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2020 Team Report: San Francisco 49ers

Last updated: Fri, Sep 4

Offensive Philosophy

After serving as offensive coordinator to an MVP campaign from Matt Ryan and a Super Bowl berth from the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, Kyle Shanahan was a hot commodity on the coaching market. He landed with the 49ers and immediately improved their offense from atrocious in 2016 to mediocre in 2017. His plans for 2018 were derailed when an injury to starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo left him playing an undrafted free agent rookie for most of the year. In 2019, Shanahan finally had his system installed and his preferred personnel in place, and the results were spectacular. The 49ers finished in the top 5 in both points scored and yards gained despite ranking 29th in pass attempts. The team featured one of the most dynamic and unpredictable rushing attacks in the league despite three running backs finishing with between 142 and 158 touches. The team's top two receivers, Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders (acquired in a midseason trade), both gained between 50 and 55 yards per game. In fact, other than All Pro tight end George Kittle, the team's top offensive weapon on any given play was seemingly "whoever is most wide-open", and that player varied wildly on a down-by-down basis as Shanahan used a dizzying array of route combinations and formations to seemingly scheme players open at will.

Quarterbacks

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

Starting QB: No one will confuse Garoppolo with Patrick Mahomes, but the 49ers have to be happy with what he's brought to the table. As a low-risk game manager, he's been a hefty upgrade over the likes of Blaine Gabbert, C.J. Beathard, and Nick Mullens. He managed to complete 69% of his throws in 2019 and fired 27 touchdowns in 2018. And, of course, he steered the ship to Super Bowl LIV, which can never be taken away from him. That said, Garoppolo has clear limitations, and his fantasy upside is uninspiring. He failed to top 4,000 yards last season, one of only 4 passers to do so in 16 games. (In fact, 27% of his yardage came from 3 midseason games.) And unlike Josh Allen and Kyler Murray, Garoppolo doesn't offer any help on the ground (just 106 yards over 25 starts as a 49er). He's still averse to throwing deep, and not very efficient when he does. The 49ers have added some intriguing weapons to their offense, but aside from All-World tight end George Kittle, most of them are used situationally and in aid of the team's dominant ground game. It sounds harsh, but Garoppolo may have maxed out with last year's QB23 finish.

Backup QB: Jimmy Garoppolo recovered completely from his 2018 ACL tear and took all but seven of the 49ers' snaps last season. Mullens remains the clear-cut No. 2, though: he served in mop-up duty last year, while Beathard was a healthy scratch all season. Mullens has shown much more as an NFL passer, completing 64% of his throws at a healthy 8.3 yards per attempt over 8 starts in 2018. Beathard, at just 57% and 6.8, looks like little more than a camp body. Neither would make for much of a fill-in, but Mullens at least looks capable of keeping things afloat in the short term.

Running Backs

Starter: Raheem Mostert
Backup(s): Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty [R]
Fullback(s): Kyle Juszczyk

Starting RB: One of 2019's best stories was the emergence of Mostert, who carried the 49ers' dominant ground game down the stretch and into the Super Bowl. After going undrafted in 2015 and bouncing across 6 different rosters, Mostert made a name for himself in 2018 (7.2 yards per touch and 48 a game as a backup), then topped that big-time last year. From Week 13 through the Super Bowl, with Tevin Coleman banged up and ineffective, Mostert averaged 16 touches and 99 scrimmage yards in Kyle Shanahan's lead role. That included a dazzling 220-yard, 4-touchdown romp over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Over the years, Shanahan's system has made fantasy stars out of a number of backs - including some low-profile ones like Mostert. He may not enter 2020 with much usage security in such a crowded backfield, but he's earned the lead job and then some. His floor will scare many away, but that's good for a weekly RB1/2 ceiling in this scheme.

