2019 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,097 (4th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 51 (2nd)
Offensive Plays: 1,012 (12th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 514 (28th)
Rush Attempts: 498 (2nd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 98 (18th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 124 (8th)
It is not a coincidence that Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan were the coaches in charge of last season’s Super Bowl contenders, as the two can claim the title as the NFL’s best play callers. It speaks to Shanahan’s quality that the 49ers were 28th in pass attempts + sacks, 22nd in pass percentage in neutral game script situations and 12th in overall offensive plays - yet created the fourth most yards in the NFL and produced 51 offensive touchdowns, the second highest mark in the league. Many coaches claim “balance,” Shanahan specializes in it. Possessing a key voice in personnel to fit his system factors into Shanahan’s success as well. One critical factor? Yards after catch threats - where George Kittle ranked third among all tight ends, Deebo Samuel ranked third among all wide receivers, Tevin Coleman ranked third among all running backs and first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk ranked sixth among all FBS qualifiers. This is accentuated by Jimmy Garappolo’s 6.7 intended air yards per throw, third lowest in the league. Get the ball in your playmakers’ hands and let them work.
QB: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
WR: Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne
WR: Brandon Aiyuk, Dante Pettis, Travis Benjamin
WR: Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, Richie James, Jauan Jennings
TE: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner
On paper, Jimmy Garoppolo’s production doesn’t scream fantasy target based on last season’s numbers. The 49ers were 29th in pass attempts as Garoppolo finished as the QB19 in fantasy points per game. But dig a bit deeper and you see a potential fantasy football darling for the first five games of the season, as the 49ers open vs. ARZ, at NYJ, at NYG, vs. PHI, and vs. MIA - five secondaries potentially worth targeting. In an uncomfortable offseason, continuity among play-callers and quarterbacks could prove to be vital. In this case, the two are entering their fourth season together. Finally, considering multiple OL starters missed significant game action last season - C Weston Richburg played 78% of snaps, RT Mike McGlinchey played 73% and Joe Staley 40% - the ceiling could be even higher for this offense if Richburg, McGlinchey and Trent Williams play 85% or more in 2020. The position is loaded, but if you play in a format that requires two QBs, you could do worse than drafting Garoppolo at his current QB21 tag.
This is one of the few team previews that features a tight end ahead of the wide receivers, but we make exceptions when George Kittle is involved. This might sound overly optimistic, but last year’s TE2 in fantasy points per game has even more room to grow from a production standpoint. Kittle dealt with a multitude of injuries last season - knee, ankle and groin ailments, namely - that likely sucked some of the explosiveness and speed out of one of the freakiest athletes in the NFL. Kittle has never been on the positive end of touchdown luck, posting touchdown totals of two, six and six in his three seasons as a professional. Just 53% of 49ers’ drives inside the red zone ended in touchdowns last season, 21st in the league. If the team leaps into the top 10 in that category, Kittle certainly would benefit. It is possible he ends the season as the overall TE1.
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Plenty of warranted praise was heaped on DK Metcalf for his development over the course of his rookie season. Deebo Samuel deserves the same kind of recognition. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but early on Samuel was mainly a manufactured touch player. In games 1-6, Samuel averaged just 5.0 opportunities per game (targets + carries), and played 75% or more of the snaps in only one of those six contests. In games 7-16 Samuel acted like a full-time player, hitting that 75%-plus snap threshold seven times and averaging 7.2 opportunities per game. Unfortunately, that positive momentum was halted due to the Jones fracture Deebo suffered in mid-June, with a timeline of 10-12 weeks for recovery. He could ultimately miss the first six games of the season on the PUP list, or be active yet ineffective due to the sour combination of wide receivers and lower body injuries. It will be difficult to draft Samuel this preseason, even if he is currently the WR39 in ADP.
Brandon Aiyuk fits the critical factors Kyle Shanahan prioritizes - forcing 14 missed tackles last season and averaging 10.9 yards after the catch, 6th best in college football. While Shanahan saw gold, other evaluators likely questioned Aiyuk’s lone season of production or that he compiled the 9th most yards in the country on screen receptions. But with Deebo Samuel likely to miss time, Aiyuk now stands as the 49ers’ best after catch threat at wide receiver. He is currently being drafted after fellow rookies CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jalen Reagor and Justin Jefferson as the WR60.
The rest of the team’s receiver group carry questions despite the opportunity they might be afforded. Kendrick Bourne has Shanahan’s trust and scored as many receiving touchdowns as George Kittle last season, but his aDOT of 8.4 is that of a low ceiling possession receiver. The slot position will likely be split between Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd, two players who missed the entire 2019 season. Hurd might have the most upside, as Kyle Shanahan has fantasized a hybrid WR/TE/RB role. If any coordinator can pull that off, it is Young Shanny.
RB: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson
FB: Kyle Juszczyk
OL (L-R): Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Daniel Brunskill, Mike McGlinchey
Three backs played a pivotal part in the 49ers’ 2019 campaign: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Breida was sent to Miami for a fifth-round selection, leaving (mainly) Coleman and Mostert to share the opportunity in one of the most productive backfields in the league. In an offseason that has featured very few significant ADP changes compared to previous years, Mostert shifted his own draft status thanks to a midsummer holdout that has now been settled, dropping from RB2 territory to a high end RB3. Arguments to invest or avoid can be easily constructed on either side of the Mostert dilemma. Positives: Mostert averages over 6.0 yards per carry for his career, dominated the NFC Championship with 29 carries for 220 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 13 touches for the final five regular season games of 2019, a figure that could grow with Matt Breida’s 150 touches left on the table. Negatives: Mostert totaled just 22 targets in 2019 and only recorded two games with a snap percentage of 60%-plus last season.
Tevin Coleman comes with equal risk. A high ankle sprain plagued his reunion with Shanahan, and at times he looked like the third most talented back behind Mostert and Breida. But while Mostert is being drafted in the RB26 range, Coleman is currently coming off boards in the RB40 range. Aggressive best ball drafters might even select both for the same roster, as this backfield likely remains one of the most productive in the NFL. Expect the 49ers to again lead the league in 21 personnel usage (two RBs 28% of the time in 2019) as long as Kyle Juszczyk remains healthy.
Win Total 10.5
After winning 13 games last season, the 49ers win total was set at 10.5 for 2020. This ties them with the Saints as the highest projected total in the NFC. The Cardinals have clearly improved in the NFC West after winning just five games last season, and the Rams and Seahawks should continue to pose a threat. We know how difficult it is for one of the league’s best defenses to stay dominant year over year. I will take the slight under at 10-6.