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2019 Team Report: San Francisco 49ers

Offensive Philosophy

Much like his father before him, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers a run-heavy version of the West Coast Offense. His teams use a zone blocking scheme in the run game that requires backs to read the line of scrimmage for holes to open, and then uses that run-heavy philosophy to open up misdirection in the form of bootlegs and play action and enable deep passes down the field.

Quarterbacks

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

Starting QB: 49ers quarterbacks overachieved majorly last year, finishing a respectable 12th in net yardage per attempt while digging down to the third string. But the team will welcome back Jimmy Garoppolo, who missed most of 2018, with open arms. Undrafted youngster Nick Mullens boasts some desirable NFL traits - he's tough, resilient, and likes to try for impact down the field. But he's ideally a backup option, well behind Garoppolo in terms of polish and experience. The good news is that Kyle Shanahan's offense is creative, fast-paced, and extremely quarterback-friendly. Mullens produced beyond fantasy expectations last year, after all, topping 275 yards in 4 of his last 5 games. And late in 2017, Garoppolo took the reins and averaged 308 over his final five. By all accounts, Garoppolo is firmly on track to be under center in training camp. He's been throwing since February, and Shanahan has repeatedly gone on record with confidence in his Week 1 status. Before long, he'll be at work with an exciting, young receiving corps that can maximize his moderate strengths. George Kittle, Dante Pettis, and Marquise Goodwin inject a ton of dynamism into a group that Garoppolo has already produced with. As a fantasy quarterback, he's a high-ceiling QB2 if his knee is right.

Backup QB: Mullens was a pleasant surprise when pressed into 2018 starts, but he'll now fade back to a more appropriate clipboard role. He's a tough passer who seeks out splash plays, and he topped 275 yards in 4 of his last 5 games. But he's a limited all-around talent, and his decision-making took on a noticeable dip down the stretch. He'll almost certainly beat out Beathard, a career 57% passer, for the No. 2 job.

Running Backs

Starter: Matt Breida (inj)
Backup(s): Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
Fullback(s): Kyle Juszczyk

Starting RB: Kyle Shanahan is a renowned running back whisperer, consistently guiding his ground games to big production regardless of circumstance. He'll enter 2019 with plenty of chess pieces, but not a ton of clarity in their distribution. At the moment, the 49ers backfield boasts 5 different names that have produced a 90-yard game over the last 2 years. It's safe to expect this situation to stay fluid through camp, preseason, and the real games. Breida looks like the early favorite for first-snap privileges after a 2018 breakout that was marred by injury. A Week 5 ankle sprain was repeatedly tweaked and aggravated, costing him 2 full weeks and chunks of others. But the youngster kept producing through it, ending the year with 1,075 scrimmage yards at 6.0 per touch (ninth among qualifying NFL backs). Shanahan's creative run game afforded Breida plenty of running room, and he took advantage with surprising athleticism and versatility. He should enter 2019 healthy, (assuming he gets over his offseason pec tear) and dynamic, but in this crowded backfield, strong usage will never be guaranteed. Unless he's able to put space between himself and the rest of these names this preseason, he'll be hard to trust completely as a fantasy RB3.

Backup RBs: This is the league's most crowded backfield by far, and any of these names could shuffle ahead of the others at any point this offseason. Projecting the roles and distribution here isn't easy, and it likely won't be all year. Last season, due to injuries and Shanahan's propensity to rotate, 5 different backs registered 89 snaps or more. Coleman comes to town after four productive seasons rotating in Atlanta, and he could certainly push for work on all three downs. He's a speedy breakaway threat, and Shanahan talked up his size (6'1" and 210 pounds) and underrated physicality during the offseason. Coleman has averaged 4.4 yards or better in 3 of his 4 seasons, and he's shown a nose for the end zone (18 scores on 620 touches). But the team didn't invest much in him - just $3.6 million this year, with no signing bonus - and he looks destined for a rotational role in this messy situation. McKinnon is another x-factor, surprisingly brought back for even more ($3.7 million) after losing 2018 to an ACL tear. McKinnon has long been one of the league's most explosive backs, but he struggled mightily as a lead runner in Minnesota (just 3.6 yards per carry from 2016-17). Shanahan tends to cull a ton of efficiency from his backs, but McKinnon actually boasts the worst production profile of this bunch. He'll likely participate in camp and preseason, but there are no guarantees as to his role. Mostert was a great 2018 story: after bouncing across the league from 2015-17, he posted 286 change-of-pace yards over 6 offensive appearances before going down with a broken arm. He was re-signed in March, likely to play special teams and serve as the league's best No. 4. Wilson saw some run when injuries struck last year, taking on 75 touches from weeks 12-16, but he faces an uphill battle to make the roster.