Backup RBs: A favorite of Kyle Shanahan's from Atlanta, Coleman came to town on an $8.5-million deal and underwhelmed mightily. Coleman was dynamite in 3 appearances last year (playoffs included), but mustered just 563 scrimmage yards and 2 touchdowns in his other fourteen. Mostert isn't exactly a workhorse, so Coleman will draw plenty of snaps and perhaps even lead the way for stretches. But as a subpar runner with limited receiving ability, he doesn't excite as a fantasy RB3 unless Mostert goes down. McKinnon was surprisingly brought back, albeit at a sharp pay cut, after losing the last two whole seasons to injury. If he's right, he could work his way into a situational role. But it also wouldn't be a surprise to see him cut during the fall. Wilson drew 60 offensive snaps and 30 touches last year as the emergency No. 4. He saw some goal-line work early in the season, but ultimately didn't factor into the offense unless injuries struck - and hardly at all when they did. Rookie Hasty, who turned heads throughout camp with explosive plays, could even force Wilson off the roster.

Fullback: Juszczyk has carved out quite a niche for himself. He's now a household name among 49ers fans as a jarring blocker and clutch set of hands. Still, he's not a fantasy asset unless he's being used extensively in the underneath pass game, which he wasn't in 2019. He's actually dipped in receptions 4 straight seasons, and he's found the end zone just 9 times over 106 pro games. He's much more valuable to the team than to fantasy players of any format.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Deebo Samuel (inj), Brandon Aiyuk [R]
Backups: Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jujuan Jennings [R]

Starting WRs: Samuel isn't a prototypical No. 1 wideout: he doesn't work downfield very often, and he plays in an offense that's married to the short game anyway. But he's able to make up for some of that with impressive athleticism and versatility. Built like a running back, Samuel took on 15 rushes from Week 13 through the Super Bowl, adding 28 yards a game and 2 touchdowns. Still, he'll likely lack for week-to-week consistency - he landed below 40 yards in 7 of his 18 rookie appearances - and now looks iffy for Opening Day after breaking his foot in June. If he opens on the PUP list, first-rounder Aiyuk will be a beneficiary. Aiyuk enters the league raw: he was a complementary player in 2018 before his senior breakout, and he didn't run much of a route tree at Arizona State. He also underwent minor core surgery in April. Still, he definitely fits the mold of this offense as a versatile, east-west athlete capable of playing the whole field. He put up 18.3 yards per catch as a senior and showed off the ability to win on deep balls. Kendrick Bourne may play more snaps as the No. 2, but Aiyuk should see the field early and boasts notable upside.

Backup WRs: Bourne sees plenty of snaps, but is far more valuable to the 49ers than to fantasy players. He's called on often for his run-blocking and occasionally thrown to in the red zone (25 targets over his 3 seasons), but doesn't factor much into the attack. Ideally, he'll play his role quietly on the outside while the team shuffles the ball to its playmakers everywhere else. Pettis tumbled through the floor of Kyle Shanahan's doghouse last year, seeing just 9 total snaps from Week 11 through the Super Bowl. Still, the latter half of his 2018 rookie season offers a glimmer of hope. Taylor posted just 9.3 yards per catch as a one-trick pony out of the slot, but with Jalen Hurd out with a torn ACL, he should be the main man in that role this year. James is a candidate for snaps inside, and has made a few big plays, averaging 19.7 yards on his 15 NFL receptions. But he's primarily a special-teamer, and he's unlikely to be available early on - putting his roster hopes in jeopardy. Jennings, a seventh-round rookie, is intriguing as a slot man who can get down the field (15.2 yards per catch at Tennessee).

Tight Ends

Starters: George Kittle
Backups: Jordan Reed, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner [R]

