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The NFL draft has come and gone. We are finally starting to get a clear picture of what the NFL team's depth charts will look like for this upcoming season. As a dynasty manager, you should be starting to realize just how muddled the running back position has become. Outside of Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, and D'Andre Swift, the dynasty running back landscape is tough to distinguish between, and even Harris and Swift have question marks. There is no clear consensus for the position, and with a vaunted 2023 class coming next year, it makes it even harder to identify running backs that you want to acquire for your dynasty rosters. However, the 2023 class isn't here yet, and we need to win leagues this year. With that in mind, in this series of articles, we will be looking at five crowded running back rooms and just how you should be attacking each this season. We covered the Miami Dolphins backfield first; you can find that article below. Next up is the San Francisco 49ers.
49ers Offensive Scheme
Since becoming the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, Kyle Shanahan has created one of the best offensives schemes in the NFL. Since 2017, Shanahan has brought in fast, athletic players and has found space for them to operate. He uses his rushing attack to control the offensive tempo and uses outside zone rushing concepts that benefit speedy one-cut running backs. Shanahan's prototype running back needs three main attributes: explosiveness, pass-catching, and long speed. This scheme usually translates to fantasy production for fantasy managers, but the 49er's offense has been maddening for fantasy managers since Shanahan became their head coach. Below you will find how his rushing attack finished each season and a breakdown of each relevant top-three fantasy back on his team in that year.
- 2017: 21st Rushing Offense
- 2018: 13th Rushing Offense
- 2019: 2nd Rushing Offense
- 2020: 15th Rushing Offense
- 2021*: 7th Rushing Offense
*Does not include Deebo Samuel's fantasy finish since his position never changed to a running back
Even though San Francisco consistently has one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, you can see that they have yet to produce a top 25 overall back more than once. Accounting for points per game, Elijah Mitchell finished as RB18 with 14.2 FPTS/G. Part of the reason has been player injuries. The running backs on the roster have suffered multiple games missed. There are theories out there by many reputable injury analysts that Shanahan's offense utilizes heavy zone schemes that put more pressure on running backs' legs because of the number of vertical cuts they make each game. It also puts them at risk of more side leg impacts which can cause severe leg injuries. At the same time, many think that Shanahan incorporates a running back by committee approach to his backfield, but that is primarily due to injuries, not scheme. The reality is managers are still searching for a Carlos Hyde-type finish for the San Francisco running backs, and if they find it, they will win their league. Just look at what Deebo Samuel did for his fantasy managers last season. Even with the Samuel saga still not resolved, we can expect his rushing production to shift to the running back room regardless if he's on the team or not, based on his desire to be purely a wide receiver. That's why we need to break down which running back is most likely to lead this backfield.
Trey Lance Effect
Before we get into the depth chart, we do need to discuss the possibility of Trey Lance limiting every running back's upside on this roster. In the three games that Trey Lance played a majority of the team's snaps, he had 31 carries for 161 yards and one rushing touchdown averaging sixty yards a game on the ground, albeit a small sample size. In his first start of the season, he had a team-high 16 attempts and was the team's leading rusher. In the second start, we saw Elijah Mitchell get 21 carries and lead the team in rushing for 119 yards, so the reality is we don't know what the team will ultimately look like with Lance under center for an entire season. In his one full season in college, Lance rushed for 1,100 yards and fourteen touchdowns, and it's hard to imagine the 49ers not utilizing his rushing ability within this offense, especially in the red zone. We could see a reduction of red-zone touches for running backs if the 49ers decide to use Lance in that role. Lance's presence on the field will limit each running back's ceiling on this roster.
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