By Alex Levin
With the draft complete and the bulk of the free agency rush over with, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2020 season! And with that, I’m back with year 2 of my Opportunity series.
For those who didn’t see this series last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill rankings. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.
As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.
Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.
Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.
San Francisco 49ers
Last Year’s Accuracy
Not much to say here. It’s not like head coach Kyle Shanahan is on the hot seat after making the Super Bowl. He also doesn’t have an offensive coordinator that can be poached as Shanahan is his own offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was considered a head coaching candidate elsewhere, but wound up staying put.
Shanahan has progressively become more and more run-focused since coming to the Bay Area. When he first arrived, he ran a pass-heavy offense (61.4% pass rate) at a breakneck pace, resulting in an impressive 1058 total plays. The following year, he slowed down his offense considerably and started to lean a little more into his running game, reducing the pass rate to 57.8% and the total plays to 1003. Last year, his offense was actually one of the slowest in the NFL as he called the 2nd highest run rate in the NFL (49.2%), though an incredible jump in defensive efficiency still allowed the 49ers to run 1015 plays.
The slowdown in pace and increasing focus on the run hasn’t changed the target share balances much, however. While the wide receivers were in better shape than they were in 2018, injuries and ineffectiveness continued to plague the unit. This resulted in the second consecutive year of a 48.7% target share for the group. The George Kittle-led tight end group lost all of 0.2% of their target share en route to a 27.4% mark on the season. This leaves the running backs with the biggest change at a “whopping” 1.4% increase in target share, fed by a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo being more adept at finding his checkdown target than a 2018 Nick Mullens.
Of course, all of this is also a far cry from the offense Shanahan led in Atlanta, or even from his first year in San Francisco. His offense in Atlanta was considerably more wide receiver focused, producing over a 60% target share for the unit both years Shanahan was there. This flip was primarily taken from the Falcons’ tight end group as the running backs were targeted at a similar rate in the low 20% range. Meanwhile, in Shanahan’s first year in charge of the 49ers, his tight ends were still targeted lightly like they had been in Atlanta but his running backs stole about 6% of the targets away from the wide receivers. The point here being that Shanahan is more than willing to make major changes to his scheme to feature whatever position group he feels is best.
While Shanahan is willing to make major changes to fit his personnel, he won’t have to this year. The 49ers didn’t make much noise in free agency and what little noise they did make in free agency and the draft was primarily aimed at replacing the small handful of players they lost. Heck, even the headline trade of their offseason was replacing one retiring offensive tackle with a comparable one.
With so little change in personnel (or at least very little change in talent level even where turnover did occur), there’s no great reason to believe that Shanahan will operate his 2020 offense any differently than his 2019 one. The total plays and positional target shares should be more or less the same as the last two years. The run-pass ratio may slide to being slightly more pass heavy as QB Jimmy Garoppolo gets better settled in, but this will still very much be a run-heavy offense.
Not much else to say. When a team has been this consistent for two years running and doesn’t do much to shake things up in the offseason, it’s a good bet that they’ll be consistent for a third straight year.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
Ride or Dynasty