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2017 Offensive ID: Shanahan/49ers

If you’re interested in this article, first please read my take on the offensive identities (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) of all the teams in 2016. That will explain some of the stats in this article, which I will not explain here. As I did last year, I will write a detailed piece on each team.

Kyle Shanahan is the new head coach in San Francisco, his reward for taking Atlanta's offense to the Super Bowl (apparently there will be no further punishment for the end of game play-calling). Shanahan had been an OC for the nine years, but it has only been the last three that he's really been out from under offensive-minded HCs (Gary Kubiak and Kyle's father Mike) who I assume had the final say on the offense. That may mean the three most recent seasons are more relevant to Kyle's identity. Of course, he will have very different personnel to work with than he had in Atlanta so the last couple of seasons may not reveal as much as we'd like.

As for SF itself, there have been personnel changes. The two QBs who started games last year, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick are both gone. The apparent starter this year is Brian Hoyer and assumed placeholder for the QB of the future, whether that's Kirk Cousins or some QB still in college. Hoyer has the advantage of not just experience, but experience in Shanahan's system, having QB’d the Browns in 2014 when his new head coach was the OC there. Hoyer was 7-6 in his starts under Shanahan (and 10-6 over two years), and whatever the value of QB W-L records, it's at least notable trivia when a QB has a winning record in Cleveland. Of the 28 QBs to have started a game since the franchise was revived in 1999, Hoyer is the only one with a winning record. Also, Matt Barkley is now the backup QB.

The #2 RB, Shaugn Draughn is gone, replaced by Tim Hightower. The #2 and #4 WRs, Quinton Patton and Torrey Smith left and Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon came in. Garcon, who played for Shanahan in Washington, presumably will be the WR1 in SF, pushing Jeremy Kerley down the depth chart. A new starting center was acquired in Jeremy Zuttah and couple of other old Washington players from the Shanahan days there: WR Aldrick Robinson and TE Logan Paulsen also joined the 49ers. Because apparently you can never have enough guys from a team that went 24-40 over 4 seasons.

In the draft the team added QB C.J. Beathard in the 3rd and RB Joe Williams in the 4th. Plus a few late round picks who are buried on the depth chart.

The charts will show Shanahan's record as an OC in HOU (2008-2009), WAS (2010-2013), CLE (2014), and ATL (2015-2016). They'll also show the last three seasons in SF so we can see how Shanahan's identity compares to recent 49er teams and how it might affect the holdover players.










KS = Kyle Shanahan's offense
NFL = Average NFL offense
SF = San Francisco's offense, 2014-2016

Shanahan had only three seasons over .500 out of nine; really it's just 2016 that got him the job (plus some name recognition and a GM who played for Kyle's dad). 2012 was pretty good, that's when we thought RGIII (and Kaepernick) were good. Still, a 7-win season in Cleveland is not the black mark it is with most franchises and while the Falcons were 6-10 before winning 8 and then 11 games. According to Vegas, the 49ers are primed for another bad year after winning 7 total the last 2 seasons: the O/U is 4.5 wins, tied for worst with the Browns and the Jets. The down seasons in Washington (2010, 2011, and 2013) might be the best guide to how Kyle might run a losing team's offense even if Mike had final say on those teams.

The Offense Overall










Total plays – the sum of rushing and passing plays.

Shanahan’s offenses have bounced around a bit in terms of total plays. In his best years, 2012 and 2016, they were below 1000 plays. That's probably not too relevant in 2017. When he had a really bad team (WAS 2013, 3 wins), he had a lot of plays. I expect he'll speed things up (and throw more) when behind, which should be often. I'd predict the total play number to be around 1075, a good environment for fantasy (if garbage time) production. This will be a lot more plays than the last three years in SF, even 2016 with Mr. Up-tempo Chip Kelly at the helm.










% Rushing plays - the percentage of total plays devoted to running the ball, including QB runs.

SF has been a running team on average the last three seasons (partly why their play total was low). Shanahan was run-heavy with Griffin in 2012, but there are a lot of QB runs driving up that share. Even with a bad team in 2013, he ran about an average amount – again, Griffin ran 86 times in 13 games, driving up the % rushing plays. Poor Washington teams in 2010-2011, with less mobile QBs, threw on a large portion of their plays. The year that stands out though is 2014 in Cleveland with Hoyer at QB: that was a very run-heavy team.

The offense in SF could therefore go in a number of directions. I think Shanahan will run only about 38% of the time, throwing more to catchup. But he could do what he did with Hoyer and the Browns and run as on much as 47% of his plays.



