It's hard to overstate the rise of Kittle, who has come to rival Travis Kecle as the league's premier tight end. He followed up his 88-catch breakout by recording 85 despite missing 2 games and part of a third. Kittle looks poised to dominate All-Pro selections for years to come, and there's nothing obvious standing in his way. He has great rapport with Garoppolo, who's sent him 27% of his looks over the past 2 years. He's led all current tight ends with 9.6 yards per target as a pro. And he's an elite run-blocker, keeping him on the field for 90% of snaps each week. The fact that he's done it all over two years on a partially torn labrum is the stuff of legend. Kittle is working through the labrum soreness this offseason, as well as knee and ankle issues that plagued him last year. Assuming he's right, though, he still enters 2020 just a hair behind Kelce among fantasy TE1s; they're in a tier all their own. Reed could steal a few targets from Kittle; in fact, he showed good rapport with Garoppolo during camp. But he just as easily could get hurt and not matter in the offense in 2020. As usual, he's a candidate to catch either 50 passes or 15. Dwelley is a distant backup in an offense that boasts Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. When called upon - he played 91% of snaps during Kittle's 2-game absence - he's produced just 91 yards over 15 catches. Rookie Woerner was strictly a blocker at Georgia and doesn't look poised to work his way into the passing game.

Place Kicker

Robbie Gould: Gould and the 49ers settled their money differences last summer when the team signed him to a two-year, $10.5 million fully guaranteed contract. He responded with his worst year as a pro in field goal accuracy, making only 23 of 31 attempts and missing all four attempts from 50+ and two from 30-39 yards. His contract ensures that the team won't be looking for a replacement and hoping for a bounceback year from kicker, but it should disqualify him from being drafted in typical fantasy leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Richie James

Richie James was one of two players in 2019 to account for 100% of a franchise's total punt and kickoff return attempts and remains one of the best bets in football to repeat the feat in 2020.

Punt Returners: Richie James

Richie James was one of two players in 2019 to account for 100% of a franchise's total punt and kickoff return attempts and remains one of the best bets in football to repeat the feat in 2020.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Trent Williams, LG Laken Tomlinson, C Weston Richburg, RG Mike Person, RT Mike McGlinchey
Key Backups: OL Erik Magnuson, OL Joshua Garnett

There will be two new starters this season for the 49ers. Left tackle Trent Williams arrived via trade from Washington during the draft. Williams is a multiple Pro Bowler who will start for retired left tackle Joe Staley. Right guard will be a battle between Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton to replace last year's starter in Mike Person. Brunskill has the upside and more recent starting experience.

Team Defense

The 49ers defense came together in a big way in 2019 and helped the team get within a quarter of a Super Bowl win. Their 48 sacks, 27 takeaways and five defensive scores led the way with a #2 rank in yards and #7 in points allowed laying a good foundation in leagues that use those stats. They traded away DeForest Buckner in the offseason and used the pick they got to replace him with Javon Kinlaw, which will be a significant downgrade for now. Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander could be healthier and play more games than they did in 2019 to boost this group. They will require a top three pick to end up on your fantasy team, but there are no signs that they will drop off significantly from their 2019 levels.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Nick Bosa, DT DJ Jones, DT Javon Kinlaw [R], DE Arik Armstead, DE Dee Ford
Backups: DL Solomon Thomas, DL Ronald Blair, DL Kerry Hyder, DT Kevin Givens, DL Kentavius Street, DL Jullian Taylor, DL Darrion Daniels [R]

Starting DL: The 49ers embarrassment of riches on the defensive line will be a little less embarrassing (for opponents) in 2020 but still one of the elite units in the league. Bosa was a rookie revelation who lived up to the #2 pick and he'll be the best talent in this group after the team traded all-world interior lineman DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the #13 pick. They traded down to #14 from that pick to take Kinlaw, who should start as a rookie and learn the ropes. He's huge and has some pass rush potential from the inside, so he should lead the defensive tackle group in snaps. Jones will be an early down nose tackle and will get sprinkled in on passing downs, but more likely give way to Armstead, who will play defensive end on early downs and yield his spot outside to Ford on passing downs.

