2022 NFC West Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Chris Sanzo breaks down the AFC West from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 25.1 13th
Offensive Snaps 1046 26th
2021 Record 10-7 9th
2022 Vegas Win Projection 10 6th

 

The San Francisco 49ers 2021 season was a tale of two halves. They started 3-5, only mustering wins against the Lions, Eagles, and Bears; not exactly impressive. Then they played the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and tallied a decisive win at home on Monday Night Football that would spark a 7-2 run to end the regular season. Led by All-Pro WR Deebo Samuel and an ascending defense, their 10-7 record was good enough for third in the NFC West behind LA and Arizona, and more importantly, a playoff birth. Their fortunes would continue when they played perennial playoff layup, the Dallas Cowboys. Their run would end in the NFC Championship game where they fell to the Rams, unable to pull off the three-game season sweep.

The 49ers will face some tough losses this offseason, seemingly bogged down by the contract and unknown status of soon departing QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Their biggest losses are 0n the offensive line as OG Laken Tomlinson and OG Tom Compton signed elsewhere and C Alex Mack announced his retirement, leaving their options shaky at best after a mediocre draft. The defensive secondary also lost key contributors CB K’wann Williams and S Jaquiski Tartt but newcomers like CB Charvarius Ward and S George Odum will look to fill in among the new starters like S Talanoa Hufanga. Deebo Samuel has just nailed down his new contract, joining the ranks of other stud wideouts like AJ Brown and Terry McLaurin to get their paydays. The other key loss was Mike McDaniel who has been with the team since 2017, first as the run game coordinator and then last year as their Offensive Coordinator. It has been a crazy off-season by 49ers standards and a lot is yet to be decided.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 248.3 12th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.5 14th
Pass Attempts per Game 30.2 29th

 

The biggest drama of the NFL offseason revolves around the 49ers quarterback position and the eventual ascension of QB Trey Lance to the starting role. 2021 was seemingly Jimmy G’s last hurrah as Lance–at just 22 years old–offers far more upside, opening an entire dynamic to the Kyle Shanahan offense that was otherwise limited. With Lance under center, Deebo Samuel will look to expand his game as a wide receiver. This past year, 30% off his routes were slants and 20% were digs, both numbers among the highest percentages in the NFL. WR Brandon Aiyuk in contrast had one of the highest ‘post’ route percentages at 12.5% and likewise dominated that route with a win percentage of 89.3%. Only a few wideouts in the league can boast that, and one of them was Deebo. TE George Kittle commands the team’s second-largest target total at 93 but fell just short of 1,000 yards. With an aDOT that’s about to explode, this passing game should continue to effortlessly feature three of the most dynamic skilled players, and with more touchdown opportunities than the 20 Jimmy was able to produce in 15 games. With this trio, the 49ers are poised to break out in a big way in 2022 and be able to maintain for years, providing the offensive line does its job. Sadly, there ‘s only so much that 99 Madden-rated LT Trent Williams can do on his own.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yard per Game 127.4 7th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 1.3 T-5th
Rushing Plays per Game 29.4 6th

 

The 49ers are one of the NFL’s most balanced teams, logging just 15 more passing plays than rushes. The team is led on the ground by RB Elijah Mitchell who was one of the true hidden gems of the 2021 class. Drafted at 194th overall in the sixth round, Mitchell ran for 963 yards and added another 137 yards on 19 receptions. The 49ers were the third highest-ranked team by DVOA behind only the Browns and Colts and may also see an improvement with Lance adding his own production to the mix. If Deebo’s reps are limited in the backfield, that will open more playing time right out the gate for 2021 third round selection, RB Tyrion Davis-Price. Even RB Trey Sermon may get additional reps this year as it is still unknown what Lance’s run work will look like and if they will look to add in some form of gap game with Sermon. This is a unit that will continue to be fluid in 2022.

 

Sleeper

 

Trey Lance, QB

Trey Lance is barely being drafted as a top-12 QB at pick 100, just four picks ahead of QB Derek Carr. This is behind speculative plays like WR Allen Lazard, committee backs like RB Damien Harris, and two full rounds behind QB Jalen Hurts who was in a similar situation last year despite being a much less talented prospect. Letting a Konami code league winner be drafted in the middle of the ninth is puzzling at best, negligent at worst. Again, while he is hardly a sleeper by media standards. He is being drafted in his sub-basement. As ex-White Sox OF Michael Jordan often reminds us in gif form, “Stop it. Get some help. ” That help? Drafting Trey Lance before your opp0nents get a chance.

 

Deep Sleeper

 

Tyrion Davis-Price, RB

While other third-round selections like RB Trey Sermon and ex-49ers RB Joe Williams will tell you that draft capital doesn’t seem to matter to HC Kyle Shanahan, what does matter is speed. What TDP offers is an upfield burst with an ability to shrug off hits and punish would-be tacklers. What he’ll need to prove is that he can hit the head of the zone blocking which Sermon was not able to do. When Sermon played, the offense shifted to a gap read and though effective, lacked the big plays that their zone attack offers. If TDP can adapt his speed to the scheme, he may be able to eat into Mitchell’s carries from game one. Like Lance, TDP isn’t the deepest of sleepers, but he is currently being drafted as a team’s RB5 in round 13 so he isn’t exactly cracking starting rosters either. He’s certainly worth a small reach to attack an ambiguous backfield.

 

Bust Candidate

 

Elijah Mitchell, RB

Mitchell has produced when he’s stayed on the field and was the better fit in Kyle Shanahan’s system. However, he won the job more by default as Sermon was unable to meet the necessary speed and RB Raheem Mostert missed the season with injury. Coming off his own injury-hampered rookie campaign, Mitchell said he was able to bulk up for the upcoming season. That’s only a positive if it doesn’t detract from his single most important attribute that separated him from RB Jeff Wilson and Sermon. You guessed it, speed. A step slower and he may be looking up the depth at TDP or even Sermon. Given Shanahan’s propensity for cycling out backs year after year, it would be wise to approach your draft with caution.

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)/Photography by Bob Kupbens, Kevin Reece, Kiyoshi Mio + Andy Lewis / Icon Sportswire

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