AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Invest in 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garcon this fantasy football season.

By Pat Fitzmaurice
August 02, 2017

California’s epic drought was declared to be over by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year. Will the 49ers’ lengthy offensive drought end along with it? New head coach Kyle Shanahan is a well-regarded rainmaker, but it will probably take time for the Niners to replenish the talent reservoir. From a fantasy perspective, San Francisco doesn’t figure to be a verdant source of talent. Still, the 49ers’ offense should at least be interesting, which is a move in the right direction.

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Carlos Hyde RB17 RB14 Draft around
Joe Williams RB52 RB53 A flyer at best

Carlos Hyde’s fantasy value has been the subject of much offseason debate. He ran for 988 yards last season and surely would have hit 1,000 yards had he not torn his MCL in Week 16. Such is the story of Hyde’s three-year NFL career. He looks good on film and has a career average of 4.3 yards per carry despite playing for a moribund team, but injuries have caused him to miss 14 of 48 regular-season games. In addition to the torn MCL, he’s had a broken foot, issues with his back and ankle, and two concussions.

Hyde is in the final year of a four-year deal, giving him extra incentive this year but also giving the 49ers incentive to start exploring other backfield options. It’s worth noting that in 2016 the 49ers ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric, which gauges run-blocking effectiveness. And with the Niners destined for another sub-.500 finish, most of their game scripts will be less than ideal for a power back.

Hyde’s Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of RB17 seems fair enough on the surface – I certainly agree that he’s a top-20 option at running back – but he’s coming off the board at the top of the fourth round, and at that point I’d much rather take a high-quality, lower-risk pass catcher.

Hyde’s 2017 outlook came into question after the 49ers selected Joe Williams in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and after an ensuing column by The MMQB’s Peter King detailed Shanahan and new GM John Lynch’s draft plans and their infatuation with the enigmatic running back from Utah.

As King described in his piece, Williams was off the 49ers’ board when the draft began. He’d been kicked off U-Conn’s team in 2013 for stealing and using a teammate’s credit card, and he briefly walked away from the Utah program last September, returning a few weeks later after injuries put the Utes in a bind. Shanahan wanted Williams, but Lynch wasn’t on board until he talked to Williams the morning of the draft’s final day and learned that the death of Williams’ sister when he was 13 and a subsequent diagnosis of manic depression had led to the brief exit at Utah. Lynch was sold and traded up 22 spots to land Williams, who averaged 156.3 rushing yards per game in his final college season and blends 4.4 speed with surprising power.

The popular narrative is that the 49ers’ brass loves Williams and isn’t very enthusiastic about Hyde, who may not be a good fit for Shanny’s system. But I’m not wildly optimistic about Williams’ chance to become an impact contributor. Not only does he have to pass Hyde (or at least force a time-share) to pay off on an investment, he’d also have to overcome the 49ers’ lousy run blocking and a season’s worth of negative game scripts.

Neither Hyde nor Williams has shown much pass-catching ability, so 31-year-old Tim Hightower should get ample passing-down work and could be rosterable in deep PPR leagues. Thousands of fantasy leaguers across the country still regard Hightower fondly for his late-season scoring spree with the Saints in 2015 that propelled many of his owners to championships.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Brian Hoyer N/A QB28 Waiver-worthy

Brian Hoyer, now playing on his fourth team in as many years, is the quintessential replacement-level quarterback. In fairness, he was better than replacement level in Chicago last year when the guy he replaced was Jay Cutler. Called upon when Smokin’ Jay sustained a thumb injury, Hoyer completed 67.0% of his throws, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, and threw six touchdown passes and zero interceptions in six games before breaking his arm. Hoyer is just a placeholder in San Francisco and will be an afterthought in most fantasy drafts, but he might be streamable against lesser defenses this year as the triggerman in a Shanahan-designed offense.

Hoyer’s backup is technically Matt Barkley, and it was Barkley who replaced Hoyer in Chicago last year after Hoyer’s arm was rearranged. But the 49ers traded up in this year’s draft to take Iowa’s C.J. Beathard late in the third round, and if San Francisco’s season goes off the rails, we might see Beathard make a late-season start or two. I’m no scout, but I was less than impressed by Beathard during his time in Iowa City and was baffled by Lynch’s aggressive maneuver to obtain the Hackenbergian ex-Hawkeye. We’ll see, I guess.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Pierre Garcon WR37 WR31 Invest

Pierre Garcon is generating enthusiasm from early drafters, many of whom recall that in Shanahan’s final season as Washington’s offensive coordinator, Garcon had a career-high 113 catches for 1,346 yards. He’s never scored more than six touchdowns in any of his nine NFL seasons and doesn’t figure to be making many end zone visits this year while playing in a subpar offense, but Garcon should see targets galore on a team bereft of pass-catching talent. He has an ADP of WR37, a reasonable price for a capable veteran coming off a 1,000-yard season and likely to get more than the 114 targets he had last year.

Melissa Jacobs of TheFootballGirl.com (@thefootballgirl), an avid 49ers fan, believes Garcon is being slightly oversold, and that Jeremy Kerley, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson are being overlooked. Kerley’s 64 catches and 667 receptions led the team last year, and with a new three-year contract in hand, he’s likely to serve as the No. 3 receiver and slot man. Kerley is worth a roster spot in larger PPR leagues. Goodwin is a burner who’ll give the San Francisco passing game a vertical threat. While he might be able to top the career-high 29 receptions he had in Buffalo last year, it’s hard to see him helping fantasy owners in anything but best-ball leagues, where the occasional long TD could pay off. Robinson received less money to sign with the 49ers than Goodwin did, but Robinson spent two seasons with Shanahan in Washington and has an impressive athletic profile. He has the potential to surprise.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Vance McDonald N/A TE27 Put him on radar

I’m intrigued by tight end Vance McDonald, who’s caught 54 balls over the last two years and averaged an impressive 16.3 yards per catch in 2016, but apparently the new regime isn’t keen on him. Lynch reportedly tried to trade McDonald during this year’s draft, and 49ers beat writer Eric Branch said it wouldn’t be a surprise if McDonald failed to make the final roster. McDonald has good speed for a 6-4, 267-pounder, and his numbers over the last two seasons suggest that he can play. I’ll probably spend a late pick on him in at least one of my uber-deep redraft leagues, assuming he’s employed somewhere in late August.

If McDonald is released, either Garrett Celek or Blake Bell will be the likely starter. Bell has the better draft pedigree, but Celek has produced better numbers over the last two years. The 49ers have been talking up rookie fifth-rounder George Kittle, who played with C.J. Beathard at Iowa. (The Hawkeyes ranked 13th in passing in the 14-team Big Ten last year, so Lynch’s Iowa fetish is more than a little perplexing.)

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