One of the biggest stories in the league heading into the 2018
season was the 49ers’ acquisition and subsequent financial
investment in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The team traded for him
during the 2017 season and the entire offense was visibly and statistically
much better under his leadership. Many fantasy experts predicted
a breakout from Garoppolo in 2018, but a torn ACL near the end of
the 49ers’ Week 3 game against the Chiefs put an end to that
before it ever really began.
The 49ers were just 1-2 when Garoppolo went out and things only
got worse and they went on to win just four games on the season.
It’s worth noting that Garoppolo was not particularly effective
as a fantasy quarterback in the games he did play, never reaching
even 275 yards through the air with just five total touchdowns and
three interceptions in his three starts. Not only that, but Garoppolo
is notably one of the weakest contributors in the running game,
having rushed just eight times for 33 yards in his three games.
In fact, he tore his ACL on his only rush of 10 or more yards on
Given the unexpected absence of Garoppolo, the 49ers passing offense
wasn’t actually all that bad, at least in terms of yards,
in 2018. C.J. Beathard was given the first opportunity and he passed
for an average of 250 yards per game while throwing eight touchdown
passes in five games. Nick Mullens was up next, who averaged 285
passing yards per game, but he also threw 10 interceptions in only
eight starts. Both passers took far too many sacks, but the overall
yardage numbers really weren’t that bad. In fact, both passers
were better than Garoppolo on a per-game basis.
Still, Garoppolo’s return to the lineup should be an upgrade
across the board for the team. The 49ers invested in Garoppolo for
a reason and it’s obvious that Kyle Shanahan sees something
in him. His skills are certainly better than Bearthard or Mullens’,
but it’s still hard to completely buy into this offense given
their relative lack of experienced weapons out wide.
The team’s most experienced wide receiver is Marquise Goodwin,
who has failed to reach even 500 receiving yards in all but one
of his six NFL seasons. The other top wide receivers, Dante Pettis
and rookie Deebo Samuel, have caught a combined three regular
season passes from Garoppolo. They do have some of the best pass
catching weapons in the league at tight end and running back,
so look for the 49ers offense to take a step forward from where
it was at in 2019, particularly in the way of efficiency. Garoppolo
is a much more skilled passer than either Bearthard or Mullens
and that should translate into fewer mistakes, which should in
turn lead to fewer turnovers and more points for the San Francisco
Garoppolo was one of the hottest names in fantasy heading into
the 2019 and he’s certainly cooled off this offseason as
he’s now being drafted outside the top-15 at the position.
While his injury recovery is something to be a bit concerned about,
that gigantic drop off in perceived fantasy value seems unjustified.
If anything, the 49ers are more stacked offensively this season
than they were heading into 2018, especially when you consider
the breakout season that tight end George Kittle saw even without
Garoppolo behind center. While his ADP of being a top-10 QB heading
into 2018 was probably too high given his lack of rushing ceiling,
Garoppolo does have the requisite skills and offensive system
to make himself into a QB1 this season. Taking him as a high floor,
low-risk QB2 to pair with a higher-risk QB1 like Kyler Murray
or Jameis Winston seems like a wise option.
One of the more interesting moves at running back this offseason
took place in San Francisco as the team added former Atlanta backup
Tevin Coleman to the mix, reuniting him with former Falcons offensive
coordinator and current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Coleman
joins a cluttered, albeit injury-riddled backfield that was quietly
productive in 2018 despite countless injuries across the offense.
It’d be easy to look back at Coleman’s history with
Shanahan and project Coleman to be the lead back in San Francisco
this season. The 26-year-old Coleman enjoyed his most efficient
season back in 2016 as a member of the Falcons with Shanahan calling
the plays, when he rushed for 520 yards and eight touchdowns while
adding 421 yards and three touchdowns in the passing game –
and he did that while playing a complementary role to that season’s
fantasy RB1 overall, Devonta Freeman. Without a proven producer
like Freeman in front of him in San Francisco, it would appear at
first glance that Coleman is the odds-on favorite to lead the team
in touches at the position this season.
