sanders reopened questions about the upside of Jimmy G, especially after some dominant rushing performances in the playoffs where the 49ers seemed to barely need a quarterback. After some possible flirtations around bringing in free-agent quarterback Tom Brady, the 49ers made the logical choice and stuck with the core that nearly won a Super Bowl.
From a fantasy perspective, the 2019 49ers were led by star tight end George Kittle, but otherwise, they were more or less a rotating cast of role players. The greatness of head coach Kyle Shanahan‘s playcalling makes this an offense worth pursuing, but at times his hot hand approach to the offense can make things a bit difficult for our fantasy football decision making.
ADP: 155.8, QB22
At the beginning of the offseason, I anticipated making Jimmy Garoppolo a frequent late-round quarterback target of mine. Garoppolo returned from ACL surgery to post an overall impressive 2019 with 3,978 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. While the 49ers won some games with their defense and running game alone, Garoppolo had his share of breakout performances, including a Week 14 thriller in New Orleans where he passed for 349 yards and four touchdowns while completing 74% of his passes. The thought was in his second-year recovered from the injury with a bolstered receiving corps, one of the leagues best play-callers, and potentially a slightly less dominant defense, Garoppolo might put together a higher volume season in 2020 that would vault him up the quarterback rankings. And yet, as the offseason progresses, I simply am not drafting Garoppolo in any of my leagues.
The depth of the 49ers receiving corps is the first red flag, as Deebo Samuel fractured his foot in the offseason. While he is holding out hope for a Week 1 return, this is a less than ideal development for the 49ers presumptive number one receiver. San Francisco drafted Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of the NFL Draft to replace the departed Emmanuel Sanders, and while his YAC ability in a Shanahan offense is mouth-watering, this significantly reduced offseason throws questions into his early-season usage. With intriguing second-year receiver Jalen Hurd lost to an ACL injury, this 49ers receiving corps is already on life support before the first game begins. Combined with Garoppolo’s lack of rushing ability, and it is just hard to find much upside in the quarterback. He’s a great later round option in superflex leagues, but in most single quarterback leagues I would much rather take the shot on quarterbacks with greater upside.
The 49ers defense takes a step back, forcing Garoppolo to sling the ball around more often than last year. He’s fully recovered from his ACL injury and feels more comfortable overall. Samuel returns quickly from injury and continues his development, while Aiyuk provides a big-play threat on yards after the catch. Kittle ascends to true elite status and brings the rest of the offense along with him, and Garopplo throws a ton of touchdowns in an efficient year, vaulting into the back half of QB1 territory.
The pass catchers not named Kittle struggle with health and consistency, and the 49ers are more than happy to lean on the ground game and defense on their way to the playoffs. Garoppolo fades into a low volume passer, much the way that Kirk Cousins‘ fantasy career has gone, and he is no more than a streamer in one quarterback leagues.
2020 Projection: 480 attempts, 323 completions, 4,010 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 15 interceptions; 30 carries, 70 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
ADP: 51.7, RB26
After a brief offseason holdout scare, Raheem Mostert and the 49ers came to terms on a pay raise, lining Mostert up to be the “lead back” in San Francisco. I put lead back in quotes because of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s propensity to ride the hot hand at running back, as evidenced during Mostert’s breakout down the stretch last year. Mostert and Tevin Coleman each received 137 carries during the regular season, while departed Matt Breida saw 123 of his own. Mostert’s breakout down the stretch of 2019 was mainly aided by touchdowns, as he scored a rushing touchdown in each of his last six games for a total of eight touchdowns over that span. After a 19 carry, 146-yard performance against Baltimore in Week 13, Mostert only saw 10, 14, 11, and 10 carries in each of his final four regular-season games. With 22 targets total on the year, Mostert really needs that rushing volume and touchdown role to break out in 2020.
Mostert’s yards per carry and athleticism make him an understandably intriguing option, especially in this offensive setting. But he is typically the type of player that I pass on. A 28-year-old running back yet to produce a 1,000-yard season through five seasons, undrafted out of college, and lacking any bell cow or pass-catching upside. Maybe his efficiency and red zone roles blow those concerns out of the water, and with the way running backs are flying off the board this year I wouldn’t fault you for chasing the cheaper options like Mostert. But I don’t anticipate rostering him often this year, and I expect him to be a weekly headache for fantasy managers when setting their lineups.
Mostert is clearly the most explosive running back on the team and gets consistent usage as the lead back in a 60-40 split. Mostert tops 1,000 yards on the ground, scores double-digit touchdowns, and even chips in some in the passing game. He provides backend RB1 value at a lowered ADP.
Injuries pop up again for Mostert, and Coleman, McKinnon, and others provide consistent competition all season long. Mostert finishes with a year similar to 2019 only without the excellent touchdown production and is no more than a boom/bust flex option most weeks.
2020 Projection: 190 carries, 893 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns; 30 targets, 23 receptions, 200 receiving yards, 1 touchdown
ADP: 86.9, RB38
Tevin Coleman is far from an exciting running back to draft, as he has yet to surpass 800 yards rushing over his first five seasons in the league, and his passing game explosion in 2016 (421 receiving yards on 40 targets) seems like a distant memory at this point. Coleman missed time early in 2019 only to be featured on the ground from Weeks 5 to 9, topping double-digit carries each week. Then Mostert began to take over, and Coleman was an afterthought down the stretch, receiving five carries or less over the final five weeks of the season. But Shanahan gave us a reminder in the playoffs for his love of the hot hand approach just as Mostert had seemingly won the lead back job, with Coleman breaking out for 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns over 22 carries in the first round of the playoffs, while Mostert received 12 carries for 58 yards. Naturally, Coleman received just 11 carries over the next two weeks combined, while Mostert apparently became the hot hand again.
While Mostert is the more explosive player, Coleman is significantly cheaper in drafts, and with the departure of Breida to Miami, finds himself with less established competition than last year. Coleman won’t win you your league, but you could find a few weeks (maybe with a Mostert injury or COVID-19 situation) where Coleman is an intriguing option in a high-powered running game. Don’t reach for Coleman, but if he drops late, snatch him up on your running back needy teams, as you might be getting a fairly similar player to Mostert at a steep discount.
None of the new options are able to replace the departed Breida, and Coleman sees a more consistent weekly role sharing the backfield with Mostert. Mostert is dinged up at times and misses enough games to give Coleman stretches of significant relevance. Throw in some touchdown luck and Coleman is a surprisingly solid RB2/flex play for large portions of the year.
Mostert is the better player, McKinnon and the undrafted rookies have more juice, and Coleman posts a relatively useless 800 total yards distributed evenly across 16 games.
2020 Projection: 180 carries, 792 yards, 5 touchdowns; 28 targets, 19 receptions, 175 receiving yards, 1 touchdown
ADP: 159.5, RB63
Jerrick McKinnon was squarely off my radar after having not played since 2017 due to an ACL tear and a setback but has been drawing rave reviews in camp as he makes a comeback bid. While it is a great story, I can’t get too excited for fantasy purposes. It seems nearly impossible that the 49ers give him a heavy role on the ground this year as he works his way back from two years out of the league. At 28 years old he’s yet to reach 600 yards on the ground in a single season, so any fantasy upside seems tied to his passing game work. McKinnon has shown flashes in the past (68 targets, 51 receptions, 421 yards in 2017), but it seems unlikely that he receives enough targets to be fantasy relevant on a 49ers team that targeted their running backs only 89 times total last season. I don’t see much upside beyond a Nyheim Hines type role, which means he is left out of my draft plans in all but the deepest leagues. I would much rather keep my eye on the undrafted rookies JaMycal Hasty or Salvon Ahmed, though they likely won’t factor in to your drafts either.
McKinnon grabs the third-down role from the start and commands four or more targets a game. He consistently chips in a decent floor in PPR leagues, adds some touchdowns on big plays, and is a nearly free RB3/flex play on teams that started wide receiver heavy.
He never fully recovers his burst and is surpassed by Hasty and/or Ahmed. McKinnon struggles to stay on the field and fades down the stretch.
2020 Projection: 45 carries, 202 rushing yards, 1 touchdown; 40 targets, 30 receptions, 250 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
ADP: 89.2, WR37
As far as rookie seasons from a wide receiver go, Deebo Samuel blew away almost all expectations in 2019. The second-round pick ended up playing 15 games and totaling 802 receiving yards on 57 receptions, impressive numbers on just 81 targets, leaving fantasy drafters hoping for more in year two. Samuel had a sneaky good rushing role down the stretch as well, as he consistently made big plays on the ground on end-arounds and jet sweeps. Over the final five weeks of the regular season, Samuel rushed for 122 yards total on nine carries and chipped in two rushing touchdowns. That trend continued into the playoffs, where he rushed 6 times for 102 yards across three games, including 53 yards on the ground in the Super Bowl. Samuel looked primed for a bigger role in 2020 with the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, but an offseason injury may have stalled those thoughts.
