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49ers 90-in-90: FB Kyle Juszczyk

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

One of John Lynch’s first personnel moves in San Francisco, with strong input from Kyle Shanahan, was signing football’s greatest current fullback, free agent Kyle Juszczyk. (I’m just going to keep saying Juszczyk as many times as possible, because I know how to spell it. Juszczyk. Juszczyk. Juszczyk. I don’t even have to look it up. Who are we talking about, again? Oh yeah, Juszczyk. Just remember Z-C-Z and the rest falls into place.)

There’s no doubt that Juszczyk is the best fullback in football, but the move was controversial because of his rich contract — over $5 million a year over four years. Not only does he make two and a half times what the next highest FB earns, but he ranks ninth overall among all running backs, ahead of Carlos Hyde, Giovanni Bernard and Dion Lewis, and 20th among tight ends. (He was cheaper and more productive than Vance McDonald, anyway.)

There’s still some controversy, based on pure production. Juszczyk (Juszczyk!) ran just seven times, though he picked up 4.4 yards a carry and 4 first downs. Receiving was better — 33 receptions for 315 yards, 13 first downs and a TD. His yards-after catch-was a respectable 6.2 yards per carry and he was the team’s most reliable target, hauling in 79 percent of his targets.

All of which is fine but not spectacular, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. First of all he blocked real good, which was crucial on a team that had a crappy offensive line. But more importantly, Juicy-Juszczyk is crucial to Shanahan’s offense because he forces the defense to account for him.

There’s no way to quantify how many times Garrett Celek or Marquise Goodwin got a big play because Juszczyk forced a cornerback to cover him and left a linebacker on the more accomplished receiver. And if you don’t account for him, he will burn you. The fullback had four explosion plays last year, including a 44-yard reception against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Christmas Eve.

He’s a key to Shanahan’s offense in a way that numbers don’t explain. The essence of this scheme is that any offensive player can burn you, and that’s not possible without a sure-handed fullback who can spring the RB for a big run or slip out for a wheel route at any point.

Also, he went to Harvard, so he’s smart and he’s a great cheerleader for the rest of the team on social media. Always clearing the way for his more famous teammates, I guess. At least his big money didn’t give him an attitude.

Basic info

Age: 27 (turns 28 on April 23, 2019)
Experience: 5 accrued seasons
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 245

Cap Status

His base salary of $2.75 million was guaranteed for injury at signing, and became fully guaranteed on April 1, 2018. He has a $400,000 roster bonus and $100,000 workout bonus. With his pro-rated signing bonus, his cap hit is $4,500,000 million. His dead money would be $4 million of that; the team saves just $400,000 if they cut him. But they won’t.

Why he might regress in 2018

Injury is a risk for anyone, and fullbacks do the dirty work more than almost any other position. Juszczyk suffered a concussion in game three against the Rams last year.

It’s also possible that his statistics might go down because the team’s offensive talent got better and there’s more competition for snaps. That’s not necessarily bad though. If opposing defensive coordinators want to shut Juszczyk down by putting one of the their better pass defenders on him, Jimmy G will find the more skilled receiver (or Jerick McKinnon) matched up against a linebacker for a big gain.

Why he might improve in 2018

In a word, Jimmy G. Juszczyk had more receptions (17) and far more yards (195) during the 5 games that Garoppolo played in December than he had in all 11 games before that (16 receptions, 120 yards). A better OL will also free up the fullback to leak out more on fake runs, especially as McKinnon is a much better pass catcher than Carlos Hyde was.

This is a team that can run 21 personnel, line up in I-formation, and you have no idea if they’re going to run it down your throat or have the two backs go out for passes, after they’ve already sent Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garçon, and Dante Pettis deep. That’s a dangerous formation.

Odds of making the team

100%. Count it.