Fullback: Juszczyk has established himself as one of football's toughest, most consistent receiving threats at the fullback spot. Dating back to his Baltimore days, he's caught between 30 and 41 passes for 4 years in a row. His usage could swing upward, too, with Jimmy Garoppolo returning to the huddle. When Garoppolo stepped in for the final 5 games of 2017, Juszczyk drew an 11.4% target share - tied for second-highest on roster. He doesn't run the ball and isn't a fantasy option, but could make a run at 40-50 receptions in 2019.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Deebo Samuel [R]
Backups: Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Matthews, Max McCaffrey, Richie James

Starting WRs: Pettis was a rookie revelation in 2018, clicking instantly with quarterback Nick Mullens and closing the season on a tear. From Weeks 12-16, only 13 players produced more yardage, and only Amari Cooper caught more touchdowns. All told, his 17.3 yards per catch ranked fifth among all receivers with 25 receptions or more. Pettis proved capable of succeeding inside and out, making plays both down the field and after the catch, so the transition to Jimmy Garoppolo seems safe. Pettis has reportedly focused on adding strength this offseason, which can only boost his outlook as an ascending all-around star. His versatility takes a ton of pressure off of Goodwin, who had been miscast in 2017 as a target-hogging No. 1 option. Goodwin, a former Olympic runner who checks in around 5'9 and 180 pounds, is best utilized as a situational deep threat. That devastates his fantasy outlook, of course, and he could go catchless on any given week. Goodwin dropped from 60 yards per game in 2017 to just 35 last season, and he topped 30 just 3 times. Pettis looks like the clear-cut No. 1 here, and there's very little fantasy dynamism behind him.

Backup WRs: At 5'8 and with limited athleticism, Taylor is a prototypical if low-impact slot specialist. After recording 43 catches in 2017, he fell well behind the likes of George Kittle, Dante Pettis, and Bourne in last year's pecking order, posting just 26 over 14 games. Over his young career, Taylor has averaged an anemic 9.3 yards per catch and found the end zone just 3 times; we may have already seen the best and brightest of him. It's tempting to project new addition Matthews to jump him in the slot. Over limited 2017 snaps with the Eagles, Matthews caught two long touchdowns and posted a nice Week 8. But he's simply never bounced back from a flurry of early-career injuries. If he enters the preseason healthy and involved, he'll be an intriguing last-round fantasy flier, but nothing can be taken for granted. Bourne has been a pleasant surprise when asked to fill in the gaps, and he caught 42 balls and 4 touchdowns last year. But when Pettis and Goodwin are healthy, there's not much role for him, and he could find himself replaced in the draft. McCaffrey is a former preseason hero with the Packers, and he'll vie for special teams work as the last wideout on roster.

Tight Ends

Starters: George Kittle
Backups: Garrett Celek, Ross Dwelley, Levine Toilolo, Kaden Smith [R]

Few fantasy prospects crushed their expectations like Kittle did in 2018. Entering the year as a developmental prospect in a shaky offense, all Kittle did was break Rob Gronkowski's tight end yardage record with 1,336 on 88 receptions. He'd already established himself as a top-5 option before he shamed the Broncos in Week 14, recording 7 for 210 in just one half of play. A dynamic athlete (a 4.52 combine 40 and 11-foot broad jump in 2017) with great versatility, Kittle is adept on all levels of the field and runs through secondaries like a wideout. Jimmy Garoppolo's return doesn't look to shake things up, either: Kittle posted 191 yards over the first 3 games before his passer went down. The boost in quarterbacking quality should only be a boon here, and Kittle looks poised to again battle for overall TE1 status. He'll come off every fantasy board before Round 5, and rightfully so. Celek flashed some playmaking ability in 2017, averaging 16.0 yards per catch and finding the end zone 4 times. But last year, with George Kittle erupting, there was little room for Celek's contributions; he's settling in as a consummate veteran blocker and little else. He drew just eight targets in 2018 and is nowhere near the fantasy radar. Dwelley probably enters 2019 as a contender for No. 3 duties, but that's a role that saw just 49 snaps last season. It could grow with the post-draft signing of Toilolo, who has a lot of experience and was a Falcon when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator.

