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2018 Team Report: San Francisco 49ers

Offensive Philosophy

Offensive wunderkind Kyle Shanahan struggled mightily in his San Francisco debut until he managed to land a capable quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline. The 49ers went 1-10 and averaged 17 points per game before turning to Garoppolo. They went 5-0 and averaged 28.8 points per game once he became the starter. New running back Jerrick McKinnon will pair with Matt Breida to allow Shanahan to run the kind of backfield committee he has preferred dating back to his days coaching Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta.


Starter: Jimmy Garoppolo
Backup(s): C.J. Beathard

Starting QB: Entering his fifth NFL season, Garoppolo remains a generally unproven prospect. He was solid in spot starts with the Patriots, handling mostly underneath and quick-hitting routes and completing 71% of his 2016 passes. And he looked like a great fit in Kyle Shanahan's system over his five 49ers starts, posting a 67% mark while averaging 308.4 yards a game. Questions still exist regarding his ultimate arm strength and ability to take shots downfield - over those 5 starts, he attempted just 19 passes beyond 20+ yards, the 36th-highest rate in the league. But if last year is any indicator - and it was indeed a decent sample size - he'll be able to make hay as an underneath technician, utilizing his short-to-intermediate targets with stout efficiency. The real 2018 fantasy draw will likely be the volume at play: no team dropped back for more passes last year (650) than Shanahan's 49ers, though it must be noted that number dipped noticeably once Garoppolo stepped in and the team began to win. It's still safe to expect him to finish top-10 in attempts and post solid efficiency marks, especially in terms of completion rate. But with middling arm talent and a generally unproven supporting cast, Garoppolo doesn't seem to fit among the first eight quarterbacks off the board. He's a high-end QB2 target with low-QB1 upside.

Backup QB: Beathard looked overmatched as a rookie, completing just 55% of his throws and tossing just 4 touchdowns (with 6 interceptions) over 6 extended appearances. With below-average arm strength and poor ball placement, Beathard looks maxed out as an NFL clipboard-holder. He did manage to produce on the ground, averaging 27.2 yards and scoring 3 times. But that would be a stretch to project again, and that's the extent of Beathard's fantasy potential. Even if Garoppolo were to get hurt, or fold and fall apart as an NFL starter, Beathard wouldn't be the team's long-term answer. He'd likely battle an in-season acquisition and hold only a decent chance of retaining the job for long.

Running Backs

Starter: Jerick McKinnon
Backup(s): Matt Breida, Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols
Fullback(s): Kyle Juszczyk

Starting RB: There's lots of reason for fantasy excitement over McKinnon, whom the 49ers clearly covet. He still stands as one of our all-time SPARQ superstars: his 2014 combine work is still credited as the NFL's best SPARQ score in known memory. He's caught 84 passes for 676 yards over the last 2 years, and he now joins a Kyle Shanahan offense that's generated a top-15 fantasy running back in 5 of the last 6 years. Still, McKinnon has struggled to be productive in a lead role. He's averaged just 3.59 yards per carry over the last 2 seasons (309 attempts in all) and consistently managed to lose the bellcow when put there. (It doesn't help his case that rookie Dalvin Cook posted a 4.78 mark over his shortened debut.) Last year, after two breakout midseason performances, McKinnon failed to surpass 50 rushing yards in any of his final 11 games, ultimately splitting the load with a ho-hum Latavius Murray. All told, with such a shaky ground history of his own, McKinnon is less of a sure thing - albeit with more ceiling - than ADP-mates Jordan Howard and Derrick Henry. He's a stout RB2, though he downgrades markedly in non-PPR leagues.

Backup RBs: Breida proved a capable producer as an undrafted rookie, averaging 4.4 yards per rush and catching 21 balls as the change-up option to Carlos Hyde. With Jerick McKinnon on board, Breida isn't much more than a fantasy handcuff, likely to handle another 125-150 touches of medium impact. But if McKinnon goes down or falters, there will be a sizable role in a fast-paced offense that throws to its backs. He'd sniff RB2 usage in that case. Williams was supposedly a coaching staff darling after last year's draft, but quickly fell out of favor and spent the year on IR. He still offers a flicker of speculative appeal as a fast-footed, productive collegian, but he's old for a virtual rookie (25 at the start of the season) and carries a poor track record of dependability. McKinnon's addition likely makes a strong statement as to Williams' standing. McNichols was a draftnik favorite last year, but flamed out wildly in Tampa Bay's preseason and wound up on the 49ers' practice squad. He's athletic and supremely experienced as a dual threat, though, and has a decent chance of sneaking past Williams on the depth chart.

