June 19, 2023, 4:13 pm
ZERO HOUR UPDATE: (08.30.23): The Trey Lance era ended with a whimper and undefeated Brock Purdy gets the start at QB1. He’s a solid late, late-round option at QB because he has all the tools necessary to be effective. The rest of the 49ers skill position depth chart is pretty identical to last season and while Sam Darnold is a solid backup at QB2, Elijah Mitchell remains one of the premier RB2s in the league. He’s a must-draft handcuff if you get Christian McCaffrey. The Niners have elite players at almost every position except QB and while Purdy didn’t have a great or even good training camp/preseason, the Niners have been clear that he is their guy.
It doesn’t feel like a team that is so loaded coming into the year should be coming in with such giant question marks, but that’s what life with the San Francisco 49ers feels like at the moment. The 49ers finished last season with a 13-4 record, good for second-best in the NFC. They went to their second straight NFC Championship game and came up short as they were defeated handily by the Eagles.
The 49ers went through four quarterbacks when it was all said and done. Trey Lance was supposed to take the reigns in year two but his season couldn’t even make it five quarters as he suffered a broken leg early in the home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, which ended his season. After an offseason where it was almost a lock that Jimmy Garoppolo was going to be wearing another uniform, life took an interesting turn in August when he and the team agreed to a restructured contract and he stayed in Santa Clara as the backup. After Lance was injured, Garoppolo was thrust into the starter role where he played admirably for 11 games, amassing 2,437 yards passing and 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions, while the team continued to win games. However, his season was then cut short due to a broken foot suffered early against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13, and then in came the story of the year for the team…Brock Purdy, the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Nobody knew what the Niners would get from him for the final few games and possibly the postseason but all he did was play lights-out football for 5.5 games. He threw 1,374 and 13 touchdowns, including an eye-popping first career start where he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the first half alone en route to a 35-7 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From there Purdy’s star took off as the Niners won their final four games after that and went on to win the NFC West. However, the Niners went back to square one early in the NFC Championship Game as Purdy’s elbow was hit by Hassan Redick of the Eagles on a throw, resulting in an elbow injury for Purdy and putting his immediate future in jeopardy. Fortunately for Purdy, the dreaded Tommy John Surgery was not needed despite a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament, and a 3-6 month recovery was expected at the time of his surgery.
Purdy is currently through three months of that 3-6 month timetable and has started to throw as the Niners enter the summer. This Niners roster is absolutely loaded. For the last few years, their front office, coaching staff, and roster have been raided by the rest of the league trying to get a little bit of what they have been cooking up. They have been able to at least admirably fill the voids left by some of those big names. Gone this year is defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who left to become the head coach of the Texans. Taking his place is veteran defensive coordinator Steve Wilkes, who walks into a lineup that is absolutely full of star power and reliable players at every level. He gets to coach a defensive line headlined by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, mainstay Arik Armstead, and new free agent signee Javon Hargrave. He gets star linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw back, and in the secondary, he gets a group to build around Charvarious Ward and Talnoa Hufanga.
Offensively, despite the questions surrounding the quarterback position, this group is also chock full of star power. Christian McCaffrey returns after having a crazy run for the team once they acquired him at the trade deadline. This was the first time really since 2019 that McCaffrey was healthy and all he did in 11 games with the team (including two games of partial usage) was account for 1,210 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns. He is backed up by Elijah Mitchell who will try to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2022. At receiver, they return Brandon Aiyuk, who had his first 1,000-yard season, and Deebo Samuel, who after a tumultuous 2022, is ready to bounce back and have a big year proving his worth as a very high fantasy draft pick last season. George Kittle is also back and despite a slow start to the season, he caught fire at the end and he is still as dangerous as pretty much any player at that position in the league not named Travis Kelce.
San Francisco 49ers U11.5 wins (-140) 4u to win 2.86u (DraftKings)
“This number is wildly inflated due to the Niners perceived success last year. They certainly have a good track record with Shannahan at the helm, and their defense will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. However their division will be much tougher this year as Seattle has gotten better and the Rams will not be tanking again. They also got a tough division draw facing the AFC North, who are all tough opponents. They also had one of the more disappointing drafts, with no early picks and refusing to draft a much needed offensive tackle. Most importantly, there is the QB situation. There is a very real possibility that the first third of the season must go by with Sam Darnold at the helm until Purdy gets healthy. Not enough people are talking about the real sticky situation this offense is about to find themselves in to start the year. A team with no clear QB, a weak offensive line, a tough schedule, now has one of the highest win totals in the entire league. There is a reason there’s so much juice on this bet, and I would drink it all before this drops down to 11 or even 10.5.”
