Should fantasy owners go all-in on the 49ers in 2018? Or is there reason to be skeptical about Jimmy Garoppolo and company?
The hype surrounding Jimmy Garoppolo is real after he went 5-0 last year with the 49ers, including victories over the Titans, Jaguars, and (resting) Rams to close out the season. In five-plus games, Tom Brady’s former understudy completed 67.4% of his passes for 1,560 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions. Plus, he threw for an insane 8.8 yards per attempt, which (if he qualified) would have blown past Drew Brees’ NFL-leading 8.1 yards per attempt. So, can we expect that to continue with a full offseason in Kyle Shanahan’s system now under Garoppolo’s belt? I wouldn’t be so sure.
Jimmy G and the Niners aren’t going to take anyone by surprise this year, and that begins in the season opener when they travel to face Minnesota in perhaps the toughest matchup imaginable. And even after that, San Francisco has a really difficult schedule over the first half of the season, including games against the Chargers, Rams, and Cardinals (twice). The touchdown rate should go up, but the yards per attempt is basically a lock to go down, so while I love Garoppolo as a real-life franchise quarterback, there’s a 0% chance I take him this season as a back-end QB1 at his Round 9 ADP. The hype is a little too real right now.
It might not have seemed like it last year because of my preference for Latavius Murray, but I have been high on Jerick McKinnon since he was drafted, and now he gets a chance to be a workhorse back after signing a four-year, $30-million contract with the 49ers. The 26-year-old rushed 150 times for 570 yards (3.8 YPC) and three touchdowns last year with the Vikings, also adding 51 receptions for 421 yards and two more scores. There is concern that McKinnon won’t be able to handle a full workload, but he’s seemed to have rocked up this offseason, and running backs have had a history of producing big-time numbers in a Shanahan-operated offense dating back to Terrell Davis (1995-1998) and Clinton Portis (2002-2003) with Kyle’s dad Mike in Denver. I think the Niners’ new featured back is worth taking at his Round 3 ADP in standard leagues and gets a boost in PPR formats.
Matt Breida earned No. 2 duties last year behind Carlos Hyde as an undrafted rookie, and he impressed with 105 carries for 465 yards (4.4 YPC) and two touchdowns, also adding 21 receptions for 180 yards and one score. The 23-year-old, who actually went to the same college (Georgia Southern) as McKinnon, is a similarly explosive athlete with 4.39 wheels and a 42-inch vertical, so he could earn a heavily-used backup role this summer. I have Breida higher than most as a borderline top-150 player.
This time last year, 2017 fourth-round pick Joe Williams was considered not only a potential running back of the future for the 49ers, but also an immediate threat to Carlos Hyde atop the depth chart. However, he was beaten out by Breida and placed on IR before the regular season, so this could be a big summer for the 24-year-old. Even if he is focused and makes the team, Williams is unlikely to turn into a fantasy option barring injury, so he’s just a name to keep in mind.
Before a neck injury ended his season in Week 8, Pierre Garcon was averaging nearly double-digit targets with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard under center. The soon-to-be 32-year-old (next month) finished with 40 receptions for 500 yards and no touchdowns, and he should be on pace for similar numbers—and hopefully an increase in touchdowns—with an upgrade at quarterback. Garcon probably doesn’t have WR1 upside in standard leagues, but he should settle in as a solid FLEX option as the projected “X” in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. I have the veteran right in line with his early Round 9 ADP.
When Garcon went down last year, Marquise Goodwin stepped up in a big way with lines of 2/68, 1/83/1, 4/78, 8/99, 6/106, and 10/114 over the next six games; and his second-half average of 8.9 fantasy points per game in standard leagues would have made him the overall WR13 in 2017. Still, while the former track star should remain a big part of the offense, I’m not sure his fantasy success from last year is going to continue if Garcon slides back in as the focal point of the passing game. I have Goodwin ranked a couple rounds later than his Round 10 ADP.
Louisiana Tech product Trent Taylor produced a 43/430/2 line as San Francisco’s primary slot receiver last year, and the five-foot-nine target should have a similar role in his second season. I think there is room for improvement for Taylor, who I have ranked favorably as a top-250 player, but it would be surprising if he turned into anything more than a capped-ceiling option in PPR leagues.
I thought Dante Pettis was more of a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver that would add value as a returner, but his draft status (No. 44 overall) suggests that he is a legitimate option to be the team’s top option in the passing game sooner rather than later. Personally, I’m not sold on Pettis in redraft or dynasty leagues, but I’ll be watching him closely in preseason action. I think his biggest value as a rookie will come on special teams.
Last season, Kendrick Bourne caught 16 passes for 257 yards (16.1 average) as an undrafted rookie of out Eastern Washington, and according to the team’s official website, he has apparently looked “like a potential difference-maker” this offseason while showing a “fantastic rapport” with Jimmy Garoppolo. I am always wary of an overlooked receiver showing out with the starter in practice and thinking it will lead to game-day success, but Bourne really flashed as a rookie. Don’t be surprised if he pushes for a significant role in 2018.
2017 fifth-round pick George Kittle is one of this year’s biggest breakout picks at tight end after recording a 43/515/2 line as a rookie, and he could become a big factor in the red zone for a team that lacks size at wide receiver. I wouldn’t reach for him before Round 14, but Kittle is a well-rounded player with great speed (4.52 40-yard dash), and he’s a really good option for those that need a tight end at the end of fantasy drafts this summer.
If Kittle is going to take a statistical leap, he will probably need to keep Garrett Celek off the field after the veteran caught 21 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns last year. Celek is more of a blocker than receiver, but his 16.0 yards per reception was second to O.J. Howard (16.6) for tight ends with at least 20 grabs in 2017. That said, the 30-year-old isn’t a fantasy option with Kittle healthy.
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