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Offseason Team Previews

2021 49ers Offseason Preview

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: February 20, 2021, 4:34 pm ET

My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

 


49ers 2020 Recap

49ers2020

 

Every team deals with injuries. The 49ers dealt with more: Dee Ford (1 game played), Nick Bosa (2), Solomon Thomas (2), Richard Sherman (5), Jimmy Garoppolo (6), Deebo Samuel (7), Jaquiski Tartt (7), George Kittle (8), Raheem Mostert (8), K’Wuan Williams (8), Brandon Aiyuk (12). If not for elite coaching on each side of the ball, San Francisco would not have finished 17th in points against and 21st in points scored against the NFL’s fourth-hardest strength of schedule. Other teams have plucked big names off Kyle Shanahan’s staff, but as long as he’s still there, the 49ers will compete. And if they can find an upgrade at quarterback, they could compete for an NFC Championship. The rest of the roster is legit when healthy.

 


49ers 2021 Offseason

Notes

 

49ers Cap Space

$13.4 million (15th)

49ers Draft Picks

1.12, 2.43, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

49ers Departures

LT Trent Williams, DE Solomon Thomas, CB Jason Verrett, CB Richard Sherman, Slot CB K’Wuan Williams, FB Kyle Juszczyk, RG/C Daniel Brunskill, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, CB Emmanuel Moseley, Slot WR Kendrick Bourne, DT D.J. Jones, EDGE Kerry Hyder, QB Nick Mullens, RB Jerick McKinnon, RB Tevin Coleman, TE Jordan Reed

49ers Cut Candidates

QB Jimmy Garoppolo ($23.6M cap savings), EDGE Dee Ford ($15.3M if post-June 1), 

 


49ers Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

???

 

% of Passes

???

 

QB

Jimmy Garoppolo

 

WR

Brandon Aiyuk

Richie James

WR

Deebo Samuel

Jalen Hurd

WR/TE/FB

???

 

TE

George Kittle

Charlie Woerner

RB (Early Down)

Raheem Mostert

 

RB (Third Down)

Jeff Wilson

JaMycal Hasty

LT

Shon Coleman

 

LG

Laken Tomlinson

 

C

Weston Richburg

 

RG

Colton McKivitz

 

RT

Mike McGlinchey

 

 

Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Shanahan is going to mold his offense to his players, making this an impossible paragraph to write outside of noting the outside zone run concepts. It’s unclear if Jimmy Garoppolo will return to lead this play-action heavy pass game (28% of passes were PA, 12th) or if the base offense will include a fullback (Kyle Juszczyk is a FA), a second tight end, or a third receiver. What we do know is that Shanahan finally has three legit pass-catchers and a rushing scheme that’s No. 12 in rushing EPA since 2017 despite a plethora of quarterback injuries. It’d be a major surprise if Shanahan doesn’t have the offense back inside the top-16 with better injury luck in 2021.

Passing Offense: The 49ers didn’t have much of a pass game in 2020. Jimmy Garoppolo only played six games and was bad in them, leaving Shanahan with no choice but to take the air out of the ball. The Niners were 25th in neutral pass rate, 30th in neutral offensive pace, 30th in average depth of target, and utilized play action at the 12th-highest rate. Shanahan’s offense is being held back by the quarterback, but the trio of George Kittle, alpha receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and underneath YAC threat Deebo Samuel gives this 2021 pass game potential. They all were healthy together for just three games last year. With Kyle Juszczyk, Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Reed, and Ross Dwelley all free agents, the last starting pass-game weapon isn’t currently on the roster. It’s not clear if that last starter will be a FB, TE, or WR. Last year, 42% of first-down passes came in 11-personnel (3 WRs) and 36% came in 21-personnel (FB) with more 21-personnel usage in neutral situations.

Rushing Offense: 2018 first-round RT Mike McGlinchey has mostly lived up to his draft status through three seasons, and the 49ers appear confident that they’ll re-sign LT Trent Williams, who said his goal is to end up in the Niners’ Ring of Fame. Tackle is a major positive on paper, and the interior (led by 2015 first-round LG Laken Tomlinson) can be, too, with one upgrade and better injury luck. For now, 30-year-old C Weston Richburg and 2020 fifth-round RG Colton McKivitz are projected starters. Richburg can be cut with $4.5 million in cap savings if his 2020 torn patella tendon isn’t right. At running back, the 49ers will be rolling with Raheem Mostert ($3.6M cap hit) and Jeff Wilson ($2.6M cap hit) with 2020 UDFA JaMycal Hasty waiting in the shadows. Mostert’s speed makes him an ideal outside zone fit, but he’s missed time in two of the last three seasons as a 5-foot-10, 197-pound sprinter. Can Mostert handle 200-plus touches in his age-29 season? History suggests no, but damn is he good when active.