Place Kicker

Robbie Gould: The 49ers have a potential situation brewing with Robbie Gould. He didn't show for the open of offseason activities after not signing the franchise tag the team used to retain his services. Gould was once again one of the top scoring kickers in the league even after the team lost Jimmy Garoppolo early in the season. He was the most accurate field goal kicker in the league, missing only 1 of 34 attempts. His totals put him in the top 10, but closer to the bottom of the group, especially in fantasy scoring systems that reward distance kickers. The 49ers signed Jon Brown as an insurance policy. Brown has put on a good show in camp with the Bengals, but certainly the 49ers would be unhappy if he was their Week 1 kicker. Assuming Gould shows for camp and signs his tag contract, he'll be worth a pick once five or six kickers are off of the board.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Richie James, D.J. Reed

The 49ers are in the rare position of returning players responsible for 98.5% of all of last year's punt and kickoff return attempts. On kickoffs, Richie James took the lead but D.J. Reed received plenty of work on the side.

Punt Returners: Richie James, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis

The 49ers are in the rare position of returning players responsible for 98.5% of all of last year's punt and kickoff return attempts. On punts, Richie James was the primary option, but both Trent Taylor and Dante Pettis received plenty of reps in relief.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person, Mike McGlinchey
Key Backups: Shon Coleman, Erik Magnuson, Joshua Garnett

Left tackle Joe Staley has been a rock for this team but he is 34-years-old and entering the final year of his contract. When he moves on, the team could shift right tackle Mike McGlinchey over to the left side, or they could choose to develop a replacement via the draft. Left guard Laken Tomlinson and right guard Mike Person are mostly solid performers, and Person has versatility to move to center. This ability could prove useful as starting center Weston Richburg had surgery in January and his rehab should be watched closely. The coaches like Erik Magnuson as interior depth and Shon Coleman is the swing tackle. Overall, this is a solid unit, not quite elite, but grading better than two-thirds of the other lines in the league.

Team Defense

The 49ers have been pouring resources into their defense, but it didn't result in very much fantasy relevance in 2018. They only created seven takeaways all season, but did start to hold a few opponents to low yardage and points output in the second half of the season. Games against the Raiders and Cardinals yielded solid results, so even in a very quiet season, they still served as a good streamer in the right matchups. This year, they added Nick Bosa and Dee Ford on the edge and Kwon Alexander at linebacker, so there's a reasonable chance that they will be much improved at creating splash plays. The unit is rightfully going undrafted, but they could surprise on the road to open the season against the Bucs and Bengals and get back on our radar as a streamer.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Dee Ford, DE Nick Bosa [R], DT DeForest Buckner, DT Arik Armstead
Backups: DT Solomon Thomas, DL D.J. Jones, DL Kentavius Street, DL Ronald Blair, DL Jullian Taylor, DL Sheldon Day, DE Damontre Moore

Starting DL: This is a strong and young unit with significant additions at both end spots. The team traded a second-round pick for Ford. Robert Saleh's Seahawks style defense has a "LEO" end position that is perfect for Ford coming from a 3-4 outside linebacker role in Kansas City. Bosa was considered the best edge rusher in the draft by most analysts, so the 49ers had a stroke of good luck when the Cardinals went with Kyler Murray at #1. He suffered a hamstring strain and missed the offseason program. Buckner is one of the best defensive tackles in the league and has been the biggest hit of the three consecutive first-round picks the team spent on defensive linemen from 2015-17. Armstead was coming on last year and appears to be ahead of 2017 first-round pick Solomon Thomas, who has been the subject of trade rumors.

