As a lifelong 49ers fan, I love the direction this organization is heading in. They are finally contenders and have a stacked roster of talented players. Below is a fantasy breakdown of the team, where I might not sound as optimistic in the team, but just goes to show that being the best in fantasy doesn’t mean wins on the field.
BANG BANG NINER GANG!
Jimmy G is already one of the more polarizing players in the league despite only being a starter for one full season. It seems like half of the league thinks he has the chance to be an elite quarterback and the other half thinks he’s as useful as a screen door on a submarine. As bad as people thought he played last year, particularly in a run-first offense, he finished with the 14th most fantasy points for quarterbacks. Garoppolo has a strong offensive line and big-play receivers in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, which helps make his life easier. He was the only quarterback to finish in the top ten in yards per attempt, touchdowns, and completion percentage in 2019 which shows to me he’s a solid all-around option and has a high floor. While he does make some terrible decisions that result in turnovers, 4 of his 13 interceptions from a season ago were a result of drops by his receivers. Some will be turned off after watching the 49ers turn into a heavy run team, but Garropolo finished seventh last year in red-zone passing attempts. Shanahan’s outside zone run game is successful but historically becomes less effective when the field gets smaller inside of the twenty yard line. Assuming this trend continues, Garoppolo will continue to throw for more than 25 touchdowns per season, making him a viable fantasy option.
In a perfect world, none of the other quarterbacks have to play much, if at all. Nick Mullens is firmly entrenched as the #2 and proven to be a decent quarterback who had some potential in fantasy due to his accuracy and being in Shanahan’s offense. The clock may strike twelve on Beathard’s tenure as a 49er and UDFA Broc Rutter gets to hang around Jimmy Garoppolo during training camp. Maybe he can ask what conditioner he uses.
I know he has requested a trade, but let’s be honest with the fact that he’s not leaving. The 49ers hold all of the leverage here and have no reason to give in to any demands. If anything, Mostert should be upset at his agent for negotiating a terrible deal for him last offseason. On the field, he led all running backs with a 5.7 ypc and has gained muscle this offseason to prepare for what he says is “a 200 carry season”. It finally seems that he’s going to emerge as the lead back in San Francisco and he’s earned that right. Shanahan will implement a running back by committee so that does handcuff Mostert a little bit, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t get most of the carries as long as he is healthy. As a receiver, he doesn’t offer much upside aside from catching the occasional screen pass. He might be the last option of anyone in the backfield when it comes to being the receiving option, but overall Mostert is still the 49ers running back you’ll want to target. He will be more desired in non-PPR leagues, but I like him as a solid RB2/Flex option on your roster.
Shanahan’s dedication to Coleman is actually very admirable. It was clear that he wasn’t the best running back on the roster, but he stuck with him all the way to the Super Bowl. In his first season, he finished tied for first in carries, despite both Mostert and Matt Breida averaging more than a yard per carry more than him. It’s not that Coleman is a bad running back, it’s just that nothing he does stands out. Despite that, you can count on him to be consistent. He didn’t fumble the ball in 2019 and also led the 49ers running backs in catches with 21. He did suffer a high ankle sprain in week 1 which may have contributed to his lack of explosiveness, which would be understandable. However, there’s one role that Coleman has seemingly locked down and that’s the role of short-yardage back, most importantly the goal line back. Coleman saw double the carries in the red zone than Mostert did and was 19th overall in the league in carries inside of the 5-yard line, despite the fact he was sharing snaps pretty evenly and missed a few games with an injury. Many 49ers fans might want Jeff Wilson Jr. to have this role in 2020, but as long as Jerick McKinnon is healthy (big IF), Wilson is unlikely to be active on game days. Don’t count on him to be one of your starters, but utilize him as a safe bench option since you know he’s going to provide you with average production week in and week out.
