Kyle Shanahan enters his fifth season as the 49ers head coach. He is batting 1-for-4 over his first four trips to the plate, with his only hit coming in 2019 when San Francisco went 13-3 with a trip to the Super Bowl. Over his other three seasons, Shanahan went 14-32 with no winning years. His career record now stands at 29-35, putting his job at risk with another underwhelming season. He has 11 years of experience as an offensive coordinator while being in the NFL for 17 seasons.
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After going without an offensive coordinator for the past couple of seasons, the 49ers promoted Mike McDaniel to lead their offense. He held the run game coordinator job from 2017 to 2020 while working under Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. McDaniel has been coaching in the NFL since 2011.
The 49ers fell to 21st in points scored (376), a mere 103 fewer than 2019 (479 points – 2nd). In addition, they finished 15th in yards gained.
The defense is now in the hands of DeMeco Ryans. He spent the previous three seasons working as the linebacker coach for San Francisco. Ryans played 10 seasons in the NFL at linebacker before moving to the 49ers coaching staff in 2017.
San Fran ranked second and fifth in yards allowed over the past two seasons, but they allowed 80 more points in 2020 (390 – 17th).
The only players lost to free agency were CB Ahkello Witherspoon, WR Kendrick Bourne, QB C.J. Beathard, DE Kerry Hyder, and RB Tevin Coleman.
In addition, the 49ers didn’t re-sign CB Richard Sherman, who remains a free agent. He missed most of 2020 with a calf injury.
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San Francisco added C Alex Mack in the offseason. He was an excellent fit for the Falcons’ offense when he signed in 2016. Mack is one of the top run-blocking centers in the NFL while offering strength in pass protection every year in the league. The Browns drafted him in the first round by the Browns in 2009.
The only other change in free agency came with the signing of DE Samson Ebukam. His playing time faded over the previous two years as he has settled into being a rotational pass rusher. Ebukam picked up 4.5 sacks in both 2019 and 2020.
QB Trey Lance
His natural comparison would be Lamar Jackson by stats, but Lance can’t match his top-end speed or arm strength. He plays with his eyes up when breaking the pocket while featuring an explosive gear when turning upfield. My comp is closer to Deshaun Watson in overall look.
Lance needs more experience reading defenses, and he will be tested as a passer at the next level. His challenge will come defeating coverage in the deep passing game as his reads will invite runs before a wide receiver breaks free over the long field.
G Aaron Banks
Banks brings precisely what the 49ers want from their offensive line. He packs a powerful punch off the snap that creates wins and holes in the run game. His hands and strength set the stage for his success, but Banks has limited pass protection range. Bull rushers should be stopped in their tracks, making defenders go outside his frame to make plays instead of through him.
RB Trey Sermon
He profiles as a north/south runner with an occasional flash on the outside. Sermon can break some tackles, but his speed doesn’t separate him from the 2021 running back inventory. His value in the passing game isn’t high enough to command a third-down role in the NFL.
T Jaylon Moore
Moore has the tools to reach a high ceiling. His one shortfall looks to be overall strength, which leads to some imbalance and below-par results vs. power players. He gets on the ball quickly with the vision and movements to shine when blocking in space.
CB Ambry Thomas
Thomas wants to play up close and personal in coverage at the line of scrimmage while keeping an open eye on the ball. His game takes a hit over the long field, where players with size and speed can create different kinds of wins. He grades well with his vision, run support, and play of the ball. Jump balls downfield create issues, and Thomas likes to hold when feeling beat on a play.
CB Deommodore Lenoir
Lenoir is a second cornerback in this year’s 49ers draft class who brings a physical style to the field. His value in coverage works the best in press coverage over shorter distances. In addition, he’ll help in run support while bringing a playmaking style of play. Unfortunately, Lenoir struggles with quickness, and he doesn’t have the wheels to make up for a missed step inviting some penalties.
S Talanoa Hufanga
Hufanga has a skill set that allows him to play close to the line of scrimmage. In essence, he can cover tight ends like a cornerback while playing with enough physicality to support the run despite his size (6’0” and 200 lbs.). Hufanga attacks the line of scrimmage with the vision to be at the right place at the right time. He does have a history of injuries while owning questions with his overall speed.