Backup DL: The 49ers did not pick up Thomas's fifth year option despite using the #3 pick on him. He'll be used as depth unless the team trades him before the season. Blair has been a productive part-time player on his rookie deal and should make the team even though he is recovering from an ACL tear. Hyder got a one-year, 1.5 million dollar deal with 550,000 guaranteed so he's a good bet to make it as a pass rushing depth piece. After that the team should keep two more linemen, maybe three if Blair starts the season on the PUP list. One could be Taylor, who showed some promise in a smattering of snaps during his first two years on the team but had his 2019 ended with a late season ACL tear. Givens was a UDFA last year and placed on the team's practice squad, but was promoted late in the season. He could make the team providing depth as an interior pass rusher, especially if Taylor is released or lands on the PUP list to open the season. Street has played 38 snaps since the team drafted him in the fourth round in 2018 coming off of an ACL tear. He's an athletic freak and has versatility, but is clearly on the roster bubble. Daniels was an undrafted free agent this year out of Nebraska and has a chance to make the team as a backup nose tackle.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Kwon Alexander, MLB Fred Warner, OLB Dre Greenlaw
Backups: LB Azeez Al-Shaair, LB Joe Walker, LB Mark Nzeocha

Starting LBs: The 49ers have gone through a lot of money and draft picks in the last few years to fix their linebacker group and it appears that they finally found a trio that clicked in 2019. Warner is the cornerstone and one of the best linebackers in the game entering his third year. He'll hold down the middle while the two outside spots will be manned by Alexander, who signed a four year, $54 million dollar deal last year and Greenlaw, a 2019 fifth round pick who played very well in Alexander's stead when he went down with a torn pectoral muscle last year. Alexander should be the weak side linebacker and on the field in subpackages with Warner, which is hugely important for IDP leagues.

Backup LBs: The 49ers should carry two backup linebackers out of three solid candidates. Al-Shaair is still developing after being signed as an undrafted free agent last year. He was coming off of a 2018 ACL tear and started four games last year with his arrow still pointing up. He has the highest ceiling and should be a favorite to land one of the spots. Walker has some starting experience with Arizona and could have the edge over special teams Nzeocha because of that, but certainly at least one spot will go to a player with special teams prowess, which both Nzeocha and Walker possess.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Richard Sherman, CB Akhello Witherspoon, CB Emmanuel Moseley, CB K'Wuan Williams, SS Jaquiski Tartt, FS Jimmie Ward
Backups: DB DJ Reed (inj), S Tarvarius Moore, S Marcell Harris, CB Tim Harris, CB Jason Verrett, S Derrick Kindred, S Chris Edwards, CB DeMarcus Acy [R], S Jared Mayden [R]

Starting DBs: Sherman has continued to be an anchor of the secondary since signing with the 49ers in 2018 and he will remain their #1 corner entering the final year of his three-year deal. The other outside corner spot will come down to Witherspoon, a 2017 third-round pick who will be a free agent next year, or Moseley, a 2018 undrafted free agent who outplayed Witherspoon and could permanently overtake him this year. Williams is a quality slot corner and will have that spot locked down. He'll be a free agent in 2021. At safety, the team is sticking with Tartt, who is in the final year of his second contract with the team. He has played only 29 games over the last three years, which adds risk to a solid but unspectacular fantasy IDP resume at strong safety. Ward signed a three year, $28.5 million dollar deal with the team this offseason to extend his stay in San Francisco. Like Tartt, he has only played 29 games in the last three seasons, so the 49ers are banking on some injury trends to reverse to stay effective at safety.

Backup DBs: Reed has one of the backup defensive back spots locked up, but may miss regular season time (or more) after suffering a torn pec in a pre-camp workout around July 1. He can provide value in the return game and has the versatility to play inside and outside corner, and maybe even free safety in a pinch. Moore was converted from corner to free safety and will be the top backup behind Ward. Marcell Harris should be the top backup box safety, but the team could be looking for him to be pushed by Kindred, who didn't play last year but was once a Browns fourth-round pick and starting strong safety, or Edwards, a former CFL standout. The last cornerback spot will come down to Tim Harris, a sixth round pick from 2019 who spent last year on injured reserve, and Verrett, a one-time top-end starter whose career has been repeatedly derailed by injuries. Acy is likely headed towards the practice squad after being added as an undrafted free agent. The Missouri product has the length and speed the team wants at corner. Mayden was signed after the draft this year after playing every defensive back position during his time at Alabama, which could help him make the team as a surprise, or at least the practice squad.