• Matt Woolsey

Juice vs. Jet: Who Will Catch the Most Passes?

Image Credit: Getty Images

The 2018 NFL season is shaping up to be a great season. There were five new quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Saquon Barkley is being considered a generational talent, being compared to Barry Sanders, remember him, if you don’t, you missed out on one of the greats.

Then there are the San Francisco 49ers. The acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo for a 2018 second-round pick right before the trade deadline last season; has been treated almost like the second coming. I think it’s the beard and his angelic face. Other than a couple years during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure with the 49ers, the hype surrounding this team has not been this high in probably over 20 years.

So, one thing we can hopefully expect is for the offense to move the ball and to see a lot more passing from Garoppolo. It’s not a stretch to expect this either.In Weeks 1 through 12 of the 2017 season, the 49ers were 21st in total yards of offense; in Weeks 13 through 17, they were third. Okay,keeping that in mind, who is going to catch more passes: Kyle Juszczyk (“Juice”) or Jerick McKinnon (“Jet”)?

History Lesson

First let’s fire up the flux capacitor with our 1.21 gigawatts of power and travel back in time. From 2015 to 2017, Juszczyk received 111 passes on 147 targets. During that same time McKinnon had 115 catches on 150 targets. Both have proven themselves to be very capable pass catchers with similar production.

Now let us all pull out our magnifying glasses and take a closer look at 2017. Juszczyk was never the starter for the 49ers, Carlos Hyde had that job. Juszczyk had 33 catches on 42 targets, and Hyde had 59 catches on 88 targets. McKinnon was not the starter at the beginning of the season for the Vikings, that job was reserved for Dalvin Cook; however, when Cook suffered his ACL injury, McKinnon became the starter, and as the starter he had 43 catches on 56 targets, more completions than Kyle Juszczyk.

Let's Talk Money

Kyle Juszczyk signed an absolutely insane four-year $21,000,000 contract with the 49ers before the 2017 season.This was the largest contract for a fullback in football history, and it raised a lot of eyebrows. But Juszczyk proved to be more than capable weapon in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Now let’s climb back into our DeLorean to just a couple months ago. The 49ers let Carlos Hyde walk during free agency and signed Jerick McKinnon to another eyebrow-raising four-year $30,000,000 contract, making him the fourth highest paid running back in 2018; only LeVeon Bell, Devonta Freeman, and LeSean McCoy are making more money than McKinnon. Those three running backs are the clear starters for their team and that’s what the 49ers are paying McKinnon to be, their starter. He has clearly taken over Carlos Hyde’s role moving forward.

On a side note, for the past two years the 49ers were well under the salary cap. The contracts given to Kyle Juszczyk and to Jerick McKinnon were front loaded; meaning that if these two players do not work out, the 49ers will have an easy out in 2019.According to Spotrac.com, the Niners would have only $2,500,000 in dead cap money on the books for Juszczyk and just $1,500,000 for McKinnon.

Size Doesn't Matter

Public Opinion: “But Jerick McKinnon is too small to be a starting running back”

Me: “I’m glad you brought that up, yes he’s only 5’ 9” 205-pounds, not your typical starter size.”

Yes, Carlos Hyde is a 5’ 11”229-pound bruiser back, but he did not fit the outside zone blocking scheme that Kyle Shanahan uses. Do you know how big Devonta Freeman is? He’s 5’ 8”206-pounds, the same size as Jerick McKinnon. In 2016 Freeman in the Kyle Shanahan offense at Atlanta, rushed the ball 227 times for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught the ball 54 times on 65 targets for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns. During that same year Tevin Coleman rushed the ball 118 times for 520 yards and 8 touchdowns, while receiving the ball 31 times on 40 targets for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Who Will Catch More?

Jerick McKinnon is paid like a starter, so he’s going to be the starter. Last year, Carlos Hyde caught more balls than Kyle Juszczyk. Kyle Shanahan knows how to use a player with Jerick McKinnon’s size, since he had Devonta Freeman in Atlanta. Jerick McKinnon will, without any doubt, out-catch and have more targets than Kyle Juszczyk.

Do not get me wrong, I believe Kyle Juszczyk will be heavily involved in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but Carlos Hyde received more targets than Juszczyk in the 2017 season, and Hyde is not the style running back Shanahan likes to use in his offense, whereas Jerick McKinnon is the perfect type of running back.

Our Fantasy

Now from a fantasy perspective:unless you’re in one of those 20 team fantasy leagues, God help you, you’re not going to have Kyle Juszczyk on your bench. In 2017 in a full PPR (Points per Reception) format he had 10 or more points only once, so he is not worth a bench spot. However, his new partner in crime Jerick McKinnon is currently being drafted in the back of the second round in PPR formats, the correct way to play fantasy football and he’s being drafted early in the fourth round in non-PPR formats, the incorrect way to play fantasy football, according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com. Even though he’s going a round and a half later in non-PPR formats, he’s still being drafted to be your RB-2.

With Kyle Shanahan and the improved offense, I believe Jerick McKinnon has the skills to be an RB1 (top 12 finish) in 2018. After all, in 2016 Devonta Freeman was the sixth best running back that year, under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Stay tuned to 49ersHUB for more great content!