3’s a crowd: that’s the expression, right? Ok, maybe it is actually 3 is a company, but in fantasy football, sometimes 3 can be 2 crowded (too crowded I know, but let me have some fun with numb3rs). With several positional committees popping up all over the NFL, it is important to look at which players can emerge and have productive fantasy seasons in 2018. For this first edition, we will take a look at the Wide Receivers for the San Francisco 49ers.

The Jimmy G era dawned in the Bay Area last season. Going into 2018, with a full off-season with the 49ers, it is anticipated that Jimmy Garoppolo will fully establish his mark on the team’s offense. That means that we will begin to see which WR will be Garoppolo’s go-to option on the outside (or in the slot).  The question is: Which WR will be the most productive on the team in 2018?

Profiles

I know, that there are more than three WRs who could emerge for San Francisco, but it is the FOURty Niners we are looking at and to honor that, we will analyze four players in particular.

Pierre Garçon | 11th season

The elder statesman for this receiving corps, Garçon suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8, before Jimmy G took over as the starting QB. Known as an excellent possession receiver, he led the league in receptions in 2013 (113) when playing for Washington under Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, his current Head Coach.

Marquise Goodwin | 6th season

Also a newcomer to San Francisco last season, Goodwin shattered career-best in catches (68) and more than doubled his previous season yard total (962 in 2017, 431 in 2016). The former Bill became the 49ers leading target after Jimmy G became the starting QB.

Dante Pettis | 1st season

Pettis is a rookie who was drafted 44th overall (2nd round) by the 49ers. That is much more significant draft capital than what was used on the other 3 WRs we are profiling here. He played mostly outside in college, but he does have experience in the slot. Given his lofty draft status, it is expected that Pettis will be involved, especially on Special Teams as a kick return specialist.

Trent Taylor | 2nd season

Taylor is entering his 2nd year in the NFL, after being drafted 177th overall (5th round) in 2017. From the start of last season, he established himself as the main slot WR for the team. Entering 2018, he sits atop the slot WR depth chart once again. However, Dante Pettis may steal some time in the slot this season.

 

Jimmy G and Chemistry

To begin, neither Pierre Garçon nor Dante Pettis has played an NFL game with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB. Therefore, we don’t yet have the data needed to analyze and assess the chemistry between these players. Only time will tell how each player will perform with Jimmy G and how that impacts the WR line up. For the purposes of this section, I will look at the 4 main WRs for the 49ers from weeks 13 through 17 in 2017.

Marquise Goodwin led San Francisco in targets last season with 105. He managed 56 receptions, with more than half of them (29) coming in the 5 games when Jimmy G was the QB. In those 5 games, he led the team in targets 4 times and his 43 over that span more than doubled any of his team-mates.   Down the stretch, Goodwin established himself as the team’s go-to threat on the outside, but will he remain so in 2018?

Trent Taylor was a rookie last season. He mostly played in the slot, much like he did in college. Taylor caught 43 passes last season for 430 yards, with 17 (for 191 yards) coming in the 5 game stretch with Jimmy G as the QB. Similarly to Goodwin, Taylor appears to have gained Garoppolo’s trust. Taylor also has enough speed to be a decent return man; he had 15 Punt Returns and 1 Kickoff Return last season.

Other noteworthy WRs in 2017 were Kendrick Bourne and Aldrick Robinson. Bourne was much more productive with Jimmy G than he was without him. 11 of Bourne’s 16 receptions came after the team’s week 11 bye. Robinson however, went in the opposite direction. He had 19 catches on the year, with only 5 of them coming after Jimmy G was the starter. While it is obvious to say that Bourne surpassed Robinson on the depth chart as the season went on, the former could have been even more productive if he had not missed weeks 2-6. Even so, with Garçon returning from injury and Pettis now on the team, I doubt either Bourne or Robinson get many chances to produce in 2018.

 

Snap counts

In the early games of 2017, the WR snap counts were dominated by Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin. In the games where they were fully healthy, they averaged 82.8% and 76.4% of the offensive snaps respectively. After Garçon’s injury, Goodwin never dipped below 71.2% of the offensive snaps (except week 17, when he only played a portion of the game). No other WR ever played more than 70% of the snaps in a game except for 2 weeks where Aldrick Robinson stood in place of injured starters. Those were Week 4 (86.9%) where Goodwin had a concussion and Week 9 (84.0%) which was the first game without Garçon.

Outside of these two games, which appear to be outliers, the 49ers starting outside WRs have a significant advantage of playing time over the backups and the slot WR. Part of this can be explained by the fact that FB Kyle Juszczyk played 35.8% of the team’s offensive snaps throughout the season. He was on the field a lot more in games where they were winning and the team didn’t need to shy away from running the ball. In the 5 games with Jimmy G at the helm, Juszczyk never logged in less than 45.7% of the offensive snaps. Anytime the FB was on the field, the 49ers could not have more than 2WR playing since they often deploy at least 1 TE. This means that they were not able to be in the spread formation more than about half of the time.

The position that was limited by Juszczyk’s appearances was the slot WR. Trent Taylor had only 3 weeks in 2017 where he played more than 60% of the snaps. Two of those weeks (Weeks 6 and 7) occurred when Juszczyk missed time due to a back injury. During the games that Jimmy G started, Taylor never played more than 48.6% of the offensive snaps. Since Juszczyk is signed for three more seasons, I do not envision the 49ers slot WR having a larger role in 2018.

 

ADP

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Pierre Garçon’s Average Draft Position (ADP) in 12 team Standard scoring mock drafts is 9.07, while in Point per Reception (PPR) formats it is 7.03. Marquise Goodwin is going in that same type of range, however, his ADP is higher in Standard (8.10) than it is in PPR (9.08). With both players being options to draft between the 7th and 9th round, I favor the player who has a rapport with the QB and that is Marquise Goodwin. Garçon has 4 years left on his contract and cannot be easily cut during the next two offseasons. That means, Garçon will probably get every opportunity to succeed in 2018, but in that range, I prefer the younger upside of Goodwin, and the chemistry he established with Jimmy G.

Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor are not being drafted in Fantasy Football Calculator 16 round mock drafts in either Standard or PPR formats. Both offer great value at that price range. Trent Taylor is currently listed as the starting slot WR on the latest depth charts, but Pettis might see some time in the slot as well as in the return game, eating into both of Taylor’s roles. Pettis played more on the outside in College, showing more versatility than Taylor. Pettis might even take some snaps on the outside away from Garçon or Goodwin, giving him a better chance than Taylor of being on the field in 2WR sets.

 

Verdict

In crowded positional situations, such as the 49ers WRs, I prefer taking the cheaper option. Dante Pettis is that option. While it is currently unknown what his 2018 role will be in the offense, I believe he has the talent to contribute immediately, especially in leagues that give points for return yards. Additionally, unlike Trent Taylor (who has a similar ADP) Pettis may see time on the outside as well as in the slot, thus giving him a better chance to produce on the field.

Kyle Shanahan offenses have been run-heavy in the Red Zone in years past, and not just 2017. As a whole, the San Francisco WRs had 7 touchdowns (for comparison’s sake, Antonio Brown had 9 TDs in 2017). I do not believe that any 49ers WR will see a significant uptick in TDs, meaning that I prefer them in PPR leagues, where a large portion of fantasy production can be gained from receptions alone.

In that case, I might favor Pierre Garçon over Marquise Goodwin, except that he has not yet played with Jimmy G in an NFL game. All the while, Goodwin established himself as Garoppolo’s favorite target late last season which he might not be able to reproduce when Garçon and Dante Pettis are on the field. With all of these question marks, I prefer to buy the cheaper option. An interesting draft strategy is to take either Garçon or Goodwin in the 7th to 9th rounds and then double down by Pettis later in the draft.

In terms of getting the most bang for your buck, Pettis has a chance at starting for the 49ers this season, and he is basically free in 16 round drafts. He may grow into his role in the offense and I believe he could contribute to fantasy teams towards the second half of the season when production is even more important. For those reasons, Dante Pettis is the 49ers WR that I would target the most this season.

I hope that this article helped enlighten you on the crowded San Francisco Wide Receiver room. If you have any questions or comments, you can Tweet me @nyama_ks. Don’t forget to check out all of the great content on Goingfor2.

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