Preseason - 2021 San Francisco 49ers Outlook
San Francisco 49ers Outlook
Kyle Shanahan enters his fifth season as the head coach of the 49ers. He is batting 1-for-4 over his first four trips to the plate, with his only hit coming in 2019 when San Francisco went 13-3 with a trip to the Super Bowl. Over his other three seasons, Shanahan went 14-32 with no winning years. His career record now stands at 29-35, putting his job at risk with another underwhelming season. He has 11 years of experience as an offensive coordinator while being in the NFL for 17 seasons.
After going without an offensive coordinator for the past couple of seasons, the 49ers promoted Mike McDaniel to lead their offense. He held the run game coordinator job from 2017 to 2020 while also working under Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. McDaniel has been coaching in the NFL since 2011.
The 49ers fell to 21st in points scored (376), a mere 103 fewer than 2019 (479 points – 2nd). In addition, they finished 15th in yards gained.
The defense is now in the hands of DeMeco Ryans. He spent the previous three seasons working as the linebacker coach for San Francisco. Ryans played 10 seasons in the NFL at linebacker before moving to the 49ers coaching staff in 2017.
San Fran ranked second and fifth in yards allowed over the past two seasons, but they allowed 80 more points in 2020 (390 – 17th).
The only players lost to free agency were CB Ahkello Witherspoon, WR Kendrick Bourne, QB C.J. Beathard, DE Kerry Hyder, and RB Tevin Coleman.
Witherspoon missed 11 games over the previous two seasons while battling multiple injuries. His play in coverage showed growth in 2020, leading to minimal yards per catch and minimal damage in touchdowns allowed.
A couple of injuries to the 49ers' top receiver options helped Bourne post his best year (49/667/2). He caught 65.4 percent of his passes over the past three seasons with 11 touchdowns in 47 games. Bourne blocks well, and he added value to the passing game in the red zone.
Hyder rushed the quarterback well in 2016 and 2020, but most of his pressure ended with hits and hurries rather than sacks. The 49ers gave him the most playing time in 2020, and he responded with a bump in success against the run.
After three solid years of success with the Falcons (2,944 combined yards with 28 touchdowns and 90 catches), Coleman failed to make an impact with the 49ers over two seasons while battling injuries. In 2020, he gained only 87 combined yards with four catches on 32 touches due to a knee injury.
In addition, the 49ers didn't resign CB Richard Sherman, who remains a free agent. He missed most of 2020 with a calf injury.
San Francisco added C Alex Mack in the offseason. He was an excellent fit for the Falcons' offense when he signed in 2016. Mack is one of the top run-blocking centers in the NFL while offering strength in pass protection every year in the league. The Browns drafted him in the first round by the Browns in 2009.
The only other change in free agency came with the signing of DE Samson Ebukam. His playing time faded over the previous two years as he has settled into being a rotational pass rusher. Ebukam picked up 4.5 sacks in both 2019 and 2020.
With the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers invested in QB Trey Lance. His natural comparison would be Lamar Jackson by stats, but Lance can't match his top-end speed or arm strength. He plays with his eyes up when breaking the pocket while featuring an explosive gear when turning a run up field. My comp is closer to Deshaun Watson in overall look.
Lance needs more experience reading defenses, and he will be tested as a passer at the next level. His challenge will come defeating coverage in the deep passing game as his reads will invite runs before a wide receiver breaks free over the long field.
San Francisco added G Aaron Banks and T Jaylon Moore in the second and fifth rounds.
Banks brings precisely what the 49ers want from their offensive line. He packs a powerful punch off the snap that creates wins and holes in the run game. His hands and strength set the stage for his success, but Banks has limited pass protection range. Bull rushers should be stopped in their tracks, making defenders go outside his frame to make plays instead of through him.
Moore has the tools to reach a high ceiling. His one shortfall looks to be overall strength, which leads to some imbalance and below-par results vs. power players. He gets on the ball quickly with the vision and movements to shine when blocking in space.
In the third round, the 49ers drafted RB Trey Sermon. He profiles as a north/south runner with an occasional flash on the outside. Sermon can break some tackles, but his speed doesn't separate him from the 2021 running back inventory. His value in the passing game isn't high enough to command a third-down role in the NFL.
San Francisco shifted to their secondary with three of their next four picks – CB Ambry Thomas, CB Deommodore Lenoir, and S Talanoa Hufanga.
