By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
Follow @walterfootball for updates.
Chip Kelly replaces Jim Tomsula as head coach.
Curtis Modkins replaces Geep Chryst as offensive coordinator.
Chip Kelly came into the league as an innovator and led the Eagles to two 10-win seasons, but internal trouble and a losing record in his third year pushed him out and to San Francisco. But the good news is that his high-octane offense is still in the league, which means wherever he goes, there is a decent chance some of his offensive players will see so many snaps that it will be tough for them not to have some fantasy value.
In his three seasons in Philadelphia, the Eagles finished fourth, seventh and 11th in rushing attempts and 27th, fifth and sixth in passing attempts. While his total offense finished second, fifth and 12th in total yards and fourth, third and 13th in total points. The speed at which his offense runs and his commitment to running the ball make this offense unique in that it can support multiple fantasy players. Of course, the 49ers have a dearth of good fantasy players, which makes deciphering their fantasy outlooks somewhat tricky.
We can also throw new offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins into this mix. He won’t be calling the plays, but he’s not just a patsy Kelly brought in to hold a recently discharged murder weapon. Modkins put together a strong rushing attack in Buffalo as the offensive coordinator there from 2010 – ’13 and features a more power-running style than Kelly’s zone-blocking approach. Kelly says he wanted someone to help diversify and add to his current system, and Modkins sounds like a good fit for that purpose.
The 49ers ranked 30th in offensive plays per game last season with 60.6 per, which of course is the polar opposite of Kelly’s breakneck pace, which got up to 70.7 plays per game in 2014. So the 49ers you knew from last season are gone, which is great news, because they averaged an amazingly poor 14.9 points per game last year, which ranked dead last and was 2.3 fewer points than the second-to-last Cowboys. Even compared to Kelly’s worst output of 23.6 points per game last season, that’s a steep difference. And compared to the Eagles 29.6 ppg in 2014 and 27.4 ppg in 2013, it’s a Grand Canyon leap.
With the coach and coordinator both heavily invested in the running game, the first position we’ll look at is running back. Currently, the 49ers’ depth chart looks something like this:
- Carlos Hyde
- Shaun Draughn
- DuJuan Harris
- Kelvin Taylor
- Mike Davis
After Hyde, there isn’t a ton of eye-popping talent at the position, but Shaun Draughn has shown an aptitude as a receiving back, and he could give Hyde a respite from the fast-paced offense.
Over the last three years, the Eagles ranked seventh in total rushing attempts and 14th in running back targets, with LeSean McCoy seeing the most rushing attempts in the league in 2013 and the second-most in 2014. Carlos Hyde may sometimes come off the field for Draughn, but as the lead back and best runner on the team, Hyde’s going to see more than his fair share of touches. The question is, can he handle the workload and stay healthy, which has been a problem for him so far in his career? I’ll say he can, because predicting injuries is just as hard as predicting health and I am not a soothsayer.
Shaun Draughn is not a great between-the-tackles runner, but would most likely be asked to take a bunch of snaps if Hyde were to get injured, and Draughn should see plenty of work in this fast-paced offense even with a healthy Hyde. Hyde is not a natural receiver, and even though he will get a crash course in Kelly’s offense, Draughn will likely be the more trusted receiver between the two. As you go down the running back depth chart, there isn’t much to target in fantasy, so there is a chance San Francisco could add a back at some point. I haven’t heard of any Arian Foster to San Francisco rumors, but he would be a nice fit in this offense, but for now, Hyde and Draughn are the fantasy picks, and both have more upside than their current ADPs.
The other position that usually does well for a Chip Kelly offense is the No. 1 receiver. In 2013, the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver was DeSean Jackson, and he finished the season with a career-best 82-1332-9 stat line. Then, in 2014, Jeremy Maclin was the No. 1 receiver and finished with an 85-1,318-10 stat line. And last year, in Kelly’s worst season, Jordan Matthews put up an 85-997-8 stat line. Amazingly, these numbers came with the likes of Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford at the helm! So who will be the beneficiary in that No. 1 spot for the 49ers this season? None other than Mr. Torrey Smith, who was severely underutilized last year, which should make him hungry for a big comeback season under Kelly.
Last season, Anquan Boldin was the safe possession receiver for the 49ers, and under Jim Tomsula’s “offense” there wasn’t much left for Smith, who despite his poor 2015 season, is a capable No. 1 receiver, especially with Boldin no longer with the team. After Smith, there aren’t any receivers primed for a breakout, so I’m not too high on any of the secondary guys based solely on ability. There’s no hard-and-fast depth chart for the receivers yet, but Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington and DeAndre Smelter are the top players after Smith. Ellington would be my pick to make a move in this offense, as he has been practicing from the slot so far this offseason. The slot is often a lucrative position for Kelly’s receivers and a position that doesn’t come off the field as often as it does in other offenses. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this group, but there is no guarantee that another receiver besides Smith can make a real fantasy impact this year.
The tight end position in Kelly’s offense is often perilous. Zach Ertz is a strong fantasy receiver, but it took a long time for him to get many snaps in Kelly’s offense, as you need to know the offense inside and out along with being a good blocker to play tight end for him. In his third season, Ertz finally was able to get a full-time gig in the offense, and despite a pitiful two touchdowns, he still finished as the 10th-best fantasy tight end with a 75-853-2 stat line and was sixth in targets with 111. If he could have hauled in just a few more touchdowns, Ertz easily could have been a Top-5 fantasy tight end. The 49ers’ starting tight end this season is Vance McDonald, and there’s not much competition after him. McDonald is now in his fourth season and has been getting plenty of praise from both the tight ends coach and current starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Now with Vernon Davis gone, McDonald, who has always been thought of as a good offensive tight end in theory, will get the starting snaps and it appears his blocking is good enough for Kelly’s offense. I don’t see him getting 111 targets like Ertz, but 90ish is in the realm, and as McDonald’s basically free in fantasy drafts, he’s worth a late look.
Finally, we have the quarterback position. In 2013, the Eagles’ quarterbacks totaled 503 attempts, 4,397 yards, 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions, ranking them third in team-quarterback fantasy points. In 2014, Philadelphia’s signal-callers finished with 620 attempts, 4,581 yards, 27 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, ranking them 12th overall in fantasy points. Then in 2015, the Eagles’ quarterbacks totaled 623 attempts, 4,339 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, ranking them 26th in fantasy points.
So, as you can see, there is a wide margin of outcomes for whomever is quarterbacking a Chip Kelly offense, and right now, Mr. Blaine Gabbert is that guy. Gabbert took over for a severely struggling Colin Kaepernick last season, and so far in OTAs and minicamp, Gabbert has been the No. 1 while Kaepernick has looked rusty following offseason surgeries. The hope for fantasy is that Kelly can help Kaepernick once again become a fantasy asset after losing all confidence under Tomsula. We have seen Kaepernick at his best, and it is better than Gabbert’s best, but we’ve also seen Kaepernick at his worst and it was oh-so painful to watch.
The hope is that come training camp, Kaepernick will be 100 percent and have adapted to the playbook enough to take on Gabbert, but whoever ends up quarterbacking this team isn’t going to be that much worse than what Kelly’s had leading the way in his first three seasons in Philadelphia. There will be fantasy points to be mined from this team. Maybe not a gold rush, but a few sparkly nuggets should emerge.
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