Injuries. This was the keyword for the 49ers in 2020. With key injuries to George Kittle, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Deebo Samuel, San Francisco fell from the brink of a Super Bowl to a last-place divisional finish. With all of these players now healthy, and a new group of rookies coming in to help, the 49ers can make another run to the playoffs. Yes, they are in the toughest division in football. They also have the lowest ceiling at the quarterback position. However, the rest of the team is uber-talented, and with Nick Bosa returning to the defense, things in the Bay are trending up once again.
It is too easy to say that Garoppolo has been quite a disappointment in San Francisco. Things haven’t gone well since the five-game run after the trade from New England. That landed him a contract extension but injuries have limited his ability to not only stay on the field and build a rapport with teammates. With the team trading up in a massive deal to draft Trey Lance at number three, this looks to be the swan song for Jimmy G. He can be dropped or traded with absolutely no dead money. This will allow the 49ers to re-sign some key players while Lance is on his rookie contract.
As for 2021, Garoppolo looks to be the starter, at least coming into the season. Lance has not only the best arm in this year’s draft class, but he also comes from a pro-style offense at North Dakota State. An offense in which he had the ability to make play calls and audible out of plays. He showcased all of this while leading the team to yet another FCS championship. He is the future. By the end of this season, he is likely going to take over. This will let the team see what their future looks like with him.
This is the perfect team for him to succeed. Not because of Kyle Shanahan, but because of the run game. A run game that does not count on one back to lead the way. They instead have a stable of backs ready to take over. This will be extremely beneficial for whichever quarterback is behind center every week. It does not mean that either of these players should be drafted for redraft leagues.
In two-quarterback leagues, Garoppolo is in consideration for one of the two positions. Again though, we do not know how long he will hold the job. Taking Lance to go along with him is a wasted roster spot. Your best bet? Take Jimmy G and hope he holds on to the job all season. Better yet, avoid the situation entirely and take a flyer on someone else. Someone with a higher upside for this season. Even a player like Joe Burrow coming off his injury. Maybe Kirk Cousins with a talented supporting cast. They are both better options and their ceiling is certainly higher. More importantly, so is their floor.
The 49ers have one of the best running attacks in the NFL. They, unfortunately, also have one of the most convoluted. Where other teams have a main running back like Ezekiel Elliott or Dalvin Cook, the 49ers use the “next man up” approach. This is great for them as a team, but bad for fantasy.
Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, Wayne Gallman along with Kyle Juszczyk, and eventually Jeff Wilson will lead the way in 2021. With Trent Williams back at left tackle and Alex Mack coming in from Atlanta, the offensive line will once again be a strength of the team. Which when you want to run as much as San Francisco does, is extremely important, to say the least. While Mostert is solid and Trey Sermon could be a star, none of the backs should be looked at as your number one option. Unless you are going zero running back. Otherwise, Mostert is your best option. Though, he still does not crack the Top 10 at the fantasy running back position.
In just eight games in 2020, Mostert ran the ball 108 times for 524 yards and two touchdowns. His 5.0 average shows his ability but his inability to stay on the field drops him down the pecking order. Coming into last season, Mostert was given an updated contract. A contract more in line with fellow running back Tevin Coleman. It is time now for him to prove what he got. This will be the make-or-break year for him. Despite being lightly used in his career, at 29-years of age, he is coming to the end of it. Expecting him to be more than an RB2 for fantasy is a little ambitious. If you are happy with this production, he would make a good pick in the middle rounds of your draft.
The only other option to give any thought to is likely Sermon. Although a rookie, we know he can be a bell-cow back from his time in college. Had he not taken the team on his back against Northwestern in December, the Buckeyes might never have played for a National Title against Alabama. His 275 yards rushing got them the win after trailing for most of the game. If he can use this same power behind an even better line in San Francisco, he could be dominant. He will have to beat out Mostert to do so. This is unlikely to happen until later in the season. If you draft him, be willing to wait.
Brandon Aiyuk had a breakout rookie season. After the 49ers traded with the Packers so they could draft, I think a quarterback, the 49ers drafted the speedy wide receiver out of Arizona State. It worked out great for San Francisco. Not so much for Green Bay.
With Deebo Samuel coming off an injury, the 49ers needed another receiver to get the offense moving. They were lucky they took him as Samuel was not the same all season and Aiyuk took over. Coming into year two and will Samuel healthy, the wide receiving group now has the ability to make some noise. Both Samuel and Aiyuk have the speed to get downfield. They also have the play-making ability to be used behind the line of scrimmage on jet sweeps and other trick plays, which Kyle Shanahan likes to employ.
Playing in 12 games as a rookie, Aiyuk averaged 5 receptions per game. His 60 receptions for 748 yards and five touchdowns led the team for the position. With another full year in the offense, the potential for him and Samuel to become even better is massive.
Samuel needs to remain healthy. If he does, he can get back to the weapon he was as a rookie. A 2019 season in which he had 57 receptions and a 14.1 yards per reception average. On top of his receiving ability, he also ran the ball 14 times for 159 yards and three rushing touchdowns. With him in the slot and Aiyuk stretching the field, this will open things up for not only the run game but also for the biggest weapon on the team, George Kittle.
These players are not wide receiver ones. Not for your team and not for fantasy. But they are great wide receiver twos. Ones that have a lot of upside potential as the 49ers get back into shape after a season of disappointment. Using a fifth or sixth-round pick on either player, especially Aiyuk is a safe bet in fantasy drafts. Both players could become the number one on the team and therefore, both are worth a shot in drafts. As for Richie James? He was a nice story for a week last year. But as long as the rest of the team stays healthy, that is all he is. A nice story from last year.
George Kittle. Need I say more? He is the only player to talk about when it comes to the position here. If he is injured like he was for much of last season, find another tight end on a different team. Do not consider his backups. Despite being oft-hurt last year, Kittle still showed he is one of the best in the NFL when he was on the field. This included a game in which, just a week after being hurt, he amassed 10 receptions for 109 yards and one touchdown against division rival Rams.
Kittle’s touchdown numbers have always left something to be desired. He’s scored only 14 in three seasons. However, when you are still gaining more than 1,000 yards on 85 receptions. like he did in 2019, it is hard to quibble with wanting one or two more touchdowns per season. Along with Travis Kelce and now Darren Waller, Kittle is an elite top-three tight end. These three are the only players at the position who gives you an immediate advantage every week. This is also why, if you want him, it will cost you. Likely a late second or early third-round pick. But he is also worth it.
If you want to wait until the end of drafts to take a left-over tight end, fine. I understand. But if you want one of the only players in the NFL who give you a true positional advantage over others at the position, be bold and opt for Kittle in the second round of your fantasy drafts. You shan’t be disappointed.