However, there are concerns about Coleman, particularly relating
to his lack of production in 2018. The aforementioned Freeman went
down early in the season to injury and the hype train was in full
effect for Coleman. However, Coleman fizzled out, rushing for just
800 yards while adding 276 yards as a receiver. His fantasy season
was partially saved due to his impressive five touchdowns in the
passing game, but his four rushing touchdowns were very discouraging
in what was still a good Atlanta offense. What’s most concerning,
though, is that Coleman couldn’t even fully hold off rookie
Ito Smith, who saw over 100 total touches, limiting Coleman to fewer
than 200 touches on the season.
It's tough to say that Coleman’s season was a complete disaster
as he did finish inside RB2 range, but there’s no question
that it was a disappointment given the context of the situation
and what fantasy owners were expecting. Those who traded for Coleman
once Freeman went down certainly did not return the value that they
were hoping for.
The 49ers backfield may not have a proven mega-producer like Freeman
in it, but it does have a number of players who are extremely gifted
athletes and who have flashed explosive playmaking ability, which
is really how Coleman has shined throughout his career. He may be
the best bet of the bunch to be the top producer, but that doesn’t
mean that he’s going to see enough touches to have even close
to RB1 upside. In fact, the downside is that Coleman could realistically
end up playing a similar role in San Francisco to the one he played
in Atlanta, just in a less explosive, less-talented offense within
a division with substantially more difficult defensive matchups.
Thankfully Coleman’s ADP has been hovering around a bottom-end
RB2 to high end RB3 so he’s unlikely to cost fantasy owners
much even if he does disappoint, so the upside of him finishing
as a mid-level RB2 does make him appealing given the lack of cost
to acquire him in drafts.
Few running backs had more hype with less career production than
Jerick McKinnon had heading into the 2018 fantasy season. McKinnon
had snuck into the RB1 range in drafts after free agency saw him
make the move from Minnesota to San Francisco, where he joined a
weak depth chart in an offense quarterbacked by a young budding
star named Jimmy Garoppolo and coached by one of the best offensive
minds in the game, Kyle Shanahan.
And then came the injury. McKinnon tore his ACL in practice prior
to ever getting on the field for a regular season snap, ending his
season before it even began.
While he’ll have a full calendar year to recover before
the 2019 season begins, the situation in the San Francisco backfield
has now changed fairly substantially. The team added veteran Tevin
Coleman, whose connection with Shanahan makes him an immediate
favorite to be the starter, but perhaps the most concerning thing
for McKinnon is actually Matt Breida, who broke out in his second
season after being shoved into the starting role after McKinnon’s
injury. Breida, who took over as the lead back at Georgia Southern
when McKinnon went to the NFL, is one of the few backs in the
league who can match McKinnon’s combination of raw size/speed/strength.
This has typically been McKinnon’s edge in most backfields,
as he’s been able to get on the field in certain situations
just due to his athletic prowess. With someone like Breida on
the roster, who has now proven himself in this very offense, he
will now likely have to compete for even those snaps.
McKinnon is being drafted outside the top 40 at the position
so he doesn’t cost much, but it’s tough to envision
a scenario wherein he becomes a bell cow in San Francisco without
numerous injuries to other players in the backfield. Given his
own injury history and recent reports of a setback with his knee,
makes McKinnon a lower-upside play than most probably realize.
Third-year running back Matt Breida was being drafted as the third
49ers running back off the board in fantasy drafts, but he’s
the only player on the team who’s actually produced in this
offense and recent news of Jerick McKinnon suffereing a setback
in his ACL recovery should have Breida’s ADP on the rise.
Breida was unexpectedly pushed into a role with significant playing
time after an ACL injury cost Jerick McKinnon his entire 2018 season.
