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2021 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,387 yards (7th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 48 (T-11th)
Offensive Plays: 1,046 (T-25th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 547 (30th)
Rush Attempts: 499 (5th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 49 (30th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 5 (29th)
Kyle Shanahan enters his sixth season as the 49ers’ head coach with a team ready to make another deep playoff run. He’ll have no shortage of playmakers on offense as all of his core players will return. A non-player who won’t return is former offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, now head coach of the Dolphins. McDaniel had served as the run game coordinator since 2017 before he was promoted to OC in 2021. He helped engineer a 49ers’ offense that ranked seventh in the league last season. While the team prefers to run, the offense is pretty balanced from a production standpoint. In 2021 the team ranked seventh in rushing yards (2,166) and 12th in passing yards (4,437). Like always, Shanahan will handle the play-calling duties, but with new wingmen. Bobby Slowik and Chris Foerster will serve as the passing and running coordinators respectively. These two will be vital if the 49ers are to continue being successful on offense.
Since Shanahan has been at the helm, Jimmy Garoppolo has been his guy. When the team traded for him in the middle of the 2017 season, aside from injury, he was their starting quarterback. The offense will have a new offense and a new look in 2022, starting with Trey Lance. His skillet and dual-threat ability will most certainly have Shanahan & company tinkering with the offense a bit. In limited action last season, Lance ran 27 designed runs, and you can expect that to be a part of the 49ers' game plan moving forward. When you put that together with the fact that Shanahan is known as one of the brightest offensive minds, it gives hope that the 49ers’ offense will continue to be a gold mine (no pun intended). The question is, how long will Garoppolo be on the roster? As of today, we know that he has been cleared and has been given permission to seek a trade. There are some who felt like he could enter as the Week 1 starter. Shanahan has made it known that he won’t trade Garoppolo just for the hell of it. The organization’s situation will get interesting soon.
Tracking how well Lance could finish from a fantasy perspective in the 49ers offense can be tricky. In Garoppolo’s two best seasons with the team, he finished as QB14 and QB22 (2019 and 2021 respectively). In 2019, it's worth noting Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow were not yet in the NFL. Lance’s rushing abilities are what help bring him much more upside. Having the team’s top-three receivers back in Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk will certainly soften the blow for the young quarterback. Jauan Jennings will enter the season as the team’s WR3 option but only saw 37 targets in 2021. Danny Gray could be a wild-card. The incoming rookie blazed a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine. 26.2% of his 803 yards came on deep routes in his final season at SMU. Provided he does well in camp, he could sneak his way into the rotation, but it’s tough to see him being extremely fantasy relevant in year one unless injuries surface.
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Let’s be clear, everything with Samuel isn’t settled just yet. There’s still no timetable on when he will actually sign a contract extension, but it is said to be in the works. Samuel reported to the team's mandatory minicamp but did not participate in drills. It is unclear what his plans are for training camp. Samuel is coming off of a season in which he totaled 1,770 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns en route to becoming a first time All-Pro. What’s also clear, he wants to play receiver, not “wide back”. Despite taking on a heavier rushing load in the second half of 2021, Samuel still hauled in 77 receptions and 1,405 receiving yards. Samuel and Kittle received 41.8% of the team's target share in 2021. This is a staggering number considering Kittle played in only 13 games. The 49ers will continue to lean on the all-star duo for success.
Since Shanahan has been head coach, in seasons where the team throws the ball more than 30 times per game, they haven’t won more than six games. In seasons where they’ve thrown 30 per game or less, they’ve made it to at least the NFC championship. While the 49ers will look to run first and pass last, an effective run game is what will make the passing game efficient. With Lance now as the 49ers’ quarterback, it’ll signal a new era of Shanahan’s offense where the ceiling has no actual ceiling.
For a team with a rich history of running backs that includes Frank Gore, Ricky Watters and Roger Craig, none of them had a better rookie season than Elijah Mitchell. The former sixth-round pick ran for a 49ers’ rookie record 963 yards in 2021. Mitchell finished the season as RB26, not bad for a guy who entered the season buried on the depth chart and only played in 11 games. Many see the drafting of Tyrion Davis-Price as a hit to Mitchell’s value. As a third-round pick, he could carve out a role simply due to the injury history of Jeff Wilson and the ineffectiveness of Trey Sermon. Shanahan does have a history of shuffling his running backs and it shouldn’t be ignored, but he’s also never had a back who was head-and-shoulders above the rest like what he has in Mitchell.
Don’t be too quick to count Mitchell out of a 70% snap share. In the Shanahan era, no 49ers’ running back has averaged more than 15 carries per game…until Mitchell averaged 18.8 carries a game in 2021. Furthermore, he carried the ball 80.8% of the time he was on the field (including playoffs). Now, to say there is no floor (about 15 touches per game) would be silly, especially since Lance will be taking a chunk of the carries away. The fact is, people are severely overlooking and underestimating what Mitchell did as a rookie. If he leads the 49ers’ RB room again, he can hover around being a top-10 fantasy back with that same workload. He’s proven he’s worthy.
PFF’s third-ranked offensive line from a year ago lost some key pieces. Alex Mack retired, Tom Compton is now a Bronco and Laken Tomlinson is a Jet. The unit should still prove to be a solid one as it still has Trent Williams, the best tackle in football. Former first-round pick Mike McGlinchey will return from injury to man the other tackle spot. Kittle will chip in his share of blocking as arguably the best all around tight end in football. The unit will continue to make sure that the 49ers’ run game remains one of the best in football.
After starting out 3-5 last season, the 49ers roared back and went all the way to the NFC championship game. Two key overtime wins down the stretch against the Bengals and Rams made their playoff hopes possible. To me, the team overachieved a bit on the backs of its elite players. Speaking of elite players, they have one at almost every position. The team didn’t upgrade as much as the Cardinals and Rams, especially in the defensive backfield. The Rams obviously will be tough and The Niners have had trouble with the Cardinals ever since Kyler Murray entered the league. I can’t say they’ll hit their over at 10.5 wins, but they have too much elite talent at spots to dock them much more. I have them repeating their 10-7 campaign from a year ago.