Total Passes includes sacks as well as pass attempts.

Last year SF ran a lot, but don't forget that 109 of those total rushes were by the QBs. The 49ers were below average in actual RB carries with 349. They also took an above average 47 sacks, so even fewer of the already low total passes number actually turned into attempts.

Hoyer has averaged just over one and a half carries per game, so he's not going to take carries from the RBs. And his career sack rate of 5.1% is better than the average QB, so when he does drop back, the ball is more likely going downfield. Allowing for 25 carries and 35 sacks, the team should have about 375 RB rushes, up from last year, and 630 pass attempts, a lot higher than last season.











KS F1 – Kyle Shanahan's top fantasy scorer at this position; 25 yds = 1 FP; td pass = 4 FP
SF –San Francisco's top fantasy scorer at this position

You may be surprised to see that 49er QBs actually had backup QB numbers the last three years: nothing to brag about but not bad in the context of poor offenses.

Meanwhile, Shanahan coached Matt Ryan to a career year. This was the 4th Top 7 fantasy performance by a QB in this system. On the other hand, Hoyer was QB34 overall under Shanahan in 2014 (the team ran a lot). Still QBs with around 630 pass attempts do score a lot of FP and typically are worth starting for fantasy. I think Hoyer should be drafted as a backup – his ADP indicates he's about the 30th QB taken so you can wait a long time to pick him up, or even leave him on waivers. He may put up weak numbers even with a lot of attempts – or the OC may go run-heavy as in 2014. But Hoyer has a chance to put up decent fantasy numbers on volume.

Running Backs










Rush % RB1 – RB1 is defined as the RB on the team who got the largest number of carries. The Rush % RB1 is the percentage of the team’s total RB rushes claimed by its RB1.

Shanahan’s 50-50 on having an RB1 dominate the running back carries. Injuries were a factor in the seasons when this wasn’t true, so I think he’d like to have one main ball-carrier. There are lots of reports that Shanahan isn't wild about the incumbent 49er RB1, Carlos Hyde. While it doesn't seem like a 4th round pick such as Joe Williams would be a significant threat, Alfred Morris did well in this system as a 6th rounder.

I think whoever is the RB1 will have a shot at 70% of the carries or around 260 attempts. There is considerable downside on that because this team may end up with a committee. But there is also upside if the team goes run-heavy.



















Target % - the percentage of the total targets thrown to each position group.

In 2012-2014 Shanahan hardly used his RBs at all in the passing game. Before and after that, he gave his RBs about an average share. Hyde has been a so-so receiving back; Hightower was a good one in his early years. The last two seasons he's had a high catch rate and yards per reception, but Drew Brees is a little better than Brian Hoyer.

I really don't know how Shanahan will use his RBs in the passing game. I'd put them at around a league average 19% (120 targets and not much different than SF last year), but it could go a few points higher or much lower.



















The Target % for RB1 is the share of the targets to his position group.

49er RB1s haven't had much work in the passing game recently. Shanahan used Devonta Freeman fairly heavily in the passing game but has been perfectly content to avoid throwing to his RB1s.

My guess is that neither Hyde nor Williams gets a large share of RB targets – I'd put it at 30%, around 35 total. Hightower will probably get some use as a 3rd-down receiving option and see 60 targets, not quite enough for him to be a fantasy-viable player. But with upside to 75 targets he could be useful.










KS F1 – Kyle Shanahan's top fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring
SF –San Francisco's top fantasy scorer at this position

The system can produce a fantasy RB1 when it concentrates its carries and targets on an RB1. Freeman's fantasy record stands out because he got 2015 stands out because he got 60+% of the RB carries and 50+% of the targets. The same was true in 2008. Morris was an outlier in 2012 because he had 93% of the rushes despite little role in the passing game.

If I'm right about the projected workload for Hyde/Williams, the starter among the two should put up fantast RB2 numbers, about center of mass for Shanahan's previous top backs.

Wide Receivers



















This is generally a WR-friendly passing game. They get an above average share and number of targets. SF WRs went from being the center of the passing game in 2014 to seldom used in 2015 to average use in 2016. I expect Shanahan to give them 62% of the targets in 2017, what he's done the last two years and around his career average of 63%. That would be between 390 and 400 targets, 3rd or 4th in the league.



















WR1 is defined as the team’s WR who got the most targets. The Target % for WR1 is the share of the targets to his position group.

When Shanahan has a stud WR, he feeds him the ball. That was true with Andre Johnson and it was true with Julio Jones (he had 44% of the WR targets in the games he played in 2016). Even Garcon had a 45% share in 2013. Garcon will probably see that level of opportunity again this year, which would give him a very high 175 targets – and given the weakness in the SF WR corps, he could have upside on that number.












