Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 San Francisco 49ers Buying Guide
With the preseason nearing, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the San Francisco 49ers…
Poor Jimmy Garoppolo. What woman would ever want a man with a scarred knee?
Formerly Handsome Jimmy G. tore his ACL early in the 2018 season, further postponing his claim on the San Francisco quarterback throne. Garoppolo is no William IV, who was 64 when he finally became king of England, but Jimmy G. lost his youth while awaiting his coronation. He’ll turn 28 this fall and has started only 10 games.
Garoppolo was impressive in the only two starts he made during his 4.5-year apprenticeship in New England. Covering for the suspended Tom Brady for the first two games of 2016, Garoppolo completed 71.2% of his throws for 496 yards, with four TDs and zero INTs. After he was traded to the Bay Area midway through the 2017 season, Garoppolo was sharp in five late-season starts, averaging 308.4 passing yards per start and 8.8. yards per attempt, with six TDs and five INTs. He didn’t look good in two pre-injury starts last season, but we’ll give him a small-sample pass.
Jimmy G. doesn’t have a rocket arm, but his calling card is a mercury-quick release that makes him a good fit for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s interpretation of the West Coast offense. Garoppolo has a stud tight end, several intriguing receivers and multiple running backs with pass-catching skills. He won’t add any fantasy value with his legs, but if he plays 16 games, he could finish with above-average passing numbers – say, for instance, 4,300 yards and 30 TDs.
Garoppolo’s ADP of QB22 is fair. He’s a low-ceiling, safe-floor backup in single-QB leagues.
It should be noted that the 49ers have the deepest group of quarterbacks in the league. Nick Mullens was surprisingly crisp in eight starts last season and would be a viable streaming option if anything happened to Garoppolo. And while C.J. Beathard isn’t ever going to seriously compete for a starting gig anywhere, he’s probably the NFL’s best No. 3 quarterback.
Watching a lot of college football can help you become a better fantasy owner, but it can also lead you astray. I was only mildly intrigued by George Kittle last summer. He’d had a promising season in 2017, and his athletic profile was impressive. But I watch a lot of college football, particularly Big Ten football, and Kittle never stood out during his four seasons at Iowa. In his best year with the Hawkeyes he had 22 catches for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Meh.
After what Kittle did last season – 88 catches, 1,377 yards, five TDs – I’m obviously a believer. And just to punish my earlier agnosticism, Kittle flayed me with a 7-210-1 performance in Week 13, when two opponents had him in their lineups against me in critical games.
I have no beef with Kittle’s positional ADP of TE3. In fact, he’s my TE2. But I can’t get on board with Kittle as a second- or third-round pick. As Graham Barfield of NFL.com (@Graham Barfield) recently noted, Kittle averaged 9.9 yards after the catch, the biggest YAC number by any tight end or wide receiver in the 13 years that statistic has been tracked. YAC isn’t a sticky stat, so a pullback is imminent. Do you really want to sink that sort of early draft capital into a player who’ll be hard-pressed to produce even 70% of the yardage he totaled last year?
It’s interesting that Kittle is the only coveted fantasy asset on the 49ers. Shanahan is a well-regarded offensive schemer, and San Francisco has a good offensive line. Yet Garoppolo has an ADP out of the top 20, no 49ers wideout has an ADP in the top 25, and no 49ers running back has an ADP in the top 30.
With Kittle destined to get a bevy of targets, the 49ers aren’t going to have a wide receiver who sees anything remotely close to the obscene target share that Julio Jones had when Shanahan was orchestrating the Atlanta offense in 2015-2016. The favorite to lead the San Francisco WR corps in targets is probably Dante Pettis, who had 17 catches for 338 yards and four touchdowns in Weeks 12-15, making him the WR5 in fantasy scoring (half-point PPR) over that four-game stretch – and that was with Nick Mullens at quarterback.
Pettis isn’t that big (6-1, 195), but he’s athletic, runs good routes and has a reputation for being a hard worker. He was a terrific return man at the University of Washington – a skill that often portends NFL receiving success. Pettis also has good bloodlines. His dad was Gary Pettis, who stole 354 bases over an 11-year MLB career and may have been the best defensive centerfielder of the 1980s, winning five Gold Gloves. (Trust me, kids: Papa Pettis could go and get it.)
Alas, the market is onto young Dante Pettis. He has an ADP of WR34, but there’s still some profit potential at that price.