RB Eli Mitchell
He brings a grinder feel while lacking the explosiveness to shine outside the hash marks. His change of direction quickness is below the needed level to succeed as a starter in the NFL. Mitchell should handle pass protection with the foundation to get some action in the passing game.
The 49ers dropped to 15th in rushing yards (1,889) with 19 touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry with 27.3 attempts per game.
San Fran climbed to 10th in the NFL in passing yards (4,320) with 25 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The 49ers had 55 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 39 sacks.
LT Trent Williams
In his first year with the 49ers, Williams made 14 starts while turning in a dominating season in run blocking. He allowed less than a handful of sacks with minimal pressure on his other plays. Williams is a former first-round draft pick (2010) who offers a long resume of success in both run and pass blocking. His last season with 16 games played came in 2013.
LG Laken Tomlinson
Tomlinson delivered his best success in the run game last year after ranking about the league average for most of his career. Each season, he allows a few sacks plus pressure on the quarterback on another five percent or so of his snaps. In 2020, Tomlinson regressed in pass protection, leading to a rise in quarterback hits. Overall, he tends to be a neutral player.
C Alex Mack
Mack has a 12-year career of success in run and pass blocking. In 2017 and 2018, he turned in two top seasons in the run game, followed by some regression over the next three years. Part of his fade came for the Falcons lacking a top-tier running back. Mack gave up minimal sacks his five seasons with Atlanta, despite attempting over 600 passes from 2018 to 2020. Defenders beat him for more pressure over the last two years. A change to San Francisco should lead to another elite year.
RG Aaron Banks
The 49ers expect Banks to move into the starting lineup in his rookie season. His future should be at left guard, which may come at some point in 2021. Either way, he should hit the ground running as a run blocker while tripping up at times in pass protection.
RT Mike McGlinchey
McGlinchey played well in run blocking in his first two seasons in the NFL while taking his game to an elite level in 2020. After tending toward the league average in pass protection, he stumbled last year, leading to too much pressure and repeated weakness in sacks allowed. San Fran drafted him ninth overall in 2018.
The 49ers have one of the better offensive lines in the league, with a slant to dominate in the run game. The structure of their skill players points to a rebound in success in the passing game.
San Francisco ran the ball 43.8 percent of the time last year with slightly better than the league average in passing attempts (35.6 per game). The 49ers want to run the ball while playing excellent defense.
An ankle injury in Week 2 led to Garoppolo missing 10 starts while also leaving two other games early. His best game (268/3) came against the Rams’ top pass defense. He finished with repeated success in his completion rate (67.1 – 69.1 in 2019) while finishing with 1,096 passing yards and seven touchdowns.
In 2019, Garoppolo ranked the 14th highest scoring quarterback (305.6 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. His best value came in Week 2 (296/3), Week 9 (317/4), Week 11 (424/4), and Week 14 (349/4). He passed for 3,978 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. It took Garoppolo six years in the NFL to finally play in an entire season.
Over his three games in the playoffs, Garoppolo passed for only 427 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Fantasy Outlook: San Francisco invested in their future quarterback with the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, putting Garoppolo in the hot seat this season. I expect the 49ers to lean on experience while wins will determine who finishes with the most playing time. Their offense has two developing upside wide receivers plus one of the top tight ends in the league. Garoppolo has the tools and pedigree to lead this team to another Super Bowl, but he won’t be a week-to-week start in fantasy leagues. In early drafts, Garoppolo ranks 33rd at the quarterback position, five spots lower than Trey Lance. Nevertheless, he is a viable flier as a QB2 with matchup value due to the strength of the 49ers’ receiving corps and edge on the offensive line.
Lance comes to the NFL with one starting season on his resume in college. In his sophomore year in 2019, he passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns while not throwing an interception. Lance was a beast on the ground (169/1,100/14), setting up an intriguing NFL career. Last year, North Dakota State canceled the football season, leading to him entering the draft.
His style of play fits well in the 49ers’ offense. They want to control the line of scrimmage with a dominant run game while offering an exciting combination of receivers at wide receiver and tight end.
Fantasy Outlook: San Fran may not give Lance the keys to their offense early in the season, but his ability to run the ball will tempt San Fran to use him at the goal line and short-yardage situations. Any success should create momentum for a more prominent role in the game plan. Lance offers an explosive ceiling once he earns the starting job. For now, he falls into the buy-and-hold category for a fantasy owner cheating the quarterback position and looking for an impact out late in the season.