After suffering a Jones fracture in his foot while training, Samuel is in the middle of a fairly serious injury recovery. All progress is positive at the moment, and he hopes to be ready for Week 1 of the NFL season. But it is fair to wonder if this will stall any development for the second-year pro, and whether it will take a few weeks into the regular season before he regains his full snap share. Will he get that rushing work if he is being eased in off a foot injury? Will he have enough reps with Garoppolo to become that true number one receiver that we want for fantasy purposes? There’s certainly upside here, but I think it is fair to avoid a receiver with just three 100-yard receiving games under his belt while rehabbing a foot injury. You may find yourself in some drafts where Samuel plummets down the board, however, and that is when you should strike on the talented do-it-all receiver.
Samuel shakes off his injury in time for the season and continues his maturation into the 49ers alpha wide receiver. While he may lack the deep-threat ability or massive volume of some receivers, his rushing ability gives him a sneaky edge, and he performs like a poor man’s Robert Woods, easily paying off on his injury-lowered ADP.
He misses time with the foot injury and takes a while to get up to speed. The 49ers are winning and don’t need to rush him, and he plays a reduced snap share early on. Even when he is back to full health, Samuel isn’t a difference-maker and is a fairly replaceable WR3 type.
2020 Projection: 85 targets, 52 receptions, 675 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns; 17 carries, 167 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns
ADP: 136.5, WR53
In a normal offseason, Brandon Aiyuk hype might be growing by the day. An injury to Deebo Samuel on an already wide receiver-needy team might have allowed a huge opportunity for the first-round pick to establish chemistry with Garoppolo and earn a steady Week 1 role. It still could happen, but now we are left to decipher coach-speak and padless-practice highlights as opposed to preseason games running with the first-team offense. A yards after catch specialist out of Arizona State, Aiyuk could be a deadly weapon in the hands of Shanahan. At 6’0″ tall and 205 pounds, Aiyuk vaulted up draft boards with a 4.5 40-yard dash and a 40 inch vertical. He’s likely not your prototypical number one receiver, but in the modern NFL in a creative offense, he could be an explosive playmaker from day one. There are plenty of promising rookie pass-catchers this year so it is easy for Aiyuk to get lost in the shuffle. If you are looking for a high upside dart throw late in drafts, and don’t feel like paying up for the first rookies off the board, Aiyuk is an excellent target.
There are certainly some other receivers worth talking about on the 49ers; Kendrick Bourne could have a surprisingly big role early on with Samuel returning from injury, Trent Taylor could demand a decent PPR role from the slot, and rookie Jauan Jennings has his fair share of admirers. But Aiyuk is the only one with the upside to draft in your typical 12 team home league. Just keep an eye on Bourne early on, especially from a DFS or deep league perspective.
Samuel is slow to return from injury and Aiyuk takes over the receiver position. He puts up a season similar to Deebo’s rookie season, only with more big plays with his yards after the catch ability, and is a solid WR3 in the second half of the season.
Aiyuk is more of a gadget player as Shanahan plays the veterans that know the offense. Garoppolo spreads the ball around, and Aiyuk can never really be trusted as a fantasy starter despite flashing on some athletic plays.
2020 Projection: 85 targets, 67 receptions, 795 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns
ADP: 23.8, TE2
There’s a chance that, as good as George Kittle is, the talented 49ers’ tight end hasn’t even hit his prime yet. At just 26-years old, Kittle has reached 85 receptions and topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his past two seasons. Tight end is a notoriously hard position for young players to learn, which should make Kittle’s 2,945 receiving yards over his first three years in the league even more impressive. A little better luck in the touchdown department (just 12 touchdowns on 302 career targets) would have likely vaulted Kittle up to the TE1 over Travis Kelce by now, as Kittle’s athleticism and tackle-breaking ability has few rivals. We could be looking at Kittle’s best season of his career in 2020, and if San Francisco is forced to lean on him more with Samuel injured and the lack of weapons at the wide receiver position, look out. I typically don’t draft tight ends early, but Kittle is an exception this year. He has real blowup potential, and after you pass the top-end running backs and elite of the elite receivers in fantasy drafts, Kittle makes an excellent late second or early third-round pick.
San Francisco is forced to lean on Kittle, and he produces a monster fantasy season. Something like his 88 catch, 1,377-yard 2018 season, only with double-digit touchdowns.
Outside of injury, it is hard to find much downside in Kittle. If Garoppolo took a major step back after an up and down Super Bowl, we might see Kittle used even more as a blocker and lose some downfield targets. But it is hard to envision a healthy Kittle finishing outside of the top four tight ends in fantasy leagues.
2020 Projection: 128 targets, 92 receptions, 1175 yards, 7 touchdowns.
Photo by Stephen Hopson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)