By Nick Martinez
From a notoriously aggressive hockey player in New Hampshire to the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Chip Kelly will return to the west coast where he first became famous at the University of Oregon.
In his second NFL job, he will get another opportunity to prove that his actual offense is more exciting than just seeing how fast his team can run a play.
Under Jim Tomsula last season, the 49er offense was in complete disarray. The team finished either last or close to last in almost every statistical category possible. Inconsistent quarterback play and injuries plagued the team all year.
Why am I writing about the worst offense in football? Because there are a couple diamonds in the rough for your fantasy team.
Carlos Hyde RB – The former Ohio State Buckeye was surrounded by hype last year after the departure of Frank Gore, San Francisco’s career leading rusher. Struggling to stay healthy, Hyde only played 7 games in the lead back role.
Year, Games, Rushes, Yards, Touchdowns
2014: 14, 83, 333, 4
2015: 7, 115, 470, 3
It’s no secret that Kelly loves his running backs and there are early reports that he is already head over heels for Hyde. In his first year in Philadelphia, he let LeSean McCoy run wild racking up over 1,600 yards on 314 carries. The following year, McCoