The 49ers stuck with Jimmy Garoppolo and rode all the way to a Super Bowl appearance a few years ago, and came within one game away from it last year, but they’re making the switch to Trey Lance this season anyway. It’s a bold decision, one that both raises the ceiling and lowers the floor for this offense — along with bringing a number of new questions.
Record: 10 – 7 (9)
PPG: 25.1 (13)
YPG: 375.7 (7)
Pass YPG: 248.3 (12)
Rush YPG: 127.4 (7)
PAPG: 30.2 (29)
RAPG: 29.4 (5)
2021 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 6.57
The 49ers led the NFL in yards after catch per reception at 6.57, the fourth straight season they’ve done so. Partially, that’s because they just have so many dynamic after-the-catch playmakers, with Kittle and Samuel reigning as arguably the best at their positions in that regard. Those dudes are quick and strong, making them incredibly hard to tackle.
But the 49ers don’t just have Kittle and Samuel (and Aiyuk, no slouch in his own right in this regard) by coincidence. The 49ers have an organization philosophy, from the GM on down, to acquire players who excel with the ball in their hands, and coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the best in the NFL at designing plays that maximize his playmakers’ abilities. They focus heavily on passes across the middle of the field on plays utilizing motion, putting those playmakers in position to eat up chunks of yardage.
Garoppolo was good enough to get what was there on such plays, but he wasn’t making many plays in his own right, and that’s where the 49ers are hoping their offense can jump to the next level. Lance has a huge arm and is one of the best athletes at the QB position, so if he can take those layup plays Garoppolo was relying on and add the more dynamic plays Garoppolo was leaving on the field on top, this could be one of the best offenses in the league.
It’s an interesting bet to make, and I certainly see why they’re making it. But I’m worried about what it might mean for Fantasy. This is always one of the lower volume passing teams in the league, and with Lance’s scrambling ability, I’m projecting them to once again be among the bottom few in pass attempts. That means Samuel, Kittle, and Aiyuk will be splitting a small number of targets, so they’ll all need to be hyper-efficient to be must-start Fantasy options.
However, I’m also not necessarily expecting Elijah Mitchell to be a big beneficiary, either. Lance is going to take a significant chunk of rush plays for himself, especially near the goal line, and he’s not going to throw to his running backs often. Add in the potential for Samuel to be used as a running back again, and this offense starts to get awfully crowded. It could be one of the best in the league, but it could also be a big source of frustration for Fantasy players.
2. (61) Drake Jackson, OLB
3. (93) Tyrion Davis-Price, RB
3. (105) Danny Gray, WR
4. (134) Spencer Burford, OL
5. (172) Samuel Womack, CB
6. (187) Nick Zakelj, OL
6. (220) Kalia Davis, DT
6. (221) Tariq Castro-Fields, CB
7. (262) Brock Purdy, QB
84 carries, 8 RB targets, 49 WR targets, 5 TE targets
Chris Towers’ projections
|QB||Trey Lance||PA: 484, YD: 3288, TD: 19, INT: 12; RUSH — ATT: 133, YD: 599, TD: 6|
|RB||Elijah Mitchell||CAR: 213, YD: 959, TD: 9, TAR: 29, REC: 23, YD: 167, TD: 1|
|RB||Jeff Wilson||CAR: 107, YD: 426, TD: 4, TAR: 24, REC: 19, YD: 135, TD: 1|
|WR||Deebo Samuel||TAR: 126, REC: 79, YD: 1070, TD: 6; CAR: 80, YD: 399.5, TD: 5|
|WR||Brandon Aiyuk||TAR: 114, REC: 69, YD: 788, TD: 5|
|TE||George Kittle||TAR: 111, REC: 78, YD: 934, TD: 6|
What does Trey Lance mean for the offense?
The 49ers have no shortage of star power on offense, but there are some awkward fits. Lance figures to have some growing pains as a passer, and his rushing ability is likely to make the 49ers even more run-heavy — and they already had the fourth-fewest pass attempts in the league last season. Is there going to be enough to go around for Samuel, Kittle, and Aiyuk to be viable starters? Maybe if Samuel is used as a running back again, though he doesn’t seem on-board with that idea — and it raises questions about Elijah Mitchell’s upside if he is. It’s a tough spot.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
I’ve got concerns about how this offense keeps every fed and happy, but there’s no denying the upside if the combination of talent and coaching clicks like we think it might. So, I want a piece of this offense for sure, and Aiyuk is the cheapest you can get. Aiyuk found himself in the dog house early on last season, but he was pretty great in the second half, putting up 570 yards and three touchdowns on 34 catches over the final eight games, averaging 13.7 PPR points per game. He’s shown solid upside in each of his first two seasons, and with Samuel’s injury history and his trade demands this offseason, Aiyuk could very well find himself as the WR1 this season for the 49ers.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this piece sounding kind of down on the 49ers offense, but it’s mostly just that this is a very high-variance offense in my eyes, and Lance is the reason why. If he stumbles, there’s a lot being invested in the skill players here in a way that could leave you very disappointed. However, the upside is obvious. Lance is a dynamic athlete who rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in his final college season, and he’ll have all those nice, safe throws Shanahan draws up to pad his passing numbers. Armed with some of the best playmakers in the league and with massive rushing upside of his own, Lance could be a Josh Allen/Lamar Jackson-esque difference maker at the position. That’s the upside, and it’s the gamble the 49ers are taking as well.
Samuel is a completely unique playmaker, someone perfectly capable of dominating a game as a No. 1 wide receiver, making plays down the field or in the running game. The concern is that he reportedly wasn’t happy about being used as a true running back in the second half of last season, which makes it tough to know what to expect from him. He took a step back in the passing game down the stretch, which allowed Aiyuk to step up, but Samuel made up for that with the rushing work, averaging 6.6 carries and 42.9 yards with seven touchdowns over his final eight games. If he’s not being used as a rusher as often and Aiyuk has a bigger role, Samuel could find it tough to remain a must-start Fantasy option. And that’s not even getting into the risk of Lance flopping. There’s an awful lot riding on Samuel at an ADP of 17.2, with an awful lot of questions.