Before signing with the 49ers prior tothe 2017 NFL season, Kyle “Juice” Juszczyk* came out of the University of Harvard and playedfour years as a fullback with the Baltimore Ravens. During his time in Baltimore, he lined up at halfback, fullback, slot receiver, wide receiver, and tight end. On the ground, he recorded 25 yards rushing with one touchdown on seven carries. As a receiver,however, he had 97 receptions for 796 yards and five touchdowns. His 2015 season was his best statistical season as he led all fullbacks with 41 receptions.
When Juszczykhad signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the 49ers on March 11, 2017, many expectations of his performance heightened and questions arose as to how he would factor into head coach Kyle Shanahan’s dominant passing offense.
Duringthe 2017 NFL season, Juice recorded 33 receptions for 315 yards and one touchdown through the air, and 31 yards on the ground on sevenattempts.
Although Juice’s receiving game resonated with his stellar performance in the 2015 NFL season, his yards per carry were abysmal. From one season to the next, he had onlytwomore carries than his previous year and his running averages remained the same.
In spite of receiving $10.5 million guaranteed, there is blame to be spread around as Shanahan might have played a factor in Juice’s delayed growth.
Juice’s issuesduringthe 2017 NFL season was apparent. He was more involved in Shanahan’s passing offense than in the ground game. This could be a sign towards an improvement in his receiving gamebut his utilization on the ground has reduced him to be a one-dimensional fullback.Unfortunately,his growth and versatility as a player under this playbook has yet to beworthy of a $21 million contract.
With running backs in Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida on the roster, it is highly unlikely that Juszczyk will be utilized in running plays, except to provide substantial blocking and support to run against the middle of defenses.
One way in which Juice can prove worthy of his contract is if he is usedheavily in the passing game, as both a slot receiver and in tight-end formations, which led him to his first Pro-Bowl selection in the 2016 season while still with the Ravens.
After re-watching film of the previous season, Juszczyk has yet to prove his true worth within the facets of Shanahan’s offense. In the run game, Juice will have to provide proficient-enough blocking to create defensive breakdowns that will allow McKinnon and Breida to slip through the cracks of the defense.
In addition to stellar blocking, Juszczykwill have to prove himself through the air with an output comparable to that of his 2015 season. That year, Juicerecorded four touchdowns on 41 receptions for 321 yards through the air while earning a rookie salary in a four-year, $2 million contract.
To be deemed worthy of his contract, Juice will have to at least record7-10 touchdowns on 45-50 receptions for350-400 yards through the air this season.
To achieve these numbers, his use through both the air and ground will have to increase over the course of the 2018season.
Overall, Juice still has a lot to prove to the 49ers organization that he was the right decision, and that will be put to the test come the 2018 season.
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