Following the first and largest wave of free-agent signings, ESPN’s Matthew Berry released a very early edition of his fantasy player rankings. If you’re a fantasy football nut like myself, then you’ve probably already read through them and began your initial research for this upcoming season.
The thing about fantasy is that, as much as you’d think it would be the case, the best players in the real-life NFL aren’t always the best in fantasy. It’s also true that the best teams in the NFL aren’t always made up of the best fantasy football players. The latter was the case in 2019 with the 49ers, and it looks like Berry is expecting a repeat performance by the team’s offensive stars.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was actually left out of Berry’s top-20, with names like Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins, and Tyrod Taylor rounding out the bottom of the list. Jimmy G finished as fantasy’s 19th-ranked passer with 247.32 points. Notable names behind him were Cousins, Philip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford. Seeing how the team ended up in 2019, you can argue Garoppolo did his job as a game manager, producing just enough in the passing game to get the Niners to the Super Bowl while also taking advantage of their elite defense. He threw for just under 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Some of those picks he threw were real head-scratchers, and that’s the first thing I’d point to that held him back from being a top-tier fantasy quarterback in 2019. Of the top-20 QBs, his 13 interceptions were fourth-most among the group. His 476 pass attempts were also third-least, meaning a little more care with the football would go a long way if he is ever asked to throw more to bail out an underperforming run game.
The Niners’ backfield started to become eerily similar to the Patriots backfield in terms of fantasy production and reliability. It’s almost a cardinal sin to draft a Patriots running back high, mainly because Bill Belichick doesn’t often give long leaches to his backs, meaning he will start a different back in three consecutive weeks if he feels like one is doing better than the others at the moment. It took the San Francisco a little too long, in my opinion, to realize that Raheem Mostert was their most dangerous weapon in the run game. We all know speed kills, and Mostert has the juice. From weeks 11-17, he scored eight of his ten total touchdowns, including at least one in every game. When Mostert got double-digit carries, he averaged over six yards per carry. When he doesn’t, that drops to 4.8, which is still really good. When a player becomes efficient with increased carries, that the one you need to utilize.
As far as the other two prominent backs, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, they finished the year as RB39 and RB46, respectively. Coleman was the starter for the second half of the season, but he never showed to be as dynamic as Mostert. Breida shows flashes of being the same type of one-cut slasher that can go the distance on a whim, but it seems like those performances are a little too inconsistent for Kyle Shanahan to trust him with a larger workload. Coleman is Berry’s RB43 heading into 2020, while Breida comes in at RB51.
The only wide receiver from the Niners among Berry’s top-60 was the rookie Deebo Samuel at WR33. Samuel finished as WR31 in ‘19 after coming on strong to finish the year with 807 receiving yards, 156 rushing yards, and six total touchdowns (three receiving, three rushing). While Samuel will take on a much larger receiving role in his sophomore season, it was his rushing ability that set him apart as a rookie. He averaged a robust 11.36 yards per carry on 14 totes with nine of those coming in the second half of the season once the team realized just how dangerous he was with the ball in his hands. I don’t see why Samuel can’t improve on both his receiving and rushing numbers in 2020. While teams will likely key in on Samuel more often pre-snap, the dual-threat play-maker should be up to the challenge.
Last but not least, The People’s Tight End, George Kittle comes in as Berry’s early TE2 behind the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce. Those two finished the 2019 season in the same order, and with both still in their primes, Berry decided to keep them ranked that way. Kittle totaled 222.5 points on the season, second-best among all 49ers players. His 1,053 receiving were about 300 yards short of his NFL-record set last year, but it’s not like we’re expecting him to break it again.
So what do you all think of Berry’s rankings? Should any of the 49ers be getting more love? Is he selling any of them short? Let’s talk about it.