By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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From Weeks 1 – 12, the San Francisco 49ers offered little value to fantasy owners. The only Niner during that time frame who belonged in starting lineups was running back Carlos Hyde. The former Ohio State Buckeye had his best season ever, finishing with career highs in rushing touchdowns, receptions, and receiving yards en route to an RB10 finish. Then the 49ers made what could be the biggest in-season trade we’ve ever seen, acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots. After an injury to C.J. Beathard in the closing moments of Week 12, Jimmy G (it’s easier to type Jimmy G than his last name, so that’s what I’ma do) became the 49ers starting quarterback and went on a five-game tear that left fantasy owners and Niners fans drooling over his potential. From Weeks 13 – 16 he was fantasy’s 11th best quarterback and in weeks 15 and 16, he put up top 5 numbers. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin benefited from Jimmy G’s arrival and was fantasy’s WR10 with Jimmy G under center.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|RB1||Jerick McKinnon (w/ MIN)||175.70||RB17|
|WR5||(R) Dante Pettis||N/A||N/A|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: WR Dante Pettis
I don’t think I can recall another quarterback entering a season with as much hype as Jimmy Garoppolo. Seriously – he went 5-0 for San Francisco in last year and suddenly he’s the next Joe Montana? I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m ready to see Jimmy G get a full season under his belt. It’s time to see if he can deliver the goods over a full season, because in the five games he started last year, Jimmy G impressed. If you stretch his numbers out over 16 games, here’s what you would get: 4,992 yards, 22 touchdowns, 16 INTs, and one fumble. That equates to nearly 298 fantasy points, which would have been good enough for a QB11 finish. Now he’s going to have a full offseason in Kyle Shanahan’s system under his belt. Surrounding him is raw talent at running back and wide receiver. There’s a lot to love about Jimmy G in 2018.
Some fantasy experts have Jimmy G already pegged as a top 5 QB in 2018. I’m not ready to put him that high yet, for a few reasons. First, teams now have seven games of tape on him (two with the Pats, five with the Niners). That makes a huge difference for defenses. Second, I find it hard to believe that he’s going to match his passing yards per game from last year. As previously noted, that would project to nearly 5,000 yards over an entire season. Eclipsing 5,000 yards has only happened nine times in NFL history, and it’s only been done by five QBs (Drew Brees has done it five times by the way. Five!). Lastly, San Francisco’s quarterbacks were sacked 43 times last year, tied for 10th most in the league. Jimmy G was sacked eight times in five games. Now, San Fran did improve its offensive line, but miracle improvements don’t happen overnight.
All that said, I do believe Jimmy G’s a top 10 QB this year. 4,200 yards, 25 touchdowns, 17 INTs will make him good enough to start for you. I do worry that you’ll have to pay a higher price than warranted for him this year, though. By the time drafts roll around I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s the 4th or 5th QB off the board, going somewhere in the 6th or 7th round. For me, that’s a bit too high for a QB, especially one not named Aaron Rodgers.
The other 49er quarterbacks aren’t worth discussing for fantasy purposes. If Jimmy G goes down, you can find better options than C.J. Beathard.
After losing Carlos Hyde, San Fran signed Jerick McKinnon this offseason to a four year deal worth up to $36.9 million. While with Minnesota last year, McKinnon didn’t see much playing time until Week 5 after Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL. After the Cook injury, McKinnon produced 544 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and added 43 catches for 381 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers were good enough for an RB17 finish. If McKinnon can finish as RB17 while playing just 12 games and splitting time with Latavius Murray in Minnesota’s offense, imagine what he can do as the lead back in Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic scheme. Remember what Shanahan was able to do with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman? There’s no reason to think he’s not going to be able to get similar production out of McKinnon. He has exceptional vision and if he gets free in space, he’s a threat to break it to the end zone every time. McKinnon’s going to be a sexy pick on draft day, especially in PPR leagues. I expect RB15 numbers from the new 49er. He should very easily serve as your number two running back.
Behind McKinnon is Matt Breida, the second year back who many say is a beast waiting to be uncaged. McKinnon’s likely to see 55-65 percent of the offensive snaps. I’d assume Breida will be in line to get most of the remaining 35-45 percent and you can bet he’ll make good use of them. Again, think back to what Shanahan was able to do with two really good backs in Atlanta. Tevin Coleman put up RB20 numbers behind Devonta Freeman. I think Breida deserves a spot on rosters as a FLEX play each week and I wouldn’t be shocked if he produces a couple of weeks of top 5 production at the RB position throughout the season.
The other San Francisco running backs, Joseph Williams and Jeremy McNichols, shouldn’t be rostered unless McKinnon or Breida get injured.
