Seeing your fantasy players come up on Ian Rapoport’s twitter feed is rarely a good thing. He announced yesterday that Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL, crippling those who drafted him in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round of fantasy drafts. McKinnon owners and non-McKinnon owners alike sprinted to the free agent pool to see if Matt Breida or Alfred Morris (yes, that Alfred Morris) were available. I think it’s notable to look at Kyle Shanahan’s past to help determine the value of the 49ers backfield going forward.
Jerick McKinnon – Now What?
By: J.J. Gosh @jjgosh
Flashback to 2012-2013
Shanahan has a previous relationship with Alfred Morris, having been his coordinator in Washington for the beginning of his career. In his 2 years with Shanahan (also his first 2 years in the NFL), Morris had 2,888 yards on 611 carries for 4.73 YPC, with 20 TD’s. His confidence in Morris’ experience and effectiveness could play an important role given his limited experience with youngster Matt Breida.
As Offensive Coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Kyle Shanahan was given Terrence West, Isaiah Crowell in his Rookie year, and Ben Tate to work with as a backfield. The 3 RB’s combined for 1616 yards on 425 carries, hauling in 29 of 39 targets for another 211 yards with 17 total TD’s. While the yards per carry (YPC) isn’t necessarily attractive at a meager 3.80, the volume shows Shanahan has had no problem giving the ball to his RB’s, no matter who they are.
In his 1st year with Atlanta, with a better cast of characters, Shanahan turned it up a notch. The two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1448 yards on 352 attempts (4.11YPC), adding 75 receptions on 108 targets for another 592 yards and 15 total TD’s.
The Atlanta Falcons took off in his 2nd year as Offensive Coordinator. Matt Ryan won the MVP, the but RB’s played a major role. The same duo of Freeman and Coleman went for 1599 yards on 345 attempts(4.63YPC), 85 catches on 105 targets for an impressive 80.9% catch rate, a whopping 883 yards and 24 total TD’s.
Now a Head Coach for the San Francisco 49ers, Carlos Hyde led the backfield with contributions from Matt Breida. The pair combined for 1403 yards on 345 carries, catching 80 of 124 targets for 530 yards and 11 total TD’s. Carlos Hyde has left for Cleveland, but Matt Brieda remains. Breida specifically had 465 yards rushing on 4.43 YPC, caught 21 of his 36 targets for another 180 yards, and 3 total TD’s. Maybe the most impressive part of the 2017 49ers was Carlos Hyde’s receiving. His first 3 years in the league, he combined for 50 catches on 64 targets, but last year he caught 59 of 88 targets more than doubling his career catch total.
Most people would tell you that Alfred Morris is in the same realm of the Jordan Howard’s of the world and simply cannot catch. I’d contend that he hasn’t had the opportunities. For his career, Morris has a catch rate of 69.5% with 3 years of a 75% or better rate. His career catch rate puts him on par with Christian McCaffrey’s rookie year (70.7%), and Todd Gurley’s career catch rate of 67.9% and he dwarfs Jordan Howard’s rate of 63.4%. That being said, he’s still the 3rd best option on passing downs behind Breida and Kyle Juszczyk. If he takes on Carlos Hyde’s 240 vacated carries and meets his career average 4.36YPC, he should come close to 1,000 yards and whatever he adds through the passing game is just a bonus. Morris is my preferred option in standard leagues
It’s no secret that Breida isn’t built for a workhorse role, standing 5’9 weighing 190lbs. He proved to be effective on his 105 carries in 2017 but I don’t see that number going up all that much given his small stature. However, my anticipation is he will see most of Hyde’s vacated targets. Hyde saw 88 targets and caught 59 of them. Breida is the preferred option in PPR leagues.
As it stands now, I would anticipate a similar breakdown of carries as the 2017 49ers. Morris should take over Hyde’s early down role and see 55-60% of the total carries, with Breida chipping in 25-30%. Kyle Juszczyk should see an increase in usage, mainly in the passing game, but I would still prefer A. Morris in standard leagues, and M. Breida in PPR.
Of course, the 49ers could always add a recently cut Free Agent to the mix confusing everyone even more.
Pro Football Reference