Hit The Targets 2021: San Francisco 49ers
The series’ third instalment examines a team who had injury struggles last season. The targets from San Francisco are under the spotlight this time around.
DOWN AND OUT IN COVID TIMES
As already alluded to, San Francisco had a tough time for injuries in 2020. Headline players saw extended time on the side-lines – and the team suffered as a result.
Many missing players will make their return for the Niners in 2021. But others will not. And the NFC West outfit place quite highly in terms of targeted players out of the door.
In total, seven have left so far this off-season. That doesn’t seem like much compared to teams like Houston and Detroit. Both teams have seen double-figure departures. But San Francisco is next on the list.
SAN FRAN EXIT PLAN
So, who has left?
Firstly, there has been an overhaul in the Running Back room. Jerrick McKinnon (8.29%), Tevin Coleman (0.9%) and Austin Walter (0.17%) are out. The more-active McKinnon signs with NFL runners-up Kansas City. Passing bit-parts Coleman and Walter both join the Jets – and another busy backroom.
Several of the Wide Receivers have also gone. Trent Taylor (3.6%) saw a slight surge in targets with injured starters out, but is no longer a Niner. Nor is Kendrick Bourne (13.33%), who joins the Patriots. And Dante Pettis (0.18%) saw just one target before his release very early on in 2020.
Many fantasy owners will have been aggrieved at losing George Kittle for the majority of the season. And they will have scrambled for Jordan Reed (8.29%) in a pinch. But that Reed fall-back option is unavailable in 2021, as he retired in the offseason.
The team also bid farewell to many who went without targets in 2020. Clearly, the Niners have cleared out the hubris – and left only the worthy behind.
And, in total, those departing players leave space equivalent to 34.76% of 2020 targets.
WHO STEPS UP?
The Niners have many players returning from injury. Therefore, it seems prudent to look at them as this year’s top dogs for targets. After all, signings that the Niners have made in the offseason are, on the whole, not too impressive.
The Tight End position continued its wasteland status in 2020. And Kittle’s absence from a large portion of proceedings due to injury was noticeable. Not only did the Niners miss him, but so did fantasy fans.
As a result, Kittle saw a drop off in final standings. His returns were decent enough making 48 receptions off 63 targets, picking up 634 yards and two touchdowns. That was enough for a final ranking as TE19.
But this is where the surface stats can be misleading. That stat-line was based off just 8 games. He missed half the season and still finished in the top 20 at the position!
And, in those eight games, Kittle had two 100+ yard performances. One of them was a blockbuster against the Eagles, 15/15 for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Comparing last season with those that came before, there’s clearly room for Kittle’s numbers to expand. And we’ve seen him do it, so we know he can. And if he can stay healthy, then we can expect similar numbers to what fantasy drafters are used to in 2021.
As well as George Kittle, many Niners fans will hope to see Deebo Samuel making more of an appearance in 2021. The Wide Receiver played only 7 games in 2020, but shone brightly in a two-game spell between his times on the sidelines. A particular highlight came after the Niners’ Week 11 bye, where Samuel dismantled the Rams. There, he saw 11 of 13 targets for 133 yards.
There is a long way to go before Samuel can prove he can stay healthy. But the games he made last season prove a point. He can put together some impressive outings as long as he can stay out there.
A recent off-season pick up, Wayne Gallman was one of the main men in the 2020 Giants backfield. Saquon Barkley’s early injury left a gaping hole at the position, and Gallman did well in taking the reins. His final statline for the Giants gave him 682 yards and 6 touchdowns off 147 attempts. His receiving stats read 21 receptions off 27 targets for an extra 114 yards.
Despite him showing above-average form, New York refused to use him in a bona-fide lead back role. Alfred Morris, Dion Lewis and particularly Devonta Freeman all took the stage at some point during the season. Their presence ensured opponents didn’t identify Gallman as a primary back – but that certainly affected stats. It also hurt those who had taken Gallman off waivers, hoping to find Barkley’s replacement.
Gallman also competed as the team’s primary catching back. Lewis was his main competition in that area. However, Lewis only caught 19 of 29 targets (65%), whereas Gallman caught 21 of 27 (77%). Plus Gallman’s targets were spread out over the whole season, rather than focused in one area.
GALLMAN AT THE NINERS
As with his former club, the Running Back finds himself in another committee role. Here too, he is likely competing with players who hold a similar role. Both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson saw targets over their active games. And it looks likely that Trey Sermon will factor into the structure of this Running Back room.
However, for all his skill and talent, Mostert has a deep and woeful injury history. One 16-game season in his entire career. It would be optimistic to expect him to make it through year without missing time. And Wilson is now sidelined with a meniscus injury.
So, if Sermon starts as the primary back, that doesn’t leave many behind him to fill in as a third-down or pass catching role. And certainly nobody as experienced as Gallman. There could be a strong opportunity for the veteran to establish himself into that role. And with it, comes a chance at getting those Running Back targets.
We’ve already highlighted Trey Sermon as an instant impact-maker on the ground. And he could also be key to the San Francisco passing game.
The rookie has been widely touted by fans and analysts alike. And it’s believed that his landing spot could be considered one of the best. After all, there was no established lead back.
And the adjustment at Quarterback makes it even more enticing. Trey Lance is used to using Running Backs as part of his passing game. 2020 stats from North Dakota show a decent proportion of the passing targets going to the Running Back group. This will surely benefit those at the position when it comes to Lance’s reads and getting him used to the scheme.
While Sermon’s job was primarily on the ground, he did see a share of the aired balls as well. His use in this area makes him more versatile for the Niners. And, should he become a team starter, it becomes difficult to predict how he will be involved. Will it be a run play or a pass play? This could put him at an advantage when it comes to being a pass-catcher. Combine that with Lance’s use of the Running Backs in the same role at college, and you have a decent prospect for targets.
The cousin of Sammy Watkins, the UAB Wide Receiver went undrafted. Many analysts held him in high regard after a blockbuster 2019 season. That year saw him put up 1092 yards and 6 touchdowns on just 57 receptions over 14 games. The relatively low number of receptions it took him to get to those stats is remarkable.
2019’s college stats saw only two other players get above 1000 receiving yards in less than 60 receptions. One was Dyami Brown (51 rec for 1034 yards) who got drafted this year by the Washington Football Team. The other? Tee Higgins – the second round draft pick for the Bengals last year. He made 59 receptions for 1167 yards.
Higgins has since established himself as a starting receiver on the Bengals team. So can we expect the same from Brown and Watkins?
Funnily enough, Austin lands on a team who have just cleared several few Wide Receivers from the books. And those who have remain have held a few injuries in the last season. If one of those key receivers goes down again this year, then Watkins is an ideal waiver wire candidate. And he may also be a sneaky good dynasty taxi squad stash for that exact reason.