Fullback: Thanks to the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo, Juszczyk ultimately carried over his role from Baltimore, catching 33 passes on the year. His usage ballooned over his 3 games with Garoppolo, in which he averaged 4.3 targets and 37.0 yards. Juszczyk has now caught 111 balls (and 5 touchdowns) over the last 3 years and looks entrenched in a minor but crucial role in the 49ers passing game. He's not worth a fantasy draft pick, but if he can match his 2017 Garoppolo usage, he could threaten 60 catches and provide streaming flex value during bye weeks.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin
Backups: Dante Pettis [R], Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson, Kendrick Bourne, Max McCaffrey, Richie James [R]

Starting WRs: Garcon missed most of his Kyle Shanahan reunion with a neck injury, but remains a premier PPR target now that he's finally paired with an effective quarterback. He famously dominated Shanahan's passing game in Washington. Upon joining Shanahan in San Francisco, Garcon averaged 9.3 targets over 7 full games and looks poised to see similar attention in 2018. San Francisco's dropbacks fell a bit once Jimmy Garoppolo took over and the team began to win games, but there's still enough opportunity in play to keep a target hog like Garcon squarely in PPR WR3 territory with modest upside. He's not a particularly dynamic producer, and his career touchdown rates are generally subpar, but he's a strong volume play when he slips into Round 7 and 8. Goodwin represents a baffling fantasy case: after several injury-wrecked years in Buffalo, the diminutive (5'9" and 179 pounds) speedster, who'd never caught more than 29 passes in a season, became an efficient possession threat for the 49ers. Goodwin hauled in 56 balls and clicked beautifully with Garoppolo, posting 99+ yards and/or a touchdown in 4 of their 5 games together. That said, it's hard to tell just how he profiles going forward. Goodwin has always had issues with durability and was a one-trick deep threat prior to last year, and even in a best-case scenario, he'll still cede noticeable attention to a returning Garcon. Goodwin is best treated as a fantasy WR4 unless camp suggests he's still Garoppolo's top option.

Backup WRs: Taylor showed reasonably well as a slot-only safety valve as a 2017 rookie, and he'll enter his second year as a slight favorite to retain most slot snaps. Still, the diminutive Taylor (5'8" and 178) is a limited athlete with little upside beyond his 43-reception debut. His best-case fantasy prospects are as a PPR WR5 during bye weeks - and if second-round rookie Pettis pushes him for snaps, he'll be an afterthought. Pettis is intriguing, coming off a productive final two college years that saw him catch 22 touchdowns and break the NCAA record for career punt-return scores (9). But we got no athletic measurements from his combine or pro day due to a lingering ankle issue, and on tape he doesn't come off as a burner or a lightning-quick slot prospect. His upside isn't great, but in this corps he could certainly make a play for the WR3 job with a strong preseason. If that happens, he'll be a decent late-round fantasy stab. Robinson, like Pierre Garcon, is a trusted Kyle Shanahan holdover, but only as a lightly-used deep threat. He can stretch a field, but has averaged just 19.0 receptions over 3 full NFL seasons. Bourne likely showed enough chops (16.1 yards per catch) down the 2017 stretch to hold off practice-squadder McCaffrey and maintain real-life WR5/6 work. James was highly productive, but undersized and his college career ended with a broken collarbone. He fell to the seventh-round but was ranked higher by some draft analysts.

Tight Ends

Starters: George Kittle
Backups: Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini

Kittle won both a roster spot and the starting job as a 2017 rookie on the heels of an eye-opening camp, which he carried over in spurts to the regular season. He ultimately saw 54% of team snaps and turned 63 targets into a 43-515-2 line that stands high on the historical list of rookie tight ends. Still, he's no more than a mid-range TE2 stab for fantasy purposes. Kittle caught 3 passes or fewer in 10 of 16 games, and his 10.4% target share doesn't inspire confidence as the team naturally throws less in 2018. Celek continues to draw hefty snaps for a TE2 - 562 in 2017 - but has never topped 29 receptions in a season. His scant fantasy appeal, limited to deep 14-team leagues, comes from a bloated 14.5% career touchdown rate. He does nice, unnoticed work up the seams and in the red zone, but is far more valuable to the 49ers than to us. Hikutini made the roster as a 2017 undrafted rookie, but saw just 32 offensive snaps. He's no threat to either name above him.

Place Kicker

Robbie Gould: Robbie Gould was surprisingly cut by the Bears before the 2016 season and ended up performing well in limited duty for the Giants after they released Josh Brown. The Giants didn't bring him back in free agency, allowing the 49ers to scoop him up for a very reasonable two-year, four million dollar deal. Gould repaid the 49ers faith in him by converting 39-41 field goal attempts, including 17-18 from 40-49 yards and all four attempts from 50+ yards. Four of Gould's six highest scoring games came in the five games after Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback, so there's reason to think he could actually improve from his finish as the third highest scoring kicker in the league. He's worth a selection in the top five kickers.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Dante Pettis, Victor Bolden(susp), Matt Breida

Rookie Dante Pettis brings a lot to the table as a returner, but he enters a crowded situation with experienced options and will have to compete for the job in 2018.