Deebo Samuel is an example of how much emphasis NFL coaches and general manager place on Senior Bowl week. Samuel probably would have been a mid-round pick had he not swaggered into Mobile like Stone Cold Steve Austin and destroyed every cornerback who got in his way. Shanahan and his staff coached Samuel at the Senior Bowl, were clearly smitten with him, and the 49ers took him with the fourth pick of the second round.
Samuel was used on a sort of gadgety way at South Carolina, catching a lot of screen and shovel passes, but he showed a broader range of skills in Mobile. He’s smallish (5-11, 214) and didn’t really break out until his senior season, but man, Deebo is intriguing. Though I like him more in dynasty than as an immediate contributor in redraft leagues, it’s possible he starts dropping Stone Cold Stunners on opponents as a rookie.
With sub-4.3 speed, Marquise Goodwin is one of the NFL’s fastest players, a guy whose cleats emit sparks when he gets going full throttle. He led the 49ers in receiving in 2017 with 56 catches for 962 yards, but the 5-9, 185-pound Goodwin isn’t meant to be the centerpiece of a passing game. San Francisco was laughably thin at wide receiver two years ago. With the pass-catching talent the 49ers have now, Goodwin isn’t anything more than a late-round option in deeper leagues and best-ball drafts.
Jalen Hurd, a third-round draft pick, is an interesting cat. In college he started out as a running back at Tennessee (where he outranked Alvin Kamara), then decided he wanted to be a wide receiver and transferred to Baylor. He’s a strapping 6-4, 230 pounds, yet he hasn’t been an outside receiver – Baylor used him in the slot. Hurd could be a handy chess piece for Shanahan since he can also play running back in a pinch It’s not inconceivable that he could be used in short-yardage situations, which would make him an intriguing fantasy asset. But for now, Hurd is merely someone to keep tabs on in August.
Other receivers fighting for roster spots in San Francisco: Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Matthewsand Richie James.
The 49ers’ backfield is Cerberus, the mythical three-headed hellhound that guards the gates of the underworld to keep the dead from getting out. But which head barks loudest? Together, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon are a Gordian knot for fantasy owners to untangle. (If those three are collectively Cerberus, then Raheem Mostertand Jeffrey Wilson are the dead, because they aren’t getting through the gates with the hellhound standing watch.)
The consensus is that Coleman is the favorite to return the most fantasy value from this group. In 2016, Shanahan’s final year running the offense in Atlanta, Coleman had 941 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs while sharing work with Devonta Freeman. The 49ers wooed Coleman with a two-year, $8.5 million deal.
Coleman has averaged 4.4 yards per carry and 11.0 yards per catch over four seasons. He has a terrific burst and impressive top-end speed, but he isn’t very shifty and probably won’t ever play a featured role unless injuries dictate it. Yeah, it probably makes sense to peg Coleman as the guy who leads the 49ers in touches and fantasy points, and his ADP of RB30 isn’t out of line. But with all the ambiguity here, I’m drafting around Coleman rather than targeting.
The guy I’m targeting in this backfield is Breida. He’s inexpensive (RB52) and may well be the most talent RB in San Francisco. Breida seemed to be on the precipice of becoming a consistently impactful fantasy contributor last season, but he kept hurting his ankle. He’d hobble off, only to keep coming back for more like the Black Knight in “Monty Python in the Holy Grail”, who was undaunted by the loss of limbs. (“Tis but a scratch.”)
Breida had three 100-yard rushing games last season, averaged 5.3 yards per carry and caught 27 of 31 targets. He’s been one of my favorite buys in early drafts.
McKinnon truthers have had a rough go of it. He never got a full chance to shine during his four seasons in Minnesota. Then, after the 49ers gave him an unexpectedly lavish four-year, $30 million deal, signaling that they intended to give him a big role, McKinnon tore his ACL before the season. Now, he’s reportedly had a setbackand has been placed on the active/PUP list.
The McKinnon trutherism is driven by remarkable athleticism. He has 4.4 speed, jumps like a Duke basketball recruit and has a 100th percentile (!) SPARQ-x score. To show his athleticism, I wanted to find a clip from a preseason game a couple of years ago where McKinnon took a handoff in his own end zone, was immediately swarmed, then went Matrix on multiple defenders to somehow turn a sure safety into a seven- or eight-yard game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the damn play. But trust me, it was freaky.
That play and the crazy athletic measurables have intrigued me, but I was never invited to McKinnon meetings, where believers huddle in church basements sipping tepid coffee and professing their devotion. Even with his ADP at RB42, I’m out on McKinnon.
ADP = Average Draft Position ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking (based on half-PPR scoring)