– Fish Fisher (@Fish_Fisher4)
Rookie Nick Bosa was unreal 🔥pic.twitter.com/x32pRGRCmk
— Alex 👋 (@Dubs408) June 12, 2023
There are a few different directions we can go here but in Kyle Shanahan fashion, we will stick with the run game. Everything this team does is predicated on how well they can run the ball. Kyle Shanahan has always had good backs, but never in his tenure in San Francisco has he had a player like Christian McCaffrey. As mentioned in the overview he returned to all-world form last year as he had his first fully healthy season since 2019. He put up a season’s worth of numbers for the team in just 11 games, and will likely be a top-3 fantasy pick this season.
McCaffrey is backed up by Elijah Mitchell who averaged over 6 yards per carry in limited action last year. We also can’t forget wide back Deebo Samuel. He did see a significant dip in his production last year, but after the 2021 season where he was one of the most utilized weapons in the league, including having 59 carries despite not even playing the running back position…opposing defenses account for it in every game plan.
If you really know the 49ers, you know that they are not afraid to use anyone carrying the ball. 15 different players had at least one carry for the team last year (11 non-quarterbacks), and that does not include George Kittle, who has rushed for a touchdown in his career. The 49ers return four of their five starters along the offensive line from a year ago. They lost Mike McGlinchey in free agency but they now feel they have the organizational depth to cover such a loss. They ran the ball 48.65% of the time last year and were top-10 in every statistical category except yards per rush, where they still averaged 4.6 yards per rush.
Special Teams. Gone is long-time place kicker Robbie Gould who was automatic in the postseason and normally reliable in the regular season. In comes Jake Moody, the third-round pick out of Michigan. With rookie kickers, you never truly know what you’re going to get. The 49ers were clearly high enough on him to trade up for him. It is a position they had been looking to get younger and cheaper at, and they now have. How he kicks in the NFL is the great unknown and it’s a gamble. We will have to see if it pays off.
The other issue for the 49ers last year is the lack of touchbacks. Too often there were kickoffs that were either short of the end zone, or too shallow in the end zone, and that allowed the opponent’s return game to get going and leave their defense to start out in not-so-favorable field positions. The 49ers were sixth-worst in the league in touchback percentage last season. The return game improved last season with Ray-Ray McCloud but they are still waiting for him to pop a couple of big ones and make it even more dangerous.They were in the middle of the pack in 20+ yard kickoff returns but were one of the only teams in the league without a 40+ yard kickoff or punt return. As explosive as the 49ers’ offense can be, and as dominant as the 49ers’ defense can be…improved special teams will be a major key in 2023.
Ray-Ray McCloud SHEESH! #49ers
— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers) January 1, 2023
Who starts at quarterback? This is a very deep quarterback room with Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, and the signing of Sam Darnold. If Purdy is healthy by week 1, it would be assumed he takes the starting job and picks up where he left off. Lance was still the third pick in the draft in 2021 and it seems as if he’s made progress in his development, so he’s not to be written off as he’s recovered from the leg injury and has been cleared to fully participate in organized team activities. Then there’s Darnold, a capable veteran who may have to step in if both Purdy and Lance are not healthy. It is going to be an extremely fascinating storyline to watch as we move through the summer.
Note: Everyone above the line in each position is someone who should be on your radar in standard leagues. Everyone below the line can safely be ignored in most popular formats. The number in parentheses next to the player’s name corresponds to their SportsEthos PPR positional rank.
* = Injured Reserve
*All Times Eastern
Opposition Home/Away Time Week 1 Steelers Away 1:00pm Week 2 Rams Away 4:05pm Week 3 Giants Home Thurs. 8:15pm Week 4 Cardinals Home 4:25pm Week 5 Cowboys Home 8:20pm Week 6 Browns Away 1:00pm Week 7 Vikings Away Mon. 8:15pm Week 8 Bengals Home 4:25pm Week 9 Bye Week 10 Jaguars Away 1:00pm Week 11 Buccaneers Home 4:05pm Week 12 Seahawks Away Thurs. 8:20pm Week 13 Eagles Away 4:25pm Week 14 Seahawks Home 4:05pm Week 15 Cardinals Away 4:05pm Week 16 Ravens Home Mon. 8:15pm Week 17 Commanders Away 1:00pm Week 18 Rams Home TBD