WR# based on number of targets: most targeted = WR1, 2nd-most, WR2, etc.

As noted, Shanahan's WR1 typically gets an above average share of targets and in many years, even higher than this chart shows. His WR2 however, fares poorly and his WR3 gets a below average amount. A lot of the WR targets in this offense are wasted for fantasy purposes on WR4s or lower in the offense.










KS F1 – Kyle Shanahan's top fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring
SF –San Francisco's top fantasy scorer at this position

Andre Johnson and Julio Jones flourished in this offense. Santana Moss (2010) and Pierre Garcon (2013) were WR16 and WR14 respectively – and Garcon was WR12 among player with more than 6 games. I think he'll be a marginal WR1 in this offense.










KS F2 – Kyle Shanahan's 2nd highest fantasy scorer at this position, PPR scoring
SF –San Francisco's 2nd highest fantasy scorer at this position

Shanahan's 2nd best WR is usually not fantasy relevant or just on the fringe of the Top 50. I think the #2 WR in SF in targets is likely to be Jeremey Kerley with around 90. He was WR67 with 115 targets last year; I don't think he'll do enough to merit drafting this year.










KS F2 – Kyle Shanahan's 3rd highest fantasy scorer at this position, PPR scoring
SF –San Francisco's 3rd highest fantasy scorer at this position

A couple of times Shanahan's #3 WR has be in fantasy WR5 territory. I don't think Goodwin will get enough targets to rank him that high this year. He's a good receiver for a track and field star; unless you get bonus points for long jump or triple jump distance, don't own him. One exception: in leagues with bonus scoring for long TDs, he could be a desperation start: 5 of his 6 career TDs have been 40 yards or more.

Tight Ends




















At best this offense is average for TE targets and share. Because the RBs aren't inspiring receivers, I think Shanahan will use his TEs a bit more than the past two years; I'm guessing 19% share and 120 targets.










KS F1 – Kyle Shanahan's top fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring

SF TEs have shared targets the last two years, so despite decent targets for the group as a whole, no one TE has been productive. And Shanahan's TEs the last three seasons have been fantasy backups. But further back, this offense has produced a starting fantasy TE. While it may not have overwhelming volume for the TE as a group, it often concentrates on its TE1, so that he gets enough to be fantasy relevant. If one of the TEs can get 80% of those 120 targets he could be a low-end starter.


Overall, based just on Shanahan's history, some thoughts on this system:

  • Total plays around 1075, a good environment for fantasy (if garbage time) production.
  • Fairly pass-heavy due to playing from behind; 38% rushing – but with a chance it could go as high as 47% rushing
  • 375 RB rushes and 630 pass attempts.
  • QB: Hoyer can be a cheap backup with an ADP of QB30 and upside to low-end starter based on volume.
  • RB: Starting RB either Hyde or Williams sees around 260 rushes and 35 targets, fantasy RB2 numbers.
    • Hightower needs 75 targets to be a viable flex player; probably only gets 60.
  • WR: a WR, and particularly WR1, friendly system; 62% share and 390 targets.
    • Garcon dominates targets with 45% and 175; marginal fantasy WR1.
    • #2 and #3 WRs don't get enough targets to be useful for fantasy.
  • TE: 19% target share and 120 total; if the starting TE gets 80% he'd be a low-end fantasy starter

QB and WR1 seem settled; #2 and #3 wideouts are probably Kerley and Goodwin, but the order could be reversed. Kerley isn't productive enough to be useful for fantasy with the 90 targets I've allotted to the #2 role. But Goodwin has some upside if he's the #2 because his speed could turn that level of opportunity into 700+ yards and 6+ TDs, WR4 numbers.

The big question is who is the RB1? Hyde has the better pedigree and decent NFL performance. But he's been hurt a lot, and wasn't drafted by the current regime. Joe Williams will have a chance to push him aside. The winner of the job could be a fantasy RB2 in this system. Also, Shanahan has produced fantasy TE value in the past by focusing targets on one guy. Can Vance McDonald win this role? If so, he's a low-end starter. If not, I don't think Garrett Celek or George Kittle, a 5th round rookie, is likely to merit enough targets to be usefu.

Mike Horn
Statistical Analyst

Mike, our resident stat head, has been playing fantasy football for over 15 years and high-stakes leagues for over a decade.  He joined the Fantasy Guru staff in 2005.

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December 31, 1969
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December 31, 1969