Thomas wants to play up close and personal in coverage at the line of scrimmage while keeping an open eye on the ball. His game takes a hit over the long field, where players with size and speed can create different kinds of wins. He grades well with his vision, run support, and play of the ball. Jump balls downfield create issues, and Thomas likes to hold when feeling beat on a play.
Lenoir is a second cornerback in this year's 49ers draft class who brings a physical style to the field. His value in coverage works the best in press coverage over shorter distances. In addition, he'll help in run support while bringing a playmaking style of play. Unfortunately, Lenoir struggles with quickness, and he doesn't have the wheels to make up for a missed step inviting some penalties.
Hufanga has a combination skill set that allows him to play close to the line of scrimmage. In essence, he can cover tight ends like a cornerback while playing with enough physicality to support the run despite his size (6'0" and 200 lbs.). Hufanga attacks the line of scrimmage with the vision to be at the right place at the right time. He does have a history of injuries while owning questions with his overall speed.
With their final selection in the sixth round, the 49ers took a flier on RB Eli Mitchell. He brings a grinder feel while lacking the explosiveness to shine outside the hash marks. His change of direction quickness is below the needed level to succeed as a starter in the NFL. Mitchell should handle pass protection with the foundation to get some action in the passing game.
The 49ers dropped to 15th in rushing yards (1,889) with 19 touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry with 27.3 attempts per game.
San Fran climbed to 10th in the NFL in passing yards (4,320) with 25 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The 49ers had 55 completions over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 39 sacks.
LT Trent Williams
In his first year with the 49ers, Williams made 14 starts while turning in a dominating season in run blocking. He allowed less than a handful of sacks with minimal pressure on his other plays. Williams is a former first-round draft pick (2010) who offers a long resume of success in both run and pass blocking. His last season with 16 games played came in 2013.
LG Laken Tomlinson
Tomlinson delivered his best success in the run game last year after ranking about the league average for most of his career. Each season, he allows a few sacks plus pressure on the quarterback on another five percent or so of his snaps. In 2020, Tomlinson regressed in pass protection, leading to a rise in quarterback hits. Overall, he tends to be a neutral player.
C Alex Mack
Mack has a 12-year career of success in run and pass blocking. In 2017 and 2018, he turned in two top seasons in the run game, followed up by some regression over the next three years. Part of his fade came for the Falcons lacking a top-tier running back. Mack gave up minimal sacks his five seasons with Atlanta, despite attempting over 600 passes from 2018 to 2020. Defenders beat him for more pressure over the last two years. A change to San Francisco should lead to another elite year.
RG Aaron Banks
The 49ers expect Banks to move into the starting lineup in his rookie season. His future should be at left guard, which may come at some point in 2021. Either way, he should hit the ground running as a run blocker while tripping up at times in pass protection.
RT Mike McGlinchey
McGlinchey played well in run blocking in his first two seasons in the NFL while taking his game to an elite level in 2020. After tending toward the league average in pass protection, he stumbled last year, leading to too much pressure and repeated weakness in sacks allowed. San Fran drafted him ninth overall in 2018.
The 49ers have one of the better offensive lines in the league, with a slant to dominate in the run game. The structure of their skill players points to a rebound in success in the passing game.
San Francisco ran the ball 43.8 percent of the time last year with slightly better than the league average in passing attempts (35.6 per game). The 49ers want to run the ball while playing excellent defense.
QB Trey Lance, SF - Sleeper (undervalued)
Lance comes to the NFL with one starting season on his resume in college. In his sophomore year in 2019, he passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns while not throwing an interception. Lance was a beast on the ground (169/1,100/14), setting up an intriguing NFL career. Last year, North Dakota State canceled the football season, leading to him entering the draft.
His style of play fits well in the 49ers' offense. They want to control the line of scrimmage with a dominant run game while offering an exciting combination of receivers at wide receiver and tight end.
Fantasy Outlook: San Fran may not give Lance the keys to their offense early in the season, but his ability to run the ball will tempt San Fran to use him at the goal line and short-yardage situations. Any success should create momentum for a more prominent role in the game plan. Lance offers an explosive ceiling once he earns the starting job. For now, he falls into the buy-and-hold category for a fantasy owner cheating the quarterback position and looking for an impact out late in the season.
Other Options: Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, SF - Deep-league Only
An ankle injury in Week 2 led to Garoppolo missing 10 starts while also leaving two other games early. His best game (268/3) came against the Rams' top pass defense. He finished with repeated success in his completion rate (67.1 – 69.1 in 2019) while finishing with 1,096 passing yards and seven touchdowns.
