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2023 Fantasy Football Preview: San Francisco 49ers

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Player Outlooks (2023)


QB Brock Purdy: The recovery for Purdy seems to be on track for Week 1, and we should have clarity on his chances of starting the opener by the time most traditional fantasy drafts are held on Labor Day weekend. Last year’s “Mr. Irrelevant” showed a rare feel for the game and received glowing approval from teammates for how he handled himself when inserted into the starting lineup as a rookie—going 7-0 in games he started and finished (including playoffs). If healthy, Kyle Shanahan will have high trust in Purdy to run the show, and the run-after-catch ability of the playmakers should lead to plenty of statistical success for a guy that had multiple touchdown passes in all five of his starts during the 2022 regular season.


QB Trey Lance: It would be unfair to write off Lance—who just turned 23 in May—following four career starts (one of which was in a monsoon) and just 102 career pass attempts. However, San Francisco no longer feels like the spot where he might reach his potential, as the team is coming off a magical run with Purdy under center, and the championship-ready roster can’t wait around for a quarterback that hasn’t played in a full season since 2019. The best shot at redraft value might be an injury around the league combined with a strong preseason to give Lance a new home.


QB Sam Darnold: Darnold was a very interesting addition for the 49ers, as his play style is similar to Purdy with impressive playmaking instincts, and he possesses standout arm talent. The concern is the long history of being unable to shake turnover issues, but Darnold improved last year with a 4-2 record in Carolina, so Shanahan might feel he can fully unlock the potential of the former No. 3 overall pick—who could get a shot to play early if Purdy’s recovery is delayed; if so, he’d carry QB2 appeal.


RB Christian McCaffrey: A trade to the 49ers vaulted McCaffrey back to the top of the high-end RB1 rankings last year, and it was basically a perfect pairing with the creative system of San Francisco resulting in big numbers as a runner and receiver (not to mention some passing success). Boosting the case for McCaffrey as the top pick in fantasy leagues is his unwillingness to leave the field, and he was on a season-long pace of 1,952 total yards and 17 total touchdowns in ten starts with the Niners. For as long as he’s healthy, McCaffrey is back to being a fantasy cheat code.


RB Elijah Mitchell: Mitchell averaged 6.2 yards per carry in five games last season, and he was on pace for over 1,000 rushing yards in four weeks playing with McCaffrey despite handling just 9.8 carries per game. At the same time, durability has been an issue for the big-play runner, and San Francisco could decide to mix in Jordan Mason and Tyrion Davis-Price more than you’d like for Mitchell’s outlook as a FLEX option. He will probably be a volatile weekly start behind McCaffrey.


RB Jordan Mason: Mason also averaged a high yards-per-carry clip last season (6.0), and he proved himself as a very aggressive back that showed no fear despite being a rookie. The lack of involvement as a pass-catcher (zero targets) would need to increase, but Mason is one of the few No. 3 options with major upside.


RB Tyrion Davis-Price: We would expect the 49ers to carry four running backs on the roster this season, but Davis-Price needs to have a strong summer after rushing 34 times for 99 yards (2.9 YPC) as a rookie. The decisiveness of Jordan Mason is what gave him the edge in 2022, so training camp and preseason action will give us a good indication of the strides made by Davis-Price.


WR Deebo Samuel: There is understandably some hesitancy about Samuel rebounding in 2023 coming off a season in which he missed four games and saw his efficiency drop off a cliff—not to mention he’s been under 1,000 total yards in every season other than 2021 (when he had 1,770 total yards and 14 total touchdowns). However, the rushing remained a part of Deebo’s game after Christian McCaffrey joined the team, and we saw a glimpse of the 2022 version of Samuel in the Wild Card Round when he had 165 total yards and a touchdown versus Seattle for his best performance of the year. After being embarrassed by what he put on tape last year, Deebo is determined to be an elite player.


WR Brandon Aiyuk: The entire San Francisco offense will have more clarity as the season closes in and we get an idea of who will be under center for the opener, but Aiyuk put everything together in 2022 and now enters a contract year with a chance to get paid by the 49ers or another team. Although earning the spotlight alongside Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle can be a challenge, Aiyuk benefits from playing under Kyle Shanahan—consistently producing big numbers whenever featured with career lines of 8/91/1, 7/75/1, 10/119, 9/73/1, 6/62/1, 8/83/2, 7/82, and 9/101/1 when given double-digit targets. It sounds like Aiyuk will be one of the more popular breakout candidates of the summer.


WR Jauan Jennings: Jennings was a steady No. 3 option for the Niners last season, but how much can his numbers increase on a top-heavy offense? The 26-year-old will likely remain a better real-life option that can hurt opponents in big moments, and Kyle Shanahan may want to get last year’s third-round pick Danny Gray on the field a bit more in 2023.


WR Danny Gray: Again, Gray was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but he caught just one-of-seven targets (for ten yards) in 13 games as a rookie. The hope when drafted was that Gray would be able to be a field-stretcher on the outside, and he’ll have the opportunity to earn increased playing time by showing well in camp.


WR Ray-Ray McCloud: The biggest contributions for McCloud are expected to come in the return game, but he flashed on offense in his first season with San Francisco—turning 18 touches into 321 total yards (17.8 yards per touch) and two touchdowns. The former Clemson standout should at least be in consideration for a bench spot if injuries strike the receiving corps.


WR Ronnie Bell: Selected with one of the final picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, there was a thought that Bell could have gone in the first half of Day 3, and he should have a real shot at making the roster. After tearing his ACL in 2021, Bell caught 62 passes for 889 yards and four touchdowns last year at Michigan.


TE George Kittle: Kittle had a predictable hot streak to end the 2022 season (he was an obvious buy-low target for those looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs), and touchdowns were a big reason why with seven scores over the final four games. The run came after Kittle didn’t exactly complain about his role because he’s such a team player, but basically said it would be nice to be more of a factor in the passing game, which—if it continues this season—could make him as high as the No. 2 spot among tight ends. If everyone is healthy, though, there might be enough quiet weeks to push others ahead of Kittle in the high-end TE1 ranks.


TE Cameron Latu: The third-round range has been a bit of a weak spot for the Niners in terms of drafting skill-position talent, but Latu was selected for his potential as a blocker as much as anything else—and the team is hoping he’ll be the long-term No. 2 behind Kittle. Latu did have an eight-touchdown season a couple of years ago, so a role in the red zone will be his path to fantasy value.


Other Notes


Best IDP value: DE Drake Jackson

Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu combined for 9.5 sacks across from Nick Bosa last season, and Jackson has major upside as he steps into a starting role on a defensive front that also includes Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead. You can read our scouting report on Jackson from last year to find out why we are excited about his ability.


Stat to know (via draft guide)

Deebo Samuel averaged just 6.7 yards per target last year; across his first three seasons, Samuel averaged 10.6 yards per target—including at least 8.9 yards per target in every season.