Backup DL: Thomas has failed to make an impact even close to his #3 overall pick pedigree and snaps will be harder for him to come by with the addition of Ford and Bosa. Jones has been an excellent use of a sixth round pick in his first two seasons. He was basically a starter last year in the last month of the season at nose tackle and he'll surely make the team and play an essential role on run downs. Street is a physical wonder who the team took in the fourth round last year after he tore an ACL during his pro day. He is ready to contribute this year and can play both end and tackle to keep his teammates fresh. Blair made some contributions last year and has some versatility, but his talent level is well below the level of the starter and top backups. He should still make the team and might push for edge rush snaps when Bosa kicks inside or Ford needs a break. Taylor was preseason star last year as a rookie, but played only a little in the regular season. His strength is defending the run, which isn't as valuable as pass rush, so he could be out in a numbers game. Day played more than Taylor and can contribute as an interior pass rusher, so he could have an edge to make the final 53. Moore is a name to note as he had a standout stint in the short-lived AAF and was once a highly regarded edge rush prospect. There's no way all of these players can make the roster, and whoever gets cut is likely to get claimed elsewhere.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Fred Warner, WLB Kwon Alexander
Backups: OLB Malcolm Smith, OLB Elijah Lee, LB David Mayo, LB Mark Nzeocha, LB Dre Greenlaw [R], DE/OLB Pita Taumoepenu

Starting LBs: The team made a huge splash in free agency by signing former Tampa starter Kwon Alexander to a four-year, 54 million dollar deal to start and play every down on defense after they moved on from 2017 first-round pick Reuben Foster last year. He is coming off of a torn ACL suffered in October and his form in camp and preseason will be important to watch. Warner was a home run in the third round last year and should start in the middle. The other spot is up in the air and will be an important training camp battle to monitor, especially with Alexander's return to full speed not assured.

Backup LBs: Smith has been an unquestioned free agent bust, but he restructured his contract to take a very small salary in 2019 in hopes of making the team. He hasn't been the natural in Saleh's defense that the team thought they were getting, but he could start at strongside linebacker with a good summer, or at least make the team as a backup at both outside positions. Lee ended up starting on the weakside last year and should be the top backup to Alexander and Plan B if Alexander isn't ready for the season opener. Mayo was signed in free agency and got over one million dollars guaranteed on a two-year deal, so he should stick as a core special teamer. His best backup fit is at middle linebacker. Nzeocha was also signed this offseason. He was a special teams standout for the 49ers last year and got a few starts at outside linebacker. His three-year contract included 750,000 guaranteed. He will be Smith's main competition for strong side snaps in the base defense. He and Lee were both originally poached from practice squads. Greenlaw as drafted in the fifth round this year and should be an excellent special teamer and act as insurance for Alexander's knee recovery.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Richard Sherman, CB Jason Verrett, S Jaquiski Tartt, S Jimmie Ward (inj) CB KWuan Williams
Backups: CB Ahkello Witherspoon, DB D.J. Reed, DB Tarvarius Moore, CB Adrian Colbert, CB Tim Harris [R], S Marcell Harris, S Antone Exum

Starting DBs: Sherman should be even better in year two removed from an achilles tear, and he's the cornerstone of this secondary. The other outside spot could be Verrett, who was signed to a one-year, 3.6 million dollar deal, but with only 100,000 guaranteed. He once looked like one of the best young corners in the league, but has been struck with three catastrophic leg injuries. If Verrett goes down again, 2017 third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon is likely next man up after a disappointing 2018. Jaquiski Tartt is penciled in at strong safety and should be an impact player on the field and in the box score. Ward will likely get the free safety job and at worst will be valuable depth at multiple spots after he was brought back on a one-year, 4.5 million dollar deal. A broken collarbone may cost him some of training camp and the preseason and hurt his chances of starting, but the team didn't make any immediate moves in the wake of the injury. Williams is the clear nickel back right now as one of the other stable spots in a somewhat unstable secondary.

Backup DBs: Witherspoon will be a top backup at outside corner as long as Verrett stays healthy. Reed started at free safety at times last year before breaking his forearm and can also fill in at nickel corner. Moore was transitioning to corner from safety last year after going in the third round and has a top notch athletic profile. He could be a surprise starter at outside corner in the future, but has been moved back to safety with Ward's shoulder injury. Adrian Colbert was highly regarded by the team entering 2018, but didn't live up to expectations. Marcell Harris has been a gift of sixth-round pick for the team after they took him last year. The team loves his intensity and he projects as a future starter at strong safety.

Last modified: 2019-05-29 17:46:16