Juggernaut Index, No. 17: Jimmy Garoppolo, Niners can be fantasy gold

Andy Behrens
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/sfo" data-ylk="slk:San Francisco 49ers">San Francisco 49ers</a> quarterback <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/27590/" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Garoppolo">Jimmy Garoppolo</a> . (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo . (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Jimmy Garoppolo went a perfect 5-0 as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers last season, completing 67.4 percent of his passes and averaging 8.8 yards per attempt. These numbers are impressive under any circumstances, but they’re downright silly when you recall that Garoppolo’s primary receivers were a rookie tight end, an Olympic long-jumper, a 5-foot-8 slot guy and a lesser Celek brother.

That is to say, Jimmy G’s supporting cast was less than ideal.

Garoppolo won’t have an elite pass-catcher at his disposal in 2018, either, but his receiving corps is deeper and more talented than last year’s crew.

It hardly seems possible that anyone missed Garoppolo’s work in 2017, but if you need a reminder of his play-making ability, check the highlight package from Week 15. He’s terrific when pressured and also weapons-grade accurate from a clean pocket. Arm strength is not an issue here. The worst thing we can say about Garoppolo, really, is that he hasn’t yet produced a full season of results. (If you have sample-size worries with Deshaun Watson, then presumably you have the same concerns about Jimmy G.) He’s attempted 272 throws to this point in his career and his passer-rating is 99.7. Early drafters have made him the ninth QB off the board in an average league (ADP 85.1); that might be aggressive, but it’s not reckless. He was the sixth highest-scoring fantasy quarterback over the final five weeks last year. He’s clearly very good, an excellent option for those who refuse to pay the standard price for the tier-one quarterbacks. If he gives us 16 games, you’re getting 4000-plus yards and something like 24-30 scores.

Who’s the Niners’ No. 1 receiver? Does it matter?

Goodwin and Garoppolo built chemistry last season that’s definitely carried into camp, so it’s easy to be bullish on No. 11’s fantasy potential. His speed is exceptional by NFL standards, though he’s developed into more than a one-trick vertical threat. In five games with Garoppolo last season, Goodwin delivered 29 receptions for 384 yards on 43 targets. Extend those numbers over 16 weeks (93-1229) and we’re talking about a bankable WR2. If he’s not San Francisco’s No. 1 receiver, then he’s at least 1A. Goodwin is an obvious value at his early ADP (87.2, WR35).

Pierre Garcon is this team’s most accomplished wideout, but a neck injury ended his 2017 season after just eight games. He was on pace for 80 catches and 1000 yards (and zero TDs) through half a season, functioning as a useful PPR asset. A few concerns have been raised about Garcon’s lack of existing rapport with Garoppolo, but — if Jimmy is the guy we believe him to be — there’s little question this pair will be productive. Garcon appears healthy at the moment, so no significant worries there. Like Goodwin, he seems like a decent draft bargain (ADP 102.0).

[Yahoo Fantasy Football leagues are open: Sign up now for free!]

Trent Taylor is a fun-sized slot receiver who belongs on your fantasy radar only if you play in the deepest of PPR formats, the sort of league in which low-ceiling players are treasured. Rookie Dante Pettis was the fourth overall receiver selected in his draft class, surprising pretty much everyone who wasn’t working in the Niners’ front office. Pettis is tied to Kyle Shanahan’s offense and a quality quarterback, boosting his dynasty appeal, but it’s tough to view him as a player to target in redraft leagues of standard size. He was obviously productive at the collegiate level, catching 116 balls for 1583 yards and 22 scores over the past two seasons at Washington. Pettis is electric in the return game, too, but only a small slice of the fantasy universe cares about those yards.

George Kittle is gonna finish as a top-10 fantasy tight end

It doesn’t feel like a particularly bold prediction to forecast TE1 status for Kittle, a promising player entering his second season. Kittle actually led all rookies at his position in red-zone targets last year (16), so his scoring upside is clear enough. He closed the season well with Garoppolo at the controls, totaling 194 yards over his final three games. Again, if we’re right about Jimmy G’s talent and potential, then pretty much all of his primary receiving options are draft day steals. Kittle is no exception (ADP 119.9, TE12). If you can’t land one of the top-tier tight ends (or choose not to), take the Kittle discount. He and Garrett Celek finished with similar snap totals last season (592 vs. 560), but Garoppolo obviously developed a level of trust in the rookie. Expect a second-year surge.

Jerrick McKinnon, featured runner

McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million deal with the Niners in the offseason, and soon after Coach Shanahan talked about getting “lost” watching his game film. There isn’t much question about McKinnon’s expected role. He’s the primary backfield weapon for his new team, likely to see 260-plus touches in a healthy season. McKinnon entered the league in 2014 as a combine legend, a 99th percentile SPARQ athlete with 4.4-speed. He was less than dominant when used as a high-volume back in Minnesota, for what it’s worth, averaging just 3.4 YPC two years ago and 3.8 last season. He’s certainly not a lock to achieve greater efficiency in San Francisco, handling what will almost certainly be the heaviest usage of his career.

Still, McKinnon is going to get all the touches he can handle, which could yield 1400 or more scrimmage yards and 50-60 receptions. Those stats will play in any format. We’re drafting McKinnon as the 13th running back off the board in an average league (ADP 20.3), a defensible price given his situation and team context. Matt Breida should serve as a rotational/handcuff back, with Joe Williams as depth.

San Francisco’s schedule is a minefield, so we can’t give this D/ST a strong endorsement. The story of this season for the Niners is obviously Garoppolo’s continued development under Shanahan. This team’s offense ranked fourth in the league in yards per play over the final three weeks last season (6.3), with Jimmy behind center. If they can approach that mark in 2018, fantasy investors are going to massively profit.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 20.7 (20th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 245.3 (9)
Rush YPG – 104.0 (21)
Yards per play – 5.3 (16)
Plays per game – 66.1 (8)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco

Follow the Yahoo fantasy football crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Dalton Del Don, Brad Evans, Matt Harmon, Liz Loza, Scott Pianowski and Tank Williams