Loading scores...
Team Previews

San Francisco 49ers 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 24, 2021, 2:16 pm ET

The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here!


2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,922 (15th)

Offensive Touchdowns: 44 (15th)

Offensive Plays: 1,046 (9th)

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 609 (16th)

Rush Attempts: 437 (14th)

Unaccounted for Targets: 193 (8th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 125 (13th)


Passing Game

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance

WR: Brandon Aiyuk, Mohamed Sanu

WR: Deebo Samuel, Richie James, Travis Benjamin

WR: Jalen Hurd, Jauan Jennings

TE: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley

The closer preseason and San Francisco’s Week 1 opener draws, the likelier Garoppolo’s $26.3 million cap hit remains on the books and under center on September 12. The 49ers start the year against the Lions, Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, and Cardinals before escaping for its Week 6 bye, further tying Jimmy G’s stranglehold of the job over No. 3 overall pick Lance to the team’s success in that stretch barring any unforeseen blueprint akin to Miami’s treatment of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa last year. Garoppolo is a barely-there last-round dart for large-field Best-Ball tourneys and practically an afterthought in re-draft formats. Lance, who was acquired for San Francisco’s 12th overall selection, 2022 first- and third-rounders and the organization’s first-round pick in 2023, arrives with 318 pass attempts and 192 carries (10.1 per game) worth of experience across three years at North Dakota State. Having averaged a career 6.9 yards per carry with 18 rushing scores with the Bison, the 21-year-old’s ceiling as a dual threat option is much more enticing than Garoppolo’s the moment the former is given a chance; when that will be remains unclear. Regardless, Lance will be my highest-rostered quarterback in Best-Ball leagues since he offers the required traits to vault into the top-10 in fantasy points per game at his position. He’s a viable QB2/3 in re-draft scoring as long as managers roster insurance around him.

Only one year removed from matching Travis Kelce in fantasy points per game (15.7), Kittle's 7.8 targets per outing across eight injury-riddled appearances last year was still the third-highest mark at his position behind Kelce's (9.7) and Waller's (9.1). Easily alongside Aaron Donald, Quenton Nelson, etc. as one of the league’s most important and impactful on-field difference makers, Kittle’s talent and every-down opportunity keep him cemented inside Kelce’s and Waller’s positional tier. Note that Kittle totaled a team-high 25 targets in the only three games he finished alongside Brandon Aiyuk (19) and Deebo Samuel (16) last year.

Limping into 2020 with a broken foot suffered in June, Samuel missed nine games around added complications due to COVID and hamstring issues. The 25-year-old still saw 8.2 targets per game in the five starts he played at least 60% of the team's snaps for, averaging six catches and one carry from his trademarked ‘deadpool’ package as a hybrid receiver/running back. Even with the philosophical change that comes in eventually transitioning from Garoppolo to Lance, Samuel’s ceiling in a run-first attack is within earshot of Aiyuk's in 2021.

Aiyuk exploded for 40/468/4 on 10.7 targets per game across his last six starts but did so with both Samuel and Kittle returning from injury and failing to overlap at any point beyond Week 7. That type of volume is also an outlier mark among San Francisco’s aspiring 500-carry offense and expected to limit Aiyuk’s league-winning potential in his sophomore year. I intend to keep him and Samuel jammed together as standalone WR4s with varying production on the agenda week to week.

San Francisco’s receiving depth rounds out with Jalen Hurd, Mohamed Sanu, Richie James, Travis Benjamin, and Jauan Jennings, none of whom move the needle in summer re-drafts. Hurd inarguably holds the highest ceiling of the bunch but has yet to play a single down in the NFL after missing all of 2019 with back issues and last season with a torn ACL. James popped for 9/184/1 on a COVID-stripped roster in Week 9 but totaled 14/210/0 on 22 targets over his final seven games. For what it’s worth, Jennings was used as the team’s third receiver in 11 personnel during offseason practices.

Editor’s Note: Get an edge on draft day with our 2021 Draft Guide that is packed with hundreds of player profiles, rankings for various formats, projections, tiers, mock drafts, custom scoring, our ADP Trend Report tool and more. And don't forget to use promo code SAVE10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!


Running Game

RB: Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon, Wayne Gallman, Jeffrey Wilson, Elijah Mitchell

OL (L-R): Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Alex Mack, Daniel Brunskill, Mike McGlinchey

Shanahan leaned on Mostert for 52-of-87 backfield touches (59.7%) in the latter’s three full appearances through October before ankle and knee injuries hounded him down the stretch. Mostert ultimately appeared in eight full games, closing the season with a 58-49 touch share ahead of Jeff Wilson while both were available for Weeks 12-15. Shanahan himself noted how this backfield’s third running back led the league in snaps over others’ third runner last year, which explains the team’s decision to trade two fourth-round picks to move up for Sermon at No. 88 overall. It’s admittedly worrisome that Mostert has yet to handle 140 carries in any campaign dating back to his freshmen year at Purdue.

A tall (6’0/215) runner with sluggish 4.66 40-speed, Sermon popped for 70/636/4 and 9.08 yards per carry between the college regular season finale and playoff semifinal, melting 24 tackles in a workhorse role in that stint. Already familiar with the Niners’ outside zone attack after studying it ahead of his journey from Oklahoma to Ohio State, Sermon at the very least should soak up Jerick McKinnon’s vacated 7.1 touches per game after being treated as the team’s starter without Mostert (ankle) and Wilson (knee) at spring practices. While the former has a realistic shot to lead San Francisco in carries, Sermon’s ADP (76.4, RB26), currently a full round ahead of Mostert’s (89.8, RB30), makes little sense given how this backfield has been dispersed the past four years; both can provide standalone value weekly, but Mostert remains the better value for it.

Wilson would have logically opened the season in a full-on timeshare had he not undergone meniscus surgery in May. Options behind him include Wayne Gallman, JaMychal Hasty, and Elijah Mitchell. Having led their respective teams in carries inside the 10 and five-yard lines last year, Gallman, signed to a one-year, $990,000 deal prior to the draft, fits the bill as San Francisco’s goal line bruiser and thus last-round flier in Best-Ball tournaments. Hasty was active for eight games as a rookie but only used once the depth chart was solely whittled down to McKinnon. Mitchell offers room temperature-intrigue after averaging 6.2 yards on 527 career carries against Sun Belt competition.


Win Total

Football Outsiders labeled the 2020 49ers with the NFL’s second-most Adjusted Games Lost due to injury in the last two decades while Sharp Football’s schedule prognostication labels them with the league’s easiest slate of opponents by a wide margin. Garoppolo keeping under center also entails that the team is winning, since the opposite makes for an easy transition to Lance. For those reasons among others, I’m more than happy getting down on San Francisco Over (+105) their 10.5 Season Win Total at plus money and pitting them in a coin-toss situation with Tampa Bay to eventually represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVI.

John Daigle

John Daigle is an Emmy and FSWA award winner who has been covering the NFL and fantasy football for over a decade, working with NBC Sports EDGE for almost four years. He enjoys watching golf and Jon Moxley, not necessarily in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @notJDaigle.