In his final season with Washington in 2016, Pierre Garçon quietly finished as fantasy’s 27th best wide receiver. He caught 79 passes and broke the 1,000 yard receiving mark for just the second time in his career, finishing with 1,041 yards. He signed with the Niners in the 2017 offseason. Before suffering a season-ending neck injury before Week 9, Garçon caught 40 passes for 500 yards with mediocre quarterback play. Easy math shows us that the veteran wide out was on pace for 80 catches and 1,000 yards, which would have been good for a WR28 finish. I’m a firm believer that Garçon still has some quality playing time left in him and with Jimmy G at the helm, he’s primed for another 80 catches, 1,100 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a no-brainer WR3 who could easily attain mid/high WR2 numbers this year.
San Fran’s number two wide receiver Marquise Goodwin had the best season of his career last year by a landslide. Check this out: from weeks 13 -17 with Jimmy G throwing the ball, Goodwin caught 29 passes for 384 yards and a touchdown. In his previous five seasons COMBINED, Goodwin caught 49 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns. There’s no denying this connection between quarterback and wide receiver is one to look forward to in 2018. Goodwin should produce WR3 numbers and alongside Garçon is primed for top 25 numbers at his position this year.
Behind the number one and two wide receivers, it’s a hodgepodge of question marks. Aldrick Robinson and Kendrick Bourne aren’t worth rostering as anything more than deep sleepers. Rookie Dante Pettis is more of a special teams prospect than a wide receiver. Pick him up in dynasty leagues. All three are worth monitoring throughout the season and may be good DFS plays when the matchups are favorable, but in year-long leagues, a wait-and-see approach will work best.
Recently we covered the Bucs’ dynamic tight end duo of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Much like Tampa, San Francisco has two tight ends they intend to feature this year, George Kittle and Garrett Celek. While they don’t figure to be as prolific as the swashbucklers on the opposite coast, they do figure to be more involved in Shanahan’s offense in year two. Let’s start our analysis with Kittle. At 24, Kittle’s the younger of the two tight ends and obviously the one with more long-term potential. But does he also have more near-term upside? Last year, he caught ten more passes than Celek on thirty more targets. He’s receiving a lot of preseason buzz as a potential breakout candidate. Celek is 30 years old and is entering his seventh season. Last year, Celek came through in clutch moments, particularly in the red zone, and earned the nickname “Celek Time.” He didn’t have as many opportunities as Kittle but he made them count, catching four touchdowns.
I think both could provide value throughout the season, but Kittle’s got more upside. I’ll say Kittle is a TE2 with borderline TE1 potential, and Celek’s a TE2 who will put up TE1 numbers a few times this season.
Rookie to Watch
The 49ers drafted WR Dante Pettis with the 44th pick overall. During his four years at Washington, he accumulated 163 catches for 2,256 yards and 24 touchdowns. Pettis is a solid receiver but the 49ers likely drafted him because of his special teams play. At Washington, he had 91 punt returns for 1,274 yards and 9 touchdowns. Is he the next Devin Hester with his return ability? The 49ers sure hope so. – Chris Tyler
Pierre Garçon was injured for half of 2017 and never played a single snap with Jimmy Garoppolo. He totaled 40 receptions for 500 yards with C.J Bethard and Brian Hoyer as his QB’s. Now imagine a healthy Pierre Garçon with Jimmy G… go ahead. I’ll wait… looks pretty good right? The last time Garçon had a viable QB (2016 in Washington with Kirk Cousins) he posted a 1,000-yard season and the highest catch percentage of his career at 69.3%. Even at 31 years old, Garçon can still make a huge impact on your fantasy team as a WR3 and can be a viable flex position week-to-week. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
At the beginning of last season, Carlos Hyde was the only 49er I was willing to draft with the intention of starting. What a difference a year makes, right? The Niners’ starting QB, RB, and top 2 WRs should all be rostered and started this year, and their #2RB and both of their tight ends have potential to be starters at some point in the season as well.
I’m not a huge fan of San Francisco’s schedule right before and during the fantasy playoffs. From Weeks 13 – 16, they play at Seattle, then they host Denver, Seattle, and Chicago. Those defenses should provide tough tests and you may see a bit of sputtering from the 49ers. Then again, Jimmy G and his boys played their tails off in the last five weeks of 2017 against some pretty stout defenses. Heck, they even beat the Jacksonville Jaguars.
|1||9/10 (Mon)||vs LAR|
|7||** BYE WEEK **|
|9||11/1 (Thurs)||@ SF|
|16||12/24 (Mon)||vs DEN|