It is safe to say that the 49ers as a team in 2017 were an overall fantasy disappointment. The offense and defense were both anemic until Jimmy Garoppolo took over for the last five games of the season and by that time, most fantasy teams are set with their playoff rosters. The 2018 season appears to be a completely different story. Let’s take a look at players that could be very successful and some that may be a disappointment for everyone’s fantasy teams.
McKinnon was coach Kyle Shanahan’s number one free agent running back this offseason because he does multiple things that fit Shanahan’s offensive scheme to a T, most notably catch the football out of the backfield. Looking at what Devonta Freeman did in Shanahan’s last season in Atlanta, it is not hard to see how Kyle envisions Jerick’s role moving forward. Freeman averaged 17.6 touches per game, including 3.4 catches per game. McKinnon hauled in 94 passes at a 7.2 YPC clip in the past two seasons as a change of pace back in Minnesota. He also fits the outside run game in a way that Carlos Hyde never could. McKinnon is a career 4.0 yards per carry running back and should excel behind a revamped OL. In a PPR league, his ability to catch passes combined with Jimmy Garoppolo’s touch and accuracy throwing to running backs, McKinnon easily looks like a solid RB1.
Jalen Ramsey may not think that Garoppolo belongs on the NFL Top 100 list but the statistics are hard to argue with. Playing with a limited playbook, Garoppolo averaged 308.4 YPG in his five starts to go with six touchdowns and five interceptions. The interception rate seems alarming, however, at least one of the interceptions was the result of a wide receiver turning the wrong way on a route. Kyle Shanahan has shown that teams are much more successful during their second season running his offense. Garoppolo didn’t even have a full month with it before he took over as the starter and ended up beating multiple playoff-bound teams. A full offseason for someone who loves tape and the game as much as Garoppolo does cannot be overlooked. He’ll also be playing behind an improved offensive line and with an improved, very talented WR corps. Garoppolo should prove he is worth every penny John Lynch and Co. paid him this offseason and be a top-8 fantasy QB.
Garoppolo and McKinnon are probably already on most fantasy players’ radars. Both had big contracts come their way this offseason and come with a bit more pedigree. However, Kittle could be a game changer as a sleeper among fantasy tight ends. Despite being the 9th TE selected in the 2017 Draft, Kittle was second among rookie tight ends with 43 catches for 515 yards and a pair of scores. Only Evan Engram of the Giants put up better numbers. According to the coaching staff, Kittle did all this while battling injuries for the entirety of the season. He looked markedly better once Jimmy took over and truly shined in the last two weeks of the season posting seven catches for 142 yards and one touchdown on 9 targets. George is big, fast and runs extremely well with the ball after the catch. He’ll probably fall much further down draft boards than he should but those in the know will have a steal in the middle rounds.
Entire WR Corps
Before 49ers fans get their torches and pitchforks out of the shed, this is absolutely not an indictment of a lack of talent in the receiving corps. In fact, this is the best group of pass catchers that the team has had since Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens were playing together. Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis and Richie James are a tremendously exciting group. Each receiver has their own, differing skillset that as a group complements each other very well. Even though the 49ers offense was second in the league in pass attempts last year, there probably won’t be enough football to go around. Goodwin almost eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark last year and Garcon was on pace for 1,000 before a neck injury derailed his season before he even played a snap with Garoppolo. With the development of Taylor and an emerging Bourne, Shanahan will be able to throw any combination of the six receivers on the field to keep defenses on their toes. McKinnon and Kittle will see a significantly higher percentage of snaps and would be more reliable fantasy targets.
When “Juice” was given the richest fullback contract in free agency before last season, Lynch and Shanahan made it very clear they see him as an “offensive weapon” and not strictly a fullback. And Juice lived up to every bit of that by fulfilling the roles of pass catcher, runner and lead blocker. He was even the leading receiver when the 49ers’ offense hung 37 points on the best defense in football. Unfortunately, when it comes to fantasy football, points are not given for doing all the little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. He will undoubtedly have a game or two where he lights up teams that didn’t probably prepare for him but he will not warrant a roster spot from week to week.
Signing “Uncle Sherm” was something that a vast majority of 49ers faithful would have never thought possible. Richard Sherman joins a defense that ranked 25th in points allowed at 23.9 per game. He looks to lead a young secondary to the next level, however, fantasy defenses are about loading up the stat sheets. They did create 20 turnovers and score one defensive touchdown but managed to bring down opposing quarterbacks down only 30 times in 2017. The pass rush was not addressed as much as many fans and experts thought it would be this offseason. There should be a clear improvement from the defense as a whole. The question becomes: can they improve from their 28th fantasy ranking from 2017?
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