Going Deep: The Beginning of Tevin Coleman’s Tenure With The 49ers

Caio Miari points out what makes Tevin Coleman a special fantasy option in his first season with the 49ers.

Since Kyle Shanahan became the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach in 2017, he’s been trying to put together the best pieces aiming for a powerful, dynamic offensive unit. And a lot of people see 2019 as the breakout year for Shanahan, as he’ll have Jimmy Garoppolo back and several promising players surrounding the quarterback. 

The 49ers were active during the offseason trying to get sharped assets to their offense. Among the team’s new acquisitions was Tevin Coleman, who worked with Shanahan when the coach was an offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.

This combination of an offensive-minded, familiar head coach creates a favorable scenario for a player who may be on track for the best season of his career. Let’s take a more in-depth look in what may be waiting for Coleman in 2019!


The reunion with Kyle Shanahan 


To kick things off, let’s analyze Coleman’s basic career stats after four seasons in the NFL.

Games Rushing Attempts Yards TDs Receptions Yards TDs
12 87 392 1 2 14 0
13 118 520 8 31 421 3
15 156 628 5 27 299 3
16 167 800 4 32 276 5

That’s an exciting, emerging career, right?

In terms of contribution on both sides of the ball, Coleman has never been more involved than in 2016, but Shanahan’s decision to become a head coach after successful jobs in Atlanta prevented the running back to have even better seasons in the past years. 

Although Coleman-Shanahan first tenure together lasted just two seasons, including the player’s rookie year (limited to 89 touches), it was enough to notice that the head coach loves to explore versatile players.

Before getting into more details about this reunion, keep in mind that Shanahan has a prosperous past at giving productive seasons for running backs, at least fantasy-wide. 

For example, Carlos Hyde had 1,288 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns in 2017 with Shanahan, which was good for RB11 by the end of the season. Also, Shanahan has played a factor in Matt Breida’s emerging rodeo in the NFL. After being drafted two years ago, Breida had an impressive 5.3 yards per carry in 2018 and now is considered one of the most explosive young RBs in the league. 

I went back to every job made my Shanahan since 2010, as either offensive coordinator or head coach, and here’s a fact: Only twice the No. 1 running back for that team didn’t reach 1,000 scrimmage yards. 

Those cases were the Washington Redskins with Ryan Torain in 2010 (though out of Torain’s eight career TDs, six happened that year) and the Cleveland Browns in 2014, when he had three players with at least 300 rushing yards (Terrence West, Isaiah Crowell, and Ben Tate), including two 600-yard runners (West and Crowell), who combined for 13 TDs. 

That explains part of why the current head coach didn’t hesitate to pursue Coleman in this years’ free agency.

In San Francisco, Coleman should have the highest workload of his career so far. After all, he touched the ball 149 times in 13 games (zero starts) with Shanahan in 2016. That’s only 50 fewer touches than he had last year when he played the entire season starting 14 games.

Besides that, we should expect more consistency on a week-to-week basis in terms of how many times Coleman will be targeted. Here’s a comparison between the Falcons from 2016 and 2018 in terms of how often the running back had a pass thrown in his direction:

In numbers, Coleman was targeted 40 times in 2016 (3.07 targets/game), against 44 last year (2.75 targets/game), despite missing three games. And remember: Falcons’ starting running back Devonta Freeman played in just two games in 2018.

More than relying on Coleman three years ago, Shanahan showed that he knew how to do that. We all know that the fifth-year back is a solid receiver, but his averages in 2016 are overall off-the-charts even for his standards.

Year Yds. per carry Yds. per catch Yds. per target Yds. per touch
2015 4.5 7 1.3 4.6
2016 4.4 13.6 10.5 6.3
2017 4.0 11.1 7.7 5.1
2018 4.8 8.6 6.3 5.4

You may have been asking how much did all of that translate to Coleman fantasy-wide; the answer is the same once again. Here’s the RB’s fantasy production per season in PPR format (including the position ranking):

2015 (12 games played) – 41 points (RB 74)

2016 (13 GP) – 160 pts (RB 17)

2017 (15 GP) – 141 pts (RB 22)

2018 (16 GP) – 162 pts (RB 18)


Is the 49ers’ crowded backfield a problem? 


As much as Shanahan wanted to bring Coleman to the Bay Area, there are no guarantees the 26-year-old will be the 49ers’ No. 1 running back. The position battle exists, and it’s hard to argue against Breida after what he did and how comfortable he looks in this offense. 

The Niners also have Jerick McKinnon, who tore his ACL, and was supposed to return to the team in 2019. However, McKinnon had a setback in his knee injury, and his status is very uncertain at this point. 

Other running backs Jeff Wilson (if he makes the final roster) and Raheem Mostert (dealing with a minor quadriceps injury), who all had short appearances for the 49ers in 2018, shouldn’t be a threat to Coleman’s production considering how Shanahan used them last year: 

Player Rushing Att. Yards Yds. per carry TDs
Matt Breida 153 814 5.3 3
Alfred Morris 111 428 3.9 2
Jeff Wilson 66 266 4.0 0
Raheem Mostert 34 261 7.7 1

In other words, Coleman’s fantasy-case for this season continues to be strong despite the loaded backfield, especially considering that Shanahan will deliver different situational roles for each of his main running backs.

If Breida gets more carries by the end of the season, Coleman might have had more catches, as well as touchdowns, once he will likely get the goal-line work for a team who scored the fewest rushing touchdowns last year (tied with the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars).

The 49ers only scored seven TDs through the ground, against 26 passing the ball. While neither one of the measures is eye-popping, considering how Shanahan used Coleman in 2016 (11 total scores), his impact in the red-zone territory can be an X-factor in this case. 

Coleman now has three consecutive seasons with at least three receiving touchdowns. He’s one of two running backs to do so, along with James White. And since 2015, eight RBs have a double-digit receiving score; Coleman is one of them. 


Final take


Fantasy owners should be excited about Coleman in 2019.

He’s coming from his best season as a pure runner (4.8 yards per carry) and will now reunite with the man who arguably knows better than anyone how to use him on the field, both running and receiving. 

Overall, I think his familiarity with Shanahan’s system should make himself noticed among others standout running backs in the depth chart.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman finishes the season with his personal-best for touches, which would put him in the 200-touch player’s hall, a feat that only 20 other running backs posted in 2018. 

We are talking about a living-his-prime back who perhaps is destined to have the best season of his career thus far. The beginning of Coleman’s tenure with the 49ers has all the ingredients to make the RB a special fantasy option in 2019.

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