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Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Coverage

Cover 3

 

% of Plays

???

 

CB

???

 

CB

???

 

CB (Slot)

???

 

SS

Jimmie Ward

 

FS

Tarvarius Moore

 

LB

Fred Warner

Azeez Al-Shaair

LB

Dre Greenlaw

 

DT (1T)

???

 

DT (3T)

Javon Kinlaw

Kentavius Street

EDGE

Arik Armstead

 

EDGE

Nick Bosa

Dee Ford

 

Defensive Coordinator: Losing Robert Saleh to the Jets gives former LB DeMeco Ryans his first chance at calling plays as an NFL defensive coordinator. Ryans joined the coaching staff in 2017 and likely runs the same system as Saleh in 2021, just with a lot of different players. The 49ers mixed up their coverages evenly, using both single- and two-high looks in the secondary and 4-3 and 3-4 looks up front. Ultimately, the 49ers called Cover 1 man (32%) and Cover 3 (20%) the most and blitzed at the 10th highest rate (33%). Ryans will be replacing an entire starting roster at corner, but will get Nick Bosa (2 games in 2020) and possibly Dee Ford (1 game) back in 2021. San Francisco was 17th in points allowed. That’s a fair over/under for 2021 right now with injury and depth chart uncertainty.

Passing Defense: The 49ers’ top seven corners in terms of 2020 snaps -- Jason Verrett (803), Emmanuel Moseley (409), Ahkello Witherspoon (334), Richard Sherman (332), K'Wuan Williams (284), Dontae Johnson (273), Jamar Taylor (203) -- are all free agents. It’s fair to call cornerback a team need, and they’ll need about five of them. At safety, the Niners are likely swapping free agent FS Jaquiski Tartt for 2018 third-rounder Tarvarius Moore. That’s a downgrade. The lone quality secondary starter returning from 2020 is 30-year-old SS Jimmie Ward. Up front, the Niners got some dudes: Nick Bosa is a top-five edge rusher if his Week 2 torn ACL heals well, DE Arik Armstead has played like the first-rounder that he is, twitchy 2020 first-round DT Javon Kinlaw has potential, and OLB Dee Ford could be an impact player if his health cooperates. If not, Ford can be cut after June 1st ($15.3M in cap savings). The Niners’ No. 24 adjusted sack rate from last year is a near lock to improve with better injury luck, but their No. 8 passing EPA defense may not with the secondary turnover.

Rushing Defense: Despite all of the injuries last year, the 49ers finished fifth in rushing EPA defense. Their single-high safety looks consistently added another defender in the box (graph), and it didn’t hurt to have arguably the best linebacker in the NFL, Fred Warner, at the second level. 2019 fifth-round overachieving LB Dre Greenlaw is a decent starter, too. The potential struggles against the run come at one-technique with 321-pound DT D.J. Jones headed for free agency. 2020 first-rounder DT Javon Kinlaw is more of a twitchy pass-rusher than elite run defender. The Niners need another big man in the middle to remain a top-10 run defense in 2021. Luckily for the front office, there are a lot of cheap run-stuffing defensive tackles in free agency and the NFL Draft. 

49ersDEF

 


49ers Team Needs

1. Corner(s) - The 49ers don’t have a single corner signed for 2021 making over $1 million. Jason Verrett (491 coverage snaps), Emmanuel Moseley (298), Ahkello Witherspoon (210), Richard Sherman (210), K’Wuan Williams (175), Dontae Jackson (175), and Jamar Taylor (130) are all unsigned, so this is obviously a total positional rebuild.

2. Offensive Tackle - This comes down to re-signing LT Trent Williams who deserves to be paid like an elite player after last season. He didn’t lose a step after taking the 2019 year off (seriously, get out the way when the big boy is clearing space in the open field). Williams will “only” be 32 years old when the 2021 season kicks off. When asked about re-signing, Williams said his goal is to “end up in the 49ers’ ring of fame”.