I mean this is the year McKinnon is healthy, right? Right? Might be asking a lot, but this organization clearly has some sort of faith in him and he could have a role in the offense. It might be almost strictly as a third-down back or gadget player, but Shanahan will find something for him. Still not worth drafting. Jeff Wilson Jr. is a fan favorite due to the fact every time he touches the ball it seems to be for a touchdown. But, as I said earlier I don’t think he’ll be suited up on game days. If he is, keep an eye out for him in fantasy as what we call a “touchdown vulture”. He runs tough and has shown the ability to catch the ball. One of Jamycal Hasty or Slavon Ahmed has a chance to make the team if the organization decides to move on from one of the aforementioned running backs. Both seem to be Shanahan’s type of runner, but with little to no preseason, it’s impossible to count on them for anything. Finally, there’s Kyle Jusczczyk, the best fullback in the league. Hell of a player, but not a fantasy option. All love though Juice.
I’ll just come out and say that his foot injury scares the crap out of me. He’s very confident that he will be on field week 1, but that will be tough to accomplish. However, since it’s so far out for the sake of this preview I will assume he’s good to go against the Cardinals on September 13th. 71% of his yards came after week 7, where he began to have a more prominent role in the offense across from Emmanuel Sanders. Now that Sanders is gone, Deebo is WR1 and also good for a few carries a game as well. Of his 159 rushing yards last year, 122 yards came in the last five games (13.5 yards per carry), as did two of his three rushing touchdowns. He’s the perfect dynamic playmaker that Shanahan loves to work with and wants to feature in his offense every week. If he gets off to a slow start this season, do not get rid of him! We don’t know how he will look after the foot injury and it shouldn’t shock anyone if he is a bit slow out of the gate. Also, despite him taking the role as the top receiver on the team, that doesn’t mean he’s the team’s first option. That is and will likely continue to be Kittle for the foreseeable future. The 49ers do only face three of the top ten passing defenses from a season ago and do have six games against teams that were in the bottom ten of passing defenses. As I stated earlier, I think Jimmy G will get better and that helps Deebo. I don’t think you should rely on him as your top receiver or even your second receiver, but he’s a very strong flex option.
Now I actually believe that Kendrick Bourne could be a decent sleeper option. He knows the offense, he’s healthy, and he gets red zone targets. With seemingly half of the receiving corps coming off of injuries and the other half being unproven, Bourne is a steady and safe option for Shanahan to trust. He did have four drops last year, which as a fan was incredibly frustrating at times, but he has yet to lose his spot on the lineup. Over the past two seasons, he has 9 touchdowns on 72 catches (12.5%) and this is where his true value lies. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a high volume guy, but he’s a machine on the slant route from about the six or seven-yard line where he and Jimmy have that timing down to a T. No chance I drafting him, but I think come week one he’s starting and if can perform well early, no chance he will lose playing time. He doesn’t have the skill of Dante Pettis or the quickness of Trent Taylor, but he works his ass off and stays healthy.
By the midway point of the season (if not sooner) Aiyuk will be starting across from Deebo Samuel as the 49ers starting receiver. Put that in sharpie, it’s happening folks. He plays very similarly to Deebo in the sense they have tons of YAC potential, but Aiyuk was a much better deep play receiver in college. He will be used a lot in motion so that will grant him a free release at the line and since the team lacks a true deep-threat, I anticipate Aiyuk becoming that. He might not light it up for the first few games, but it took half the season for Samuel to get consistent playing time. Shanahan says the Aiyuk was his favorite receiver in the entire draft and an innovative player-caller like Shanahan wouldn’t say that if he didn’t have big plans for the youngster from Arizona State. He will get I suspect most of the targets that went to Emmanuel Sanders, who saw about six targets a game. I wouldn’t draft him, but he’s a guy you’ll want to keep an eye on once bye weeks start.
Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd are two very intriguing options here that I’ll keep a close eye on as training camp starts. Taylor and Jimmy were a great connection down the stretch in 2017 and Taylor was the guy getting a lot of looks on third down. Then a back injury in 2018 slowed him down, with the foot injury in 2019 costing him the whole season. In training camp last year, reporters were calling him the team’s best receiver and seemed destined to have a breakout campaign. I have no doubt if he can stay healthy that he will be the team’s main slot receiver, but you just can’t trust him to play a full season. Hurd became a fan favorite during the 2019 preseason and had all of us salivating at the fact the 49ers finally had a physical receiver that could go up and get the football. But, just like Taylor, an injury cost him his whole season. If he’s healthy, he’ll be used in a variety of ways and line up at multiple positions. Might not be worthy of a fantasy roster spot, but will have an impact on this team. Then you have Dante Pettis, Richie James Jr, Travis Benjamin, and JaJuan Jennings all fighting for probably two rosters spots. I personally think James Jr and Jennings will be the ones who make the roster, but neither would get consideration for legitimate playing time.
We all know that the People’s Tight End is one of the baddest MOFO’s in the league. He’s the best tight end in the league and will become a very rich man in the near future. In 2019, despite missing two games, Kittle finished second in fantasy points for a tight end and first in points per game with 15.9 (according to ESPN). He accounted for 22% of the team’s targets, which should increase if he can play a full season and due to the loss of Emmanuel Sanders. One area of slight concern is the lack of touchdowns, logging five in each of the last two seasons. Despite this, he is the fourth most targeted tight end in the red zone meaning that the opportunities are there, he just needs to find a way into the end zone. The 49ers are a run-first team and ran the ball the second-most in the league in 2019, but it honestly helps Kittle. He’s very dangerous in play-action where teams have to respect his value as a blocker. Countless times the team will call play-action and Jimmy will look for Kittle in the flat where he will have room to run. He has the most YAC yards in the league since 2018, so it’s tough to imagine any handcuff that would stunt Kittle’s fantasy years besides an injury. And oh yea if it’s not clear already, #PayGeorgeKittle
Ross Dwelley did have a two touchdown game and has some fans on Twitter, but he’s not a fantasy option. Charlie Woerner will be used as a blocker and has close to zero fantasy value. The train starts and stops with Kittle.
49ers defense/special teams
The team returns every starter but one from the third-ranked fantasy defense in 2019. Losing Deforest Buckner is a massive loss, but this defensive line should still be able to get pressure at will. Nick Bosa figures to be a contender for DPOY and if Arik Armstead can replicate his ten sack total from last year, it’ll be tough for any quarterback to throw on them. The key to the defensive line I believe is Dee Ford. If he can stay somewhat healthy, they will once again be the number one pass defense in the league. They do have five games against top ten scoring offenses from a year ago, but it balances out nicely with the four games against bottom ten scoring defenses from last year. The only two teams in my opinion that this team struggled against in 2019 were the Saints and Cardinals, who they’ll play this upcoming season as well. The Saints game was a shootout that saw 94 points scored between the two teams, but I am a little more worried about the Cardinals. They had trouble trying to slow down Kyler Murray and his running ability and they only got better with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. Still not enough to be overly concerned as this defense is loaded with young talent, but just something to keep in mind if you draft them. In terms of the special teams portion, you’re probably not going to get too much value. That’s just how the game is nowadays with kickoff returns happening less frequently and punters keeping the ball away from elite returners.
The opportunities will be there for Gould, but will he capitalize. After missing three attempts in his first two years with the 49ers, Gould missed eight in 2019. Despite this, Shanahan still trusted him enough to have 31 attempts in 13 games. With 41 and 34 attempts the previous
Years, you can almost guarantee that he’ll have more than 30 attempts, where he is only one of four kickers to have that many attempts in every season since 2017. That’s value right there. I optimistically hope he can connect with 90% of his kicks as he did in 2017 and 2018, but even if he hovers around the 80% range, based on his attempts alone he’ll be towards the top in most made in 2020. Here’s one interesting stat I noticed just recently: when long snapper Kyle Nelson returned from his suspension week 8 against the Panthers, Gould went 18-19 the rest of the season including the playoffs. I’m not going to lie and say I’m some sort of kicking expert but that’s an encouraging sign I feel like for Gould’s 2020 campaign.
And just for fun, I did my first prediction for the 53 man roster. I actually feel relatively confident in this list, which means that the final roster will look nothing like this list.
Jeff Wilson Jr
Kerry Hyder, Jr.
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