In 2019, Garoppolo ranked the 14th highest scoring quarterback (305.6 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. His best value came in Week 2 (296/3), Week 9 (317/4), Week 11 (424/4), and Week 14 (349/4). He passed for 3,978 passing yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. It took Garoppolo six years in the NFL to finally play in an entire season.
Over his three games in the playoffs, Garoppolo passed for only 427 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Fantasy Outlook: San Francisco invested in their future quarterback with the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, putting Garoppolo in the hot seat this season. I expect the 49ers to lean on experience while wins will determine who finishes with the most playing time. Their offense has two developing upside wide receivers plus one of the top tight ends in the league. Garoppolo has the tools and pedigree to lead this team to another Super Bowl, but he won't be a week-to-week start in fantasy leagues. In early drafts, Garoppolo ranks 33rd at the quarterback position, five spots lower than Trey Lance. Nevertheless, he is a viable flier as a QB2 with matchup value due to the strength of the 49ers' receiving corps and edge on the offensive line.
RB Elijah Mitchell, SF - Stud (low risk)
Mitchell has ascended San Francisco's depth chart and emerged as an excellent fit in Kyle Shanahan's zone scheme. Mitchell has a solid feel for hitting holes and has looked good as a receiver despite playing with a broken finger. Mitchell is an every-week RB2 with weekly RB1 upside...essentially everything we all thought Trey Sermon was going to be.
RB Raheem Mostert, MIA - Not Draft Worthy
Over his first three years in the NFL, Mostert gained only 36 yards on seven carries while bouncing between five different franchises. He flashed off the bench in 2018, highlighted by his 7.7 yards per rush.
In 2019, Mostert teased in Week 2 (151 combined yards with a touchdown and three catches), but his next bump in chances didn't come until Week 13 (154 combined yards with a touchdown and two catches). Over his final eight games, including the playoffs, he gained 792 combined yards with 12 touchdowns and nine catches. He scored a touchdown in eight of his last nine contests with an impressive showing in the NFC Championship game (226 combined yards with four touchdowns and two catches).
Last year, Mostert battled knee and ankle injuries, leading to eight missed games. He finished with 677 combined yards with three touchdowns and 16 catches while averaging 5.0 yards per rush. His season started with an impact game (151 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches) with an explosive start to Week 2 (105 combined yards with one score and two catches) over 13 snaps.
Fantasy Outlook: In early June, Mostert missed some time in the OTAs with a minor knee injury. His ADP (88) ranks him 32nd at running back. His explosiveness is tempting, but the 49ers will rotate in other backs. In addition, Mostert doesn't have the skill set to command a high-volume pass-catching opportunity. At age 29, with injuries increasing, I'm going to avoid him in fantasy leagues no matter his price point.
UPDATE: Moster's season is over due to another injury.
RB Trey Sermon, SF - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over the past two years, the 49ers' running backs scored 57 touchdowns. In 2020, they gained 2,673 combined yards with 28 scores and 93 catches or 33.02 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
Between four seasons at Oklahoma and Ohio State, Sermon rushed for 2,946 yards on 455 carries with 26 touchdowns. He finished with a minimal role in the passing game (48/486/3). His season ended in 2020 with a shoulder injury in the national championship game. Over his previous three starts, Sermon had 636 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 70 carries.
Fantasy Outlook: Initially, when doing the scouting research on Sermon, I had him in the fade column due to questions about his durability and value in the passing game. He landed in an ideal situation while also getting positive reports in June with his pass-catching. His ADP (81) points to him being the 49ers' top running back drafted this summer.
The 49ers have an excellent run-blocking offensive line, pointing to a winning opportunity for the running back who secures the lion's share of snaps. Worth the gamble, as I expect over 1,000 combined yards with a chance at double-digit touchdowns and 25 catches
UPDATE: It's Elijah Mitchell, not Sermon who has emerged as the real threat in San Francisco's backfield.
RB Wayne Gallman, MIN - Deep-league Only
An injury to Saquon Barkley led to Gallman having the best opportunity of his career in 2020. He gained 796 combined yards with six touchdowns and 21 catches over 15 games. His best two games came in Week 12 (91 combined yards with one touchdown and three catches) and Week 13 (16/135).Fantasy Outlook: Gallman provides veteran experience, with his best value coming on early downs. Depending on the injuries at running back in San Fran, he may emerge as the top handcuff at different points of the season.