Other Options: Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen
Over the past two years, the 49ers’ running backs scored 57 touchdowns. In 2020, they gained 2,673 combined yards with 28 scores and 93 catches or 33.02 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
Between four seasons at Oklahoma and Ohio State, Sermon rushed for 2,946 yards on 455 carries with 26 touchdowns. He finished with a minimal role in the passing game (48/486/3). His season ended in 2020 with a shoulder injury in the national championship game. Over his previous three starts, Sermon had 636 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 70 carries.
Fantasy Outlook: Initially, when doing the scouting research on Sermon, I had him in the fade column due to questions about his durability and value in the passing game. He landed in an ideal situation while also getting positive reports in June with his pass-catching. His ADP (81) points to him being the 49ers’ top running back drafted this summer.
The 49ers have an excellent run-blocking offensive line, pointing to a winning opportunity for the running back who secures the lion’s share of snaps. Worth the gamble, as I expect over 1,000 combined yards with a chance at double-digit touchdowns and 25 catches.
Over his first three years in the NFL, Mostert gained only 36 yards on seven carries while bouncing between five different franchises. He flashed off the bench in 2018, highlighted by his 7.7 yards per rush.
In 2019, Mostert teased in Week 2 (151 combined yards with a touchdown and three catches), but his next bump in chances didn’t come until Week 13 (154 combined yards with a touchdown and two catches). Over his final eight games, including the playoffs, he gained 792 combined yards with 12 touchdowns and nine catches. He scored a touchdown in eight of his last nine contests with an impressive showing in the NFC Championship game (226 combined yards with four touchdowns and two catches).
Last year, Mostert battled knee and ankle injuries, leading to eight missed games. He finished with 677 combined yards with three touchdowns and 16 catches while averaging 5.0 yards per rush. His season started with an impact game (151 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches) with an explosive start to Week 2 (105 combined yards with one score and two catches) over 13 snaps.
Fantasy Outlook: In early June, Mostert missed some time in the OTAs with a minor knee injury. His ADP (88) ranks him 32nd at running back. His explosiveness is tempting, but the 49ers will rotate in other backs. In addition, Mostert doesn’t have the skill set to command a high-volume pass-catching opportunity. At age 29, with injuries increasing, I’m going to avoid him in fantasy leagues no matter his price point.
An injury to Saquon Barkley led to Gallman having the best opportunity of his career in 2020. He gained 796 combined yards with six touchdowns and 21 catches over 15 games. His best two games came in Week 12 (91 combined yards with one touchdown and three catches) and Week 13 (16/135).
Fantasy Outlook: Gallman provides veteran experience, with his best value coming on early downs. Depending on the injuries at running back in San Fran, he may emerge as the top handcuff at different points of the season.
Wilson suffered a torn meniscus in his knee in late May, putting him on the shelf for the first four to six weeks of the season. He came off the bench twice last year, leading to two impact games (17/112/3 with two catches for eight yards and 204 combined yards with one touchdown and one catch). Wilson also played well in Week 17 (20/76/1 with three catches for 12 yards and one touchdown).
He finished the year with 733 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 13 catches on 28 targets.
Fantasy Outlook: Wilson is a player to keep an eye on in September, especially if one of the 49ers’ top running backs has an injury.
Other Options: Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty
The wide receiver opportunity in San Francisco set a three-year high in catches (182), receiving yards (2,336), and targets (281) in 2020, but their wideouts gained only 54 percent of the 49ers’ passing yards with 49.1 percent of the team’s completions. Injuries at quarterback and wide receiver were part of the issue. San Fran also has one of the top tight ends in the league, paired with a high volume run game that paints a lower ceiling in the overall passing.
In 2019, the star of Samuel rose in Week 10 (8/112) with follow through the next game (8/134). Over his final 11 games, including the playoffs, he caught 45 of his 67 targets for 926 combined yards and four touchdowns. Samuel had surprising value as a runner (15/224/2). His catch rate (70.4) commands more looks despite having eight drops.
Last year, he missed time over three parts of the season. His year started with a foot injury that cost him the first three weeks. From Week 4 to Week 8, Samuel caught 16 of his 22 targets for 185 yards and one touchdown, with one productive showing (6/66/1).
A hamstring issue in Week 7 led to another missed three weeks. After the bye week, Samuel dominated the Rams (11/133 on 13 targets) with an active showing in Week 13 (6/76). Unfortunately, his year ended in Week 14 after one play due to reaggravating his hamstring issue.
Fantasy Outlook: This draft season, there are many moving parts when determining the passing opportunity for the 49ers. If Trey Lance starts a good portion of the season, I would expect San Fran to throw the ball closer to 30 to 32 times a game. However, with Jimmy Garoppolo behind center, their passing attempts could push over 37 a game. Samuel has shown enough where 80-plus catches with over 1,200 combined yards and double-digit scores are in the realm of possibility. His ADP (92) paints him as a backend WR3 based on ranking (37th wide receiver drafted) in early July. I’m putting him in the buy category.
Despite missing four games in his rookie season, Aiyuk flashed promising upside, highlighted by a six-game run midseason (6/115, 8/91/1, 7/75/1, 5/95/1, 10/119, and 9/73/1). Over this span, he delivered WR1 stats (45/568/4 on 69 targets) in PPR leagues (20.83 fantasy points per game).
His season started with a hamstring issue and one missed game. The 49ers barely looked his way over the next five weeks (25 targets), leading to 14 catches for 165 yards and one touchdown.
A COVID-19 issue led him to sit out Week 9 and Week 12. Then, Aiyuk suffered an ankle injury in late December, leading to another missed game.
After the snap, Aiyuk creates an edge on slants while also showcasing the wheels to make plays in the deep passing game. His route running projects well while having open field ability. He does need to get stronger to help his release when pressed at the line of scrimmage. I expect his best success to come over the first 20 yards when moving forward. Aiyuk needs to improve on his breaks to the sidelines and work back to the quarterback. His speed (4.5 forty) isn’t elite for the wide receiver position.
Fantasy Outlook: The injury to Deebo Samuel helped his opportunity in 2020. Aiyuk finished with a respectable catch rate (62.5) with some chances in the run game (6/77/2). In early June, he battled a minor groin issue. He comes off the fantasy draft board in early July as the 27th wide receiver with an ADP of 63. I have him a notch below Deebo Samuel in expected production (80 catches with 1,100 combined yards and seven to 10 touchdowns.
In his third year in the NFL, James finished with 23 catches for 394 yards and one touchdown on 35 targets over 11 games. Almost half of his stats came in Week 9 (9/184/1). Over his other six other starts, James only had 11 catches for 177 yards on 19 targets.
Hurd missed all of 2019 with a season-long battle with a back issue. Then, a torn ACL in his right knee last August led to another missed season.
Other Options: Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Travis Benjamin
Even with George Kittle missing half of last season, the 49ers still finished with plenty of production (96/1,172/7) from the tight ends. Over the past three years, their floor has been 95 catches and seven touchdowns with over 130 targets.
Over his eight starts in 2020, Kittle caught 48 of his 63 targets for 634 yards and two touchdowns, putting him on pace to match or beat his previous two years (88/1,377/5 and 85/1,053/5). His catch rate (76.2) remains elite.
After quiet Week 1 (4/44), Kittle missed two games with a knee injury. He posted a monster outing in Week 4 (15/183/1) with a high level of success (7/109/1) two games later. Unfortunately, a broken bone in his right foot cost him six more weeks. His season ended with two steady showings (4/92 and 7/68).
Fantasy Outlook: Kittle has beast upside, but game flow can work against his opportunity in some weeks when the 49ers play from the lead and run the ball well. Kittle needs to unlock his scoring ceiling to push closer to Travis Kelce in tight end fantasy scoring. His ADP (31) requires 90-plus catches for 1,100 yards with a minimum of eight scores to pay off. I’m excited about the 49ers’ offense in 2021, meaning Kittle has an even higher ceiling this season.
Other Options: Ross Dwelley, McCole Pruitt, Charlie Woerner
After two productive seasons in field goals made (39 and 33), the 49ers created only 54 field goal attempts over 28 games for Gould in 2018 and 2019 while seeing a fade in his success rate (77.8 – 93.2 in 2017 and 2018). He did have an increase of about 10 extra points per year over the past two seasons. Gould missed four of his last six kicks from over 50 yards, which came after an impressive run from 2015 to 2018 (13-for-15).
In 2021, San Francisco should have one of the best scoring offenses in the league. However, their ability to run the ball well in the red zone sets a lower ceiling in field goals. Gould should offer matchup value in multiple weeks while being found in the free-agent pool in most leagues when the season starts.
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San Francisco finished 18th in rushing yards allowed (1,889). They allowed only 4.3 yards per rush, with ball carriers scoring 19 touchdowns with eight runs over 20 yards.
The 49ers fell from first in passing yards allowed (2,702) to 23rd (4,320) in 2020. Quarterbacks gained 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 25 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and 55 completions over 20 yards. Their defense finished with 39 sacks.
DE Nick Bosa
Bosa picked up 47 tackles in his rookie season with nine sacks, one Int, and two defended passes. He played well in run support while putting plenty of pressure on the quarterback. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in his left knee ended his season in Week 2 in 2020. The 49ers expect him to be ready for the start in Week 1.
He plays with plus strength and quickness, helping him defeat opponents off the snap. Bosa has the hands to disrupt at the point of contact with the base to hammer after the snap. His pass rush moves lack depth while losing some value when forced to chase outside vs. the run.
DE Arik Armstead
After Armstead found his stride in the pass rush (10 sacks) in 2019, he settled into a dull option rushing the quarterback (3.5 sacks) last year, partly due to offenses not having to account for Nick Bosa. His run defense offered strength for the third straight season. Armstead still misses too many tackles while owning the talent to limit the passing window. San Fran drafted him in the first round in 2015.
DT Maurice Hurst
Over three seasons with the Raiders, Hurst made 76 tackles with eight sacks, one interception, and seven defended passes. His run defense has a chance to improve to the league average, and Hurst did show more value in the pass rush in 2019. The 49ers expect him to be a rotational player this year.
DT Javon Kinlaw
In his rookie season, Kinlaw made 12 starts leading to 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception, four defended passes and one score. He finished as a liability against the run, with his season-ending with a minor knee issue.
He projects as a disrupter that should control his area of the field. With better technique and more quickness off the line, Kinlaw should reach an elite level.
LB Dre Greenlaw
San Fran gave Greenlaw 25 starts over his first two seasons, which led to 178 tackles, two sacks, and three defended passes. His run defense remains a weakness in his game.
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LB Fred Warner
Over his first three years in the league, Warner has 267 tackles with four sacks, one touchdown, 21 defended passes, and three interceptions. He cleaned up his tackling in 2020, helping grow as a player in run support. Warner raised his game in coverage last season and plays like one of the best in the league.
LB Samson Ebukam
Ebukam has yet to miss a game in his four years in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, he made 119 tackles with 12 sacks, six defended passes, and one interception while delivering two scores in 2018. His run defense slipped in 2020 after showing an edge over his previous three years.
CB Jason Verrett
After battling injuries for four seasons, Verrett made 13 starts for the 49ers in 2020. He held receivers to short yards per catch due to him allowing them to catch the ball in front of him. His value in run support pushed into a favorable area. Verrett finished with 60 tackles, two interceptions, and seven defended passes.
CB Emmanuel Moseley
Moseley played his way to a bench late in 2020, but the 49ers saw enough in his game to pay him $10 million for two seasons in March. Over the last two years, he made 97 combined tackles with two interceptions and 17 defended passes. His all-around play in 2019 led to success in all areas.
S Jimmie Ward
Ward tends to add value in run support while continuing to be a top tackler. He held receivers to short yards per catch in 2020 with minimal damage in scoring, which was an improvement over his career resume.
S Jaquiski Tartt
Tartt settled into a neutral player vs. the run over the last four seasons. His pass coverage skills improved over this span, leading to short yards per catch and a mistake or two each year in touchdowns allowed. Tartt missed nine games in 2020 due to a toe injury.
Fantasy Defense Snapshot
The success of this defense starts with the pass rush, which requires Nick Bosa to be healthy and dominated. Their secondary does have multiple questions, with the answers at the cornerback position coming from numerous players. The first order of business is fixing their run defense. The first two levels of the defense have the talent to support a high level of success. San Francisco ranks a top 10 fantasy defense, but I question their playmaking ability, which must be a week-to-week start in the fantasy market.
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