3. Quarterback - Remember the Alex Smith years in Kansas City? Gen Zers like myself can barely remember, but the current Jimmy Garoppolo situation feels very similar. The roster with coach Kyle Shanahan calling plays feels “one quarterback away”, and this is a decent year to be looking for a replacement. The 49ers can take on a Deshaun Watson-type contract by cutting Garoppolo ($24.1M in cap savings), or they can trade up for one of the consensus top quarterback prospects. Worst case, San Francisco should pick up an Andy Dalton-type to compete.

4. Center - Weston Richburg is a good player if healthy, but he’s in year four of a five-year contract and is coming off a torn patella tendon. The 49ers can cut him outright if he passes a physical ($4.5M in cap savings), or can work things out in an injury settlement. If he’s healthy, the Niners can address right guard instead where 2020 fifth-rounder Colton McKivitz is projected to start. Interior linemen Daniel Brunskill and Ben Garland are free agents.

5. Defensive Tackle - This sounds crazy because of all the draft capital San Francisco has spent on the defensive interior, but the 49ers are missing a beefy one-tech with 321-pound DT D.J. Jones headed for free agency. This can be a run-oriented player given the pass rushers the rest of the defensive line has already. 

 


2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

George Kittle (TE1) - Travis Kelce deserves the benefit of the doubt as the TE1 overall until proven otherwise, but Kittle and to a lesser extent Darren Waller are the only other two remotely in the conversation. Kittle was the TE2 overall per game (17.0 PPR) on TE3 fantasy usage per game (13.2) last season. His +3.8 PPR points over expected (an efficiency stat) only trailed Big Bob Tonyan and Kelce.

Brandon Aiyuk (WR3) - This quote and table are from my 2020 On/Off Splits to Know column: “Okay, this is confusing as hell, but it’s important to get right as Aiyuk will be a coveted 2021 fantasy draft pick. This table shows how Aiyuk did with and without Kittle and/or Samuel. No matter which combination I picked, Aiyuk did far better when Kittle, Samuel, or both missed. That’s expected. The tricky part is to figure out where Aiyuk will slot in when both are in the lineup coming off an offseason where there are legit practices (possibly with a new quarterback). Aiyuk’s projection is simply one of the hardest to get right. I think the 13-15 PPR points per week range is fair as we head into free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.”

49ersSplits

Deebo Samuel (WR4) - The underneath target of the team, Samuel averaged 14.5 PPR points on 13.2 expected PPR points across five healthy games last year, but his biggest game (24.4 PPR points) came when Kittle was injured. If Kittle and Aiyuk are healthy, Samuel’s ceiling will be capped; only 2% of his targets came 20-plus air yards downfield and his 0.33 red zone targets per game trailed Aiyuk (1.17) and Kittle (0.57) by a wide margin. Samuel needs Garoppolo to have a career season.

Raheem Mostert (RB2/3) - Before an ankle injury derailed his season, Mostert was going to smash his RB3 price tag. He had 25.1, 18.7, and 14.9 PPR point totals in his first three healthy games thanks to a few big plays, two of which finished as the No. 1 (23.09 MPH) and No. 2 (22.73 MPH) fastest speeds of any NFL ball carrier in 2020 per NextGen Stats. Heading into 2021, Mostert is paid as if he has the leg up on Jeff Wilson, but it will be a competition to watch throughout the summer and into the season. Mostert has more upside than the backs that will be drafted near him.

Jeff Wilson (RB3) - The front office handed Wilson a one-year, $2.05 million contract after flashing big-play potential in this outside zone scheme. A slasher like Mostert, Wilson doesn’t have the receiving profile that free agents Tevin Coleman or Jerick McKinnon had coming into 2020, but the third-down role is up for grabs. Perhaps Wilson mixes in there. Perhaps Wilson is pure early-down insurance to Mostert. Perhaps Wilson proves to just be better than him. The former UDFA was the RB8 in PPR points per game over expected among 74 qualifiers last year. Mostert was 12th.

Jimmy Garoppolo (QB2/3) - The 49ers can save $23.6 million against the cap by cutting or trading Garoppolo, and it’ll only cost the team $2.8 million in dead money. He can easily be moved -- that’s why San Francisco was in on Matthew Stafford talks -- but it’s unclear if anything will materialize. An immobile player, Garoppolo’s fantasy ceiling is severely capped, particularly if he goes to a less-friendly environment via trade or release. In his Super Bowl season, Garoppolo was fantasy’s QB23 per game.