Punt Returners: Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor

Rookie Dante Pettis had nine punt returns in college with an average of 14.2 yards per return, but incumbent Trent Taylor is no slouch and will make him earn the job in camps.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Josh Garnett, Mike McGlinchey [R]
Key Backups: Erik Magnuson, Garry Gilliam, Jonathan Cooper, Mike Person, Darrell Williams

The 49ers had two big changes on the offensive line this offseason. The first was replacing Daniel Kilgore with free agent signing Weston Richburg (Giants) after he signed a five-year, 47.5 million dollar deal. That should be an upgrade for the unit. The second was replacing Trent Brown with #9 overall pick Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame). Brown fetched a third-round pick from the Patriots during the draft. McGlinchey will be a better run than pass blocker at first. Mainstay left tackle Joe Staley is back for another season, but the two guard spots are up for grabs. Former Lions first-round pick Laken Tomlinson and 49ers 2016 first-rounder Josh Garnett are the incumbent starters, but Jonathan Cooper started 13 games for the Cowboys last year and he could win a spot. Erik Magnuson can fill in at center and will also push for a starting spot at guard, he's likely to make the team as a top backup at worst. Garry Gilliam was another offseason signing and he'll be the swing tackle. Person was once the starter for Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta and might add a veteran presence to the guard competition. Williams got on the 53 after going undrafted last year and might force the 49ers to keep him if he shows progress before the season. Overall the 49ers' offensive line enters the season as a mid-tier option.

Team Defense

The 49ers won five straight games to close the season, but Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't play defense. They did make one big move to change the complexion of their defense when they signed Richard Sherman after the Seahawks released him, but otherwise the starting lineup isn't going to be that different from 2017. The hope is that their trio of first round defensive linemen start to click in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's scheme, Reuben Foster will stay healthy and avoid more legal troubles, and former Seahawk Malcolm Brown actually plays a regular season game this year to create some strength in the front seven. Jaquiski Tartt only played nine games last year, and he'll be needed to take over for Eric Reid, who wasn't retained in free agency. 2017 third rounder Akhello Witherspoon and 2018 third round Fred Warner should be called up to play sizable roles in the defense. It's possible this group comes together in year two of a new scheme, riding the momentum created last year and good game scripts from the offense. They won't be drafted in many leagues, but the 49ers could be a hot pickup early in the season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Solomon Thomas, NT Earl Mitchell, DT DeForest Buckner, DE Arik Armstead
Backups: DE Cassius Marsh, DE Jerry Attaochu, DT Sheldon Day, DE Kentavius Street [R], DE Ronald Blair, DT DJ Jones

Starting DL: The 49ers are settling into their second year under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, and they have a defensive line led by three first-round picks. 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead and 2017 first-round pick Solomon Thomas will play at defensive, and 2016 first-rounder DeForest Buckner will line up inside with Earl Mitchell playing nose tackle and providing strong run support. Armstead only played in six games before his season ended with a broken hand. He had moved from defensive tackle to LEO and dropped weight before the 2017 season. His pass rush effectiveness dropped, but he was still adjusting to the new position. Armstead will move to the "big end" position on base downs this year in another position change. The team decided to pick up his fifth year option in the offseason after some expected they wouldn't. Solomon Thomas will play "big end" in scheme on passing downs and LEO on base downs. He was eased into the defense and struggled with a midseason knee injury, but came on at the end of the season. DeForest Buckner is quickly becoming one of the NFL's elite interior defensive linemen. He put up outstanding statistics for an interior lineman with 45 solo tackles and 16 assists, but only three sacks, which didn't reflect the numerous instances of disruption he created. Mitchell was durable and stout, but his role might be reduced as younger options on the roster develop.

Backup DL: The team will look to late season waiver claim Cassius Marsh to provide pass rush presence off of the bench after signing him to a two-year deal. They also added Jerry Attaochu in free agency, a talented edge rusher who was buried on the depth chart with the Chargers. Fourth-round pick Kentavius Street has first-round measureables, but he tore his ACL in the predraft process and could spend the season on injured reserve. Sheldon Day was another late season waiver claim and while he's not a classic nose tackle, the 49ers could have him rotate with Mitchell. 2017 sixth-round pick DJ Jones had a small role in the rotation last year, but his combination of size, power, and athleticism could earn a larger role with additional development. 2016 fifth-rounder Ronald Blair is a former 3-4 end and will likely backup Armstead.