The 49ers signed veteran Alfred Morris, who predictably did practically
nothing aside from fall forward for three yards when he got carries,
but it was Breida who ended up making a splash. Breida rushed for
814 yards on an impressive 5.3 yards per attempt, while also adding
261 yards in the receiving game on 31 catches. Those numbers would’ve
likely been even better if Breida hadn’t suffered numerous
nagging injuries of his own, forcing him to play banged up in an
offense that lacked firepower to begin with. His five touchdowns
were also a disappointment, although that was mostly due to overall
lack of red zone efficiency from the 49ers offense, particularly
in the passing game.
If he can stay healthy, there’s an outside chance that Breida
could actually lead this backfield in touches. Coleman is on a new
team and wasn’t particularly effective in a much better Atlanta
offense in 2018, so he has his own concerns. It won’t likely
happen early in the season, but Breida could very well end up being
the best value pick out of this entire backfield.
We’ve seen situations like this before in backfields like
New England, where there are a lot of talented players but no
one player who necessarily sticks out as being the do-it-all “bell
cow.” That often leads to a frustrating fantasy scenario
where the top picks end up being a disappointment and the late-round
backs end up being a value. Breida is being selected very late
or even being left undrafted in many leagues, so getting him as
a late-round dart throw who could end up giving you solid RB2
numbers down the stretch seems like a great option.
Following a breakout season in 2017, many believed that Marquise
Goodwin was in for another big season in 2018 as he was now tethered
to both a high quality offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan as
well as a young potential stud quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. That
didn’t happen, however, as Goodwin fell back to being an inconsistent,
mediocre contributor, just as he was in Buffalo.
Of course, it didn’t help that Garoppolo missed the majority
of the season with a torn ACL, but Goodwin’s biggest problem
continues to be his own injury situation. Goodwin is an incredible,
Olympic-level athlete, but at just 5’9” and 180 lbs,
he’s just too small to be an every-down receiver in the NFL.
He will likely crack the starting lineup for the 49ers at least
early in the season, but any little injury to his lower body makes
Goodwin less and less effective. He’s not a polished route
runner, he lacks upper body strength to battle for contested passes
and he isn’t great at finding holes in zone coverage. If something
like a slightly sprained ankle or an injured toe is affecting his
world class speed, he goes from being a big time weapon to essentially
being just another guy on the field.
Goodwin’s skill set makes him extraordinarily difficult
to predict in fantasy football. He’s one busted coverage
away from producing WR1 numbers in just about any game, but he
could just as easily give you just about nothing even in good
matchups. That makes him a good fit in best ball formats, but
his downside is being completely useless in most other fantasy
While it was tight end George Kittle who broke out and led the
team in practically every receiving statistic for the 49ers in 2018,
it was good to see that second-round NFL Draft pick Dante Pettis
was able to make some decent contributions when he was on the field.
Pettis only played in 12 games, starting seven, but his 17.3 yards
per reception were quite impressive and he tied Kittle for the team
lead with five touchdown receptions.
With the quarterback situation seemingly improved from where it
was in 2018, the biggest concern with Pettis is no longer the questionable
accuracy of the targets coming his way, but rather the competition
he faces. Kittle should still lead the team in targets this season
which limits Pettis’ upside anyway, but he also faces competition
from veterans Marquise Goodwin and Kendrick Bourne, along with incoming
second-round draft pick Deebo Samuel, whom some compared to Samuel
as a prospect even before he landed in San Francisco. The duplicative
nature of much of their skill sets makes both players risky for
fantasy purposes, but Pettis’ ADP makes him a serious gamble.
He’s being drafted around players like Alshon Jeffery, Tyler
Boyd, Robby Anderson, Allen Robinson – all of whom are proven
While we do expect Pettis to improve with more experience and
a clean bill of health as well as the 49ers offense to improve
as a whole, Pettis suddenly breaking out to become a WR1 or even
a high-end WR2 seems unlikely given the target competition he’ll
face from the tight ends, running backs and even other wide receivers
in this offense.
Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel may not have had the hype of
some of the other pass catchers selected in this year’s draft,
but very few have a better path to immediate targets than Samuel
does here in 2019. With only unproven second-year wide receiver
and inconsistent veteran Marquise Goodwin being locked in ahead
of him on the depth chart heading into the season, Samuel could
very well find himself starting quite a few games despite only being
a second-round draft pick.
The biggest problem for Samuel is that his skill set does overlap
with other pass catchers in this offense, particularly the aforementioned
Pettis, who flashed at times as a rookie. It’s also worth
considering that Pettis was not the only receiver who the 49ers
selected in this year’s draft, as they did also add Jalen
Hurd a round later than Samuel, whom many had ranked within their
top 10 at the position in the class.
Realistically, Samuel’s upside in 2019 is fairly limited,
but he does have the requisite skill set to be a contributor in
the long run at the NFL level. He’s an interesting player
in dynasty leagues where we can watch him develop and hopefully
eventually become an every week starter in this San Francisco
offense, but he lacks much upside to be anything better than a
WR3/Flex play even in the best case scenario here in 2019.
Many predicted a nice step forward for tight end George Kittle
heading into the 2018, but very few – if any – foresaw
the unbelievable season he would end up providing to fantasy owners.
Kittle didn’t just take a step forward, he took a number of
giant leaps, instantly becoming one of the elite players at his
position while breaking the all-time NFL single season receiving
yardage record at the tight end position. Yes, Kittle – in
his second NFL season – produced more yardage than Rob Gronkowski,
Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Travis Kelce, or any other tight end
has ever had in a single year. And he did it while playing almost
all of his games with the likes of C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens
throwing him passes.
Of course, it helped that the 49ers were extremely thin at pass
catcher, with only one other player besides Kittle – Kendrick
Bourne – seeing more than 50 targets on the season, but there’s
really no questioning that Kittle has to be considered one of the
few difference makers for fantasy at an otherwise weak tight end
With that being said, there is at least some concern that Kittle
might not be able to reproduce quite what he did in 2018. Of course,
we can’t expect him to repeat a literal record-breaking season
from a yardage standpoint so regression in that area is to be expected,
but how he got to those numbers is also a bit of a concern. Kittle
actually crushed it in one very specific, often times difficult-to-replicate
statistic – yards after catch. Kittle’s 784 yards after
catch was not only best in the league among tight ends, it was actually
over 200 yards more than the next best tight end, Kansas City’s
Travis Kelce, and almost 400 yards more than the third-best YAC
tight end, Jared Cook. To put that into further perspective, the
only other tight ends who’ve ever even eclipsed 500 YAC yards
in a season since they began officially recording that statistic
are Kelce, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Kelce’s 784
YAC yards are by far and away the most ever by a tight end and that
to be considered a lock to regress here in 2019, even if he’s
an extreme outlier at the position.
Just because he’s likely to regress in yardage totals doesn’t
necessarily make Kittle a risk to bust, however. With the 49ers
offense as a whole almost certainly being better than they were
in 2018, Kittle should have additional opportunities to get into
the end zone. That’s the one area where he didn’t excel
this past season as he scored just five times in the year. That
number should improve even with additional competition for targets,
as Kittle is pretty much the only large-bodied pass catcher on the
roster and he’s certainly the only proven top-level pass-catching
producer in San Francisco. If he can boost his touchdown total to
even the upper single-digits, that would more than make up for the
expected step back in yardage. If he can somehow push that to 10
to 15 touchdowns, as other elite tight ends have done in the past,
we could see Kittle actually exceed his fantasy point totals from
2018 even if he’s not nearly as productive in terms of yardage.
Kittle is an elite fantasy tight end and one of the few players
at the position who’s actually worth considering in the
early rounds of your fantasy draft.