The Devil’s Advocate Projection to the 2016 San Francisco 49ers

There’s been quite a bit of chatter talking about the effect of Chip Kelly on the 49ers offense. From Torrey Smith to Deandre Smelter to Carlos Hyde to Blaine Gabbert, writers are lining up to take shots at this offense. I may need to rain on this parade a bit, but should the band keep playing anyway?

The current RotoViz Staff projections for the 49ers are very optimistic. This is largely a function of volume and opportunity. The volume comes from Chip Kelly bringing an up-tempo offense that ran 134 plays more than San Francisco in 2015. The opportunity comes from not many proven commodities expected to absorb those surplus plays. As such, the composite rankings are extremely optimistic. I wanted to walk through my projections, since mine came in quite a bit lower.

Yo Gabba Gabbert

The staff rankings are split down the middle on Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, but recent reports have suggested that this is going to be the Gabbert show. Gabbert was actually more than respectable as a starter last year.



My ranking of Gabbert (“J” in the first column denotes my projection, “S” for staff) is generally in line with the staff’s combined ranking of Gabbert and Kaepernick. Staff sees SF throwing 589 passes while I projected 569, still 43 more than in 2015. I see Kelly trying to run a bit more than everyone else does, although not by a ton. The main difference is the efficiency, as I have Gabbert throwing for 400 fewer yards, three fewer touchdowns, and one more interception. This is in large part due to my lack of trust in an inexperienced receiver corps that lacks high equity draft picks and a porous offensive line leading to an above average nine percent sack rate.

However, 285 points for Blaine Gabbert still sounds pretty remarkable for a guy who was laughed out of Jacksonville. That’s high-end QB2 numbers. Seriously. Remember, I’m 38 points lower than the staff projection of the QB Frankenstein. It’s amazing what volume (combined with some hidden Konami Code) will do for a QB.

Shaun Draughn in a GPP

A sentence I expect to hear at some point this year.


I do not trust Carlos Hyde. It is hard for me to listen to some people denouncing Mark Ingram for getting hurt a lot, but then prop up Hyde, who has missed 11 games in two seasons. The up-tempo style of Chip Kelly’s offense theoretically bodes well for the RBs, but that is also a lot more exposure to big hits and potential injuries. I gave Hyde 44 percent of the rushing share, which is equivalent to what Demarco Murray ended up with last year. This comes out to 40 fewer carries than the staff, which basically projects him to miss around 2.5 games.

I’m also really not a fan of RBs who do not catch passes. Hyde scored 30.2 PPR points in week one on Monday Night Football last year with only two catches. A friend beat me in a league by three points because of Hyde. While he was boasting, I offered a bet with him that Hyde will never score 30 points in a game ever again. Unless he posts another outlier game entirely from rushing or gets some slip-on-the-banana-peel long touchdown reception, I like my odds. In 2015, targets were almost three times more predictive of fantasy points than carries.


Ironically, when you consider that my projection predicts Hyde missing a few games, my receiving share for him is actually higher than the staff.

Enter Shaun Draughn. Draughn saw 5.3 targets and 4.1 receptions per game in six starts last year. That was good for 12.4 PPR PPG. I could envision Draughn essentially playing something similar to the Darren Sproles role in this offense, and if Hyde does get hurt then he will be on the radar for ZeroRB teams and as a cheap GPP punt.

Making Sense of the Receivers


The bad news is I’m not as high on Torrey Smith as everyone else. The good news is that he’s still ridiculously undervalued at his ninth round ADP. Smith has never been a particularly efficient WR. He’s also never seen more than 22 percent market share in a season. I gave him 21.5 percent, slightly above Jordan Matthews last year, and then kept his catch rate and yards per target near career averages. While that’s 25 points fewer than the staff, it would still be a career high for Smith. I am a buyer.

The rest of the receiving corps is hard to predict because we have no sample on any of them. Recent reports are that Bruce Ellington may be in for a bigger role this year, and thus I essentially have him flip-flopped with Smelter.  However, I am not discounting Quinton Patton or Eric Rogers yet. I basically see all four guys cannibalizing each other a bit, and none of them really emerging as weekly fantasy starters, despite all the pass volume. I am open to adjusting this as more information comes out though.


My Vance McDonald projection was right in line with the staff, which is great news if you’ve been buying. It’s a little less than the 18 percent market share Zach Ertz saw, but still a healthy 16 percent market share and right in line with his median Sim Score. Curtis Patrick has been on McDonald for a while. He and Will Tye are my most owned TEs in MFL10s right now, as I have both projected as low-end TE1s/high TE2s being priced as TE3s.


There’s lots of opportunity in the Bay Area. Even with lower projections than the staff composite Smith, McDonald, and Gabbert are all currently underpriced at their ADPs. I am still avoiding Hyde like the plague, but there is a lot of value left to be unlocked in this passing game.

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