By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Transaction: The San Francisco 49ers sign RB Jerick McKinnon to a 4-year deal
2018 Fantasy Outlook: The man nicknamed “Jet” is now one of the top five highest paid running backs in the NFL. His career stat line is 474 carries, 1,918 yards, 142 receptions, 984 yards, and 12 total TDs. Three of his first four seasons he split time with Matt Asiata (2014 & 2016) and Latavius Murray (2017) after the lead back went down with a season ending injury. This kind of proves my point. How can a running back who’s never been a lead back, or had 1,000 total yards in a season, be worthy of making top 5 money at the position?
McKinnon is the beneficiary of a team having too much money to spend after years of hoarding it. It’s easy to look at the money and discredit McKinnon’s potential on the football field. We know what he’s capable of doing. He’s great in space, he’s fast, and defenses have to account for him. Instead of focusing on how he’s overpaid — he’ll either be cut or asked to restructure the deal in two years anyway — let’s see what 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan can do with him to make him a viable fantasy option in 2018.
If you remember, Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons during their prolific offensive season that helped them reach the Super Bowl. That year, he had Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman sharing a backfield. They finished as RB6 and RB21, respectively. Freeman’s numbers that year: 281 touches, 1,541 total yards, and 13 total TDs. Coleman’s numbers: 149 touches, 941 yards, and 11 TDs. The 49ers really like undrafted rookie Matt Breida, who had 645 total yards and 3 TDs while sharing duties with the since departed Carlos Hyde. Look at how Shanahan used QB Matt Ryan as well. In that 2016 season, he had the best touchdown to interception ratio of his career, 38 to 7; he led the league in passer rating on deep throws at 136.9; and came within 56 yards of reaching 5,000 passing yards. He could throw it deep or check it down and limited the number of mistakes.
Newly extended QB Jimmy Garappolo comes from the Patriots system that utilizes their running backs often in the passing game. Just look at the careers that RBs like James White and Dion Lewis have had over recent seasons for evidence to that statement. They also aren’t afraid to take deep shots. Jimmy G(Q) has one of the better deep threats in the league in 2017 breakout Marquise Goodwin. He also has a 12 to 5 TD:INT ratio. Despite his shortened season after the trade from New England, Pro Football Focus still graded him as the 10th best QB in 2017.
I mention the deep passes because that opens up running lanes for backs and the short to intermediate for dump offs. The 49ers backfield will consist of McKinnon, Breida, and Joe Williams, who missed all of last year with an injury suffered in preseason. Between Breida and Williams, they’ll mirror Freeman’s numbers, approaching 1,000 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards. McKinnon should match Coleman’s with ease in this offense. With the size of his contract, I expect them to give him a lot of work in the early part of the season as an early down runner before shifting his focus to the passing game. I firmly expect McKinnon to maintain his standing as a top 20 option and be a solid RB2/FLEX option for you on Sundays this fall.