Starters: SLB Eli Harold, MLB Reuben Foster, WLB Malcolm Smith
Backups: LB Fred Warner [R], MLB Brock Coyle, LB/DE Pita Taumoepenu, LB Dekoda Watson, LB Korey Toomer

Starting LBs: The 49ers still have some big question marks at linebacker, and none bigger than middle linebacker Reuben Foster. The 2017 first-round pick only played in ten games because of injuries, but he was as impactful as anyone in the organization could have hoped and lived up to his reputation. He also had two offseason incidents, but domestic violence charges were dropped and he should avoid a lengthy suspension. Former Seahawk and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was brought in last year to be an important part of the transition to the Seahawks style scheme under Robert Saleh, but he tore a pectoral muscle in training camp and missed the season. He'll likely play weakside linebacker this year. 2015 third-round pick Eli Harold made a transition to SAM linebacker last year and should start there this year, with an additional role at times as a LEO pass rusher in passing situations.

Backup LBs: Third-round pick Fred Warner (BYU) leads the backup linebackers, and he might not be a backup for long. He could potentially start in the middle if Foster's legal troubles don't dissipate, he could push Malcolm Smith for snaps on the weakside, and he could play an immediate role in subpackages even if he isn't in the starting lineup. Brock Coyle is the backup middle linebacker, and he emerged as the weakside starter last year when Foster returned. The team brought him back on a three-year, 8.4 million dollar deal with over four million guaranteed. While he started ten games for the team last year, they might prefer to keep him on the bench if Foster is released with the addition of Warner. Other potential backup linebackers include 2017 sixth-round pick Pita Taumoepenu, who like Harold is being cross-trained at SAM and LEO, former Buc and Bronco Dekoda Watson, who will have to stick as a special teamer, and Korey Toomer, who played in a similar defense under Gus Bradley last year for the Chargers and could be a quality special teams player and depth at SAM.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Richard Sherman, S Adrian Colbert, S/CB Jimmie Ward, S Jaquiski Tartt, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, NCB K'Wuan Williams
Backups: CB Tarvarius Moore, CB Greg Mabin, DB DJ Reed [R], CB Tarvarus McFadden [R], S Don Jones

Starting DBs: The 49ers secondary is full of young developing players who were new to the Seattle-style defense last year, but that doesn't apply to their biggest offseason addition on either side of the ball, new starting corner Richard Sherman. He signed what basically amounted to a one-year, seven million dollar with the team having the chance to keep him for more in 2019 and 2020 if Sherman is performing well. 2017 third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon improved as the season went on and ended starting nine games. He'll the spot on the other side of the formation from Sherman. K'Waun Williams was an afterthought pickup in free agency last year, but he quickly took over the nickel back job and earned a three-year extension in season. He'll complete the cornerback trio in subpackages. 2014 first-round pick Jimmie Ward had his fifth-year option picked up for 8.5 million dollars, and the team isn't quite sure where he fits. He'll be taking reps at his college and early pro career position of corner, and could start if Sherman's achilles isn't ready for Week 1, but he could also be a top-end free safety, which is where the team was developing him before he broke his forearm last year. Jaquiski Tartt will likely play the "Kam Chancellor" position in the secondary, but he is versatile enough to play free safety. Complicating matters is the emergence of 2017 seventh-rounder Adrian Colbert, who looked very good at free safety when injuries forced him into the lineup last year, and could be part of the reason the team is getting Ward re-acquainted with the cornerback position. However the starters shake out, the 49ers will have a much better starting group in the secondary than they had when the 2017 season began.

Backup DBs: The 49ers will have the luxury of a starting quality secondary player on the bench in the base defense as long as Richard Sherman is ready to begin the season, but their depth is questionable and their 2018 draft reflected that. Third-round pick Tarvarius Moore is hyperathletic, somewhat advanced for a small school non-combine invite player, and like Ward could project at corner or safety. Undrafted rookie Greg Mabin earned playing time late last year and should carry over that momentum to a reserve spot this year. Fifth-round pick DJ Reed projects as a slot corner and the draft capital invested makes him an early favorite to round out the depth chart at corner, but watch out for UDFA Tarvarus McFadden, who was projected much higher in the draft before a poor combine 40 time of 4.67. The potential backups at safety (other than one of Ward, Colbert, and Tartt) include Don Jones, who missed 2017 with an ACL tear and will need to make it on the strength of his special teams play, sixth-round pick Marcell Harris, who projects as a backup strong safety, and might have been a draft value coming off of an achilles tear, and Chanceller James, a tryout player who was possibly on his way to making the team on special teams and as a backup strong safety before tearing his ACL last summer.

Last modified: 2018-06-16 12:47:25