Although we have a changing of the guard, so to speak, at the quarterback position for the 49ers the year, we can be fairly certain of how this team will approach trying to win games moving forward. We have a team with an established coaching staff and established identity that will now be adapting that identity to a quarterback with a different skill set than previous iterations, as opposed to say, their opponent in Week 1 that is basically building from scratch. The identity of this team is to aggressively hunt the football on defense (22 forced fumbles and eight different players with an interception in 2021) utilizing complex zone concepts. On offense, they use an outside zone run scheme designed to get the football to its playmakers in space with an overall emphasis on winning the time of possession battle and minimizing mistakes. Now add in the dynamic skillset of Trey Lance and we’re left with an offense that should be heavily biased towards the run and leveraged passing situations, built to maximize the upside of yards after the catch giants George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. It will be interesting to see how often the legs of Lance will be utilized early in the season in conjunction with that offensive shell, how often Deebo Samuel will be aligned in the backfield or utilized on sweeps and end arounds, and how often Kittle will be in a route.
Elijah Mitchell is the unquestioned lead of this backfield after making his mark on the 2021 season, amassing 1132 yards on the ground on 262 carries (a solid 4.32 yards per carry). His combination of vision, decisiveness, and explosion out of the first cut is really the perfect fit for the offensive scheme employed by Shanahan. He should be primarily backed up by Jeff Wilson, Jr. when healthy, followed by third-round rookie Tyrion Davis-Price. Both Trey Sermon and JaMycal Hasty were recently released by the team. They should carry three running backs and fullback Kyle Juszczyk on game day. San Francisco’s heavy 34% 21-personnel usage rate from 2021 (led the league by a wide margin) should carry over into 2022, but it’s a bit misleading from a top-level perspective in that the majority of the time it was the primary running back and Juszczyk on the field together, not two running backs. Add the approximately 10% of snaps from 12-personnel and we’re left with an offense that operates primarily from alignments with only two wide receivers on the field: Deebo and Aiyuk. All of that to say, the primary running back on this offense should be on the field a ton. The other side of that discussion is the historically low pass game involvement from the position, meaning the primary back in this offense should be viewed as a “yardage and touchdown back.” The Bears allowed over 100 yards rushing per game in 2021 but somehow only surrendered nine total rushing scores and 88 targets to the position, more of a nod to the game flows opponents routinely found themselves in.
The San Francisco pass offense is concentrated by necessity (largely due to the personnel groupings they like to run) but lacks any semblance of bankable weekly volume. For example, Deebo saw 120 targets in 2021, Kittle saw 95, and Aiyuk saw 85. The next highest target number over the course of the entire season was Jauan Jennings at 39. That said, this is an offense that threw the ball only 29.4 times per game in 2021 (second fewest in the league ahead of only the Seahawks). Since we can expect the overall identity of the offense to remain rather static heading into the new season, that means we should expect low volume and efficiency to be the name of the game in contests the 49ers are allowed to control or play to neutral scripts. More on the ramifications of these truths below in the DFS+ Interpretation section.