Last year at this time, Kyle Shanahan was fine-tuning Atlanta’s Death Star offense, designing plays that would be executed by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. The Falcons went on to lead the NFL in both scoring (33.8) and yards per play (6.7) in 2016.
This year, Shanahan is installing his system with a team that won only two games last season and finished with a point differential of -171. His opening week starting quarterback will be Brian Hoyer, a player taking snaps for his sixth franchise in seven years. San Francisco’s receiving corps is led by a pair of free agent additions, 30-year-old Pierre Garcon and long-jumper Marquise Goodwin. Presumptive lead rusher Carlos Hyde was described during OTAs as “the slowest and most indecisive running back on the team.”
So it would be fair to say that Kyle has some work to do. The Niners offense will not be rebuilt into a dynamic fantasy machine in a single offseason. Fittingly, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were each given six-year contracts. San Francisco’s roster requires significant retooling, particularly at the offensive skill spots. Let’s review…
When the 49ers are throwing
Hoyer is unchallenged at the top of the QB depth chart, and Matt Barkley was signed to be his backup. Because that pair made such sweet magic in Chicago last year, the Niners couldn’t resist adding both. (Colin Kaepernick opted out of his deal, as you might have heard.) Hoyer played reasonably well for the Bears in 2016, stringing together four consecutive 300-yard, zero-INT games before suffering a season-ending injury in October (broken arm). Over the past three years, playing for three different teams (Cle, Hou, Chi), Hoyer completed 59.6 percent of his throws and averaged 7.3 Y/A, tossing 37 TD passes and 20 picks. He is unrelentingly adequate — occasionally sloppy, often competent. An acceptable bridge quarterback. He should not be drafted in standard fantasy formats, though he’s tolerable in two-QB leagues. Barkley’s one elite skill is turning the ball over; he’s no serious threat to Hoyer’s starting status.
Curiously, the Niners traded up to draft Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard in the third round, selecting him ahead of his expected range. Considering the quality of competition on this team’s roster and general expectations for 2017, it isn’t crazy to think Beathard will see the field this season. He’s a mobile player with enough arm, but he took a backward step statistically from his junior to his senior year (albeit with an appallingly poor group of wide receivers). Shanahan reportedly views Beathard as a Kirk Cousins-type, for what it’s worth.
San Francisco’s receiving corps remains one of the league’s least talented groups, but Garcon will certainly help. He figures to be a target magnet this season, because … well, where the heck else is Hoyer gonna throw the ball? As of this writing, the names behind Garcon in this team’s receiving hierarchy are Jeremy Kerley, Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. These are less than spectacular options. The Niners also used a sixth round pick on Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge, an unimpressive athlete coming off a rough combine. Meh. Free agent receiver Jeremy Maclin seems like a reasonable target for this team, but he’ll clearly have other suitors.
Assuming no major summer additions to this group of receivers, it seems safe to project Garcon for another 1000-yard season. He caught 79 balls for 1041 yards and three TDs for Washington last year on 116 targets. He’s not the flashiest player, but he has plenty of experience in Shanahan’s offense. Back in 2013, Garcon delivered a career year (113-1346-5) with Shanahan as his OC and RG3 as his quarterback. He could easily finish as a top-25 fantasy receiver in 2017, even in low-yield offense. At his current Yahoo ADP (123.6), he’s an absolute steal.
San Francisco doesn’t have a tight end on the roster who deserves attention in fantasy leagues of typical size and shape. Vance McDonald is still in the team picture, but the Niners attempted to deal him during the offseason, then spoke about it with unusual openness. Fifth-round rookie George Kittle could get interesting someday, but it isn’t likely to happen in his first pro season.
When the Niners keep it on the ground
The next unambiguously positive report on Carlos Hyde will be the first of the offseason. San Francisco reportedly had significant draft-day interest in Leonard Fournette, and Coach Shanahan lobbied hard for the team to select Utah back Joe Williams in Round 4. Niners beat writers all seem to agree that Williams is a legit threat to Hyde.
No one is arguing that Hyde is an untalented back — he averaged 4.6 YPC last season behind a lousy run-blocking line. But you won’t find any observers who see him as a natural outside-zone runner, making him an odd fit for Shanahan’s offense. The new regime in San Francisco has no connection to Hyde, a player heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Hyde has also missed 14 games over the past three seasons. All things considered, I have zero interest in Carlos at his current price (ADP 28.7). You can have him, Noise.
Williams isn’t necessarily a lock to leapfrog Hyde, but, in his coach’s view, he’s a no-doubt scheme fit:
“When you come to the style of runner, that’s what we liked about [Williams] the most. He can press it. He can make a one-foot cut. … When you have a guy who can run as fast as he can, he was clocked at high 4.3s at his pro day. The problem is, usually when guys run that fast, they can’t cut. So, when you’ve got a guy who can run that fast and can cut, which is what Joe Williams is, I do think you have a chance to be pretty special.”
As a final-round flier, Williams is definitely a player of interest. Get yourself a share or two. Tim Hightower was added to the Niners’ backfield mix as well, but he’s not a player who needs to be drafted in any known fantasy format. He’s a low-end 31-year-old handcuff.
San Francisco’s defense ranked dead-last in both scoring (30.0 PPG) and total yards allowed (406.4) last season, so there’s no reason to consider this D in fantasy, except perhaps in the two Rams matchups. The team drafted a pair of impact defensive players in Round 1 this year, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Alabama’s Reuben Foster, so it’s reasonable to expect modest improvement under first-year coordinator Robert Saleh. Still, this is an under-talented unit changing schemes. No reason for the fantasy community to invest.
2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 19.3 (27)
Pass YPG – 170.0 (32)
Rush YPG – 122.3 (4)
Yards per play – 4.9 (30)
Plays per game – 62.2 (25)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco