Fantasy Football Target Practice: The 2021 San Francisco 49ers
After a disappointing 2020 season riddled with injury, in 2021, the 49ers seem to have two paths for which their offense to flow. Option number one is the Jimmy Garoppolo path. This is the path where Garoppolo starts week one, stays relatively healthy, and the San Francisco offense functions very similarly to the way it functioned in its 2019 Super Bowl season. That year Garoppolo threw the ball 476 times for almost 4000 yards. However, Kyle Shanahan pounded the run that season as well with 437 rushing attempts. Remember the NFC Championship game where Jimmy G. had eight passing attempts? He literally did not have to pass the ball for them to beat Green Bay. In addition, during pre-season, Kyle Shanahan said to Matt Barrow of The Athletic, “we want to run the ball 500 times in 2021.” If this is the case, the overall amount of targets might decrease from last year.
Option number two is the Trey Lance path. This is a more intriguing path. Here we could have a more pass-heavy offense, fueled by a rookie QB probably throwing more bombs than we are used to seeing from Garoppolo. Jimmy G’s average depth of target in 2019 when he played a full season was 6.6 yards. According to pro-football-reference, that is the lowest among starting QBSs that season. The problem is we might not know which path Shanahan will be taking before the season starts. True, he has stated that “Jimmy G is his guy,” but who knows if that will last. The San Francisco QB battle is vital to keep in the back of your mind as we dive into target predictions.
Who We Have Lost
Brandon Aiyuk, WR – Floor: 110/Ceiling: 135
Last season rookie Brandon Aiyuk made quite a splash. Targeted 97 times, the most on the team, he accumulated 60 receptions playing only twelve games. He was on pace for 80 receptions if he would have played a full season. Aiyuk looks poised for that year two WR breakout, but battling for targets might be an issue. Out of the 16-game season, Aiyuk only played six games with Deebo Samuel and four games with George Kittle. He played four total games with Samuel and Kittle on the field (weeks 4-7). Of those four games, Aiyuk averaged 5.25 targets. When neither Samuel nor Kittle was playing, Aiyuk’s targets jumped up to an average of 9.5 a game. When discussing his 2021 target share, consideration of distribution when the other two men are on the field must come into play. Aiyuk has the potential for triple digits targets in 2021 but could be closer to his target floor if Samuel and Kittle also manage to stay healthy and the QB focuses on spreading the ball around.
Deebo Samuel, WR – Floor: 85/Ceiling: 110
Deebo Samuel, a true man, had an injury-laden 2020, playing seven games and accumulating 44 targets. As Andy, Mike, and Jason often mention, Samuel plays football with no consideration of getting hurt, so when anticipating his targets for 2021, we must strongly assume he will not make it a full 17 game season. That being said, Samuel will still demand targets. Pending no injury disaster, Samuel should garner slightly fewer targets than Aiyuk and goes about a round later in drafts. According to UDK consensus rankings, he is currently WR 30 off the board. If you believe in Samuel’s health, he might be worth that little discount in drafts.
George Kittle, TE – Floor: 100/Ceiling: 135
We did not get to see enough of the people’s TE George Kittle last year. One of the countless 49ers to go down with an injury, he only played eight games. However, Kittle was targeted 63 times in those eight games. We would have been looking at targets deep into the triple digits if he had played the entire season. What else is there to say about George Kittle? The man is good at football. Expect a target share somewhere between his career-high 136 in 2018, and the still excellent target share of 107 that he had in 2019.
Raheem Mostert, RB – Floor: 30/Ceiling: 55
Last season the 49ers loved throwing the ball to the RBs. They had the fourth-highest total of RB pass targets, with the most going to Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon has since departed, leaving behind his 46 targets. Raheem Mostert should be the recipient of some of them. Mostert had 19 targets last year, slightly down from the 22 that he had in 2019. I do not expect a big jump in for targets, even with the amount vacated by McKinnon. Mostert’s role seems to be somewhat established in the Niner’s offense, and being their primary pass-catcher is not it. Mostert did not even break the top 50 of RB pass catchers in 2020.
The Niners made clear their dedication to running the football by drafting two talented RBs in the 3rd and 6thround in the 2021 draft. Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell will be battling Mostert for a position on the depth chart. Both players averaged around 12 receptions a year in college, so it is clear that they will get targets. The classic rookie conundrum is that we never know how a first-year player is going to be used. If Shanahan does, in fact, go with Trey Lance starting, the rookie RBs might see more targets in that “safety check down” range. Some rookie RBs have had great success catching passes – think James Robinson, D’Andre Swift, CEH, and more from last season, so Sermon or Mitchell might surprise us.
Kyle Juszcyk, FB – Floor: 25/Ceiling: 40
One of the last true fullbacks in the league, we cannot forget “great friend of the show” Kyle Juszcyk. Juszcyk had 29 targets last season and will continue to be a target threat this year. With an average of just over 33 targets a season over the course of his career and three new RBs joining the team, we could see his targets decrease slightly in 2021. However, he could finish the year closer to his ceiling if the trust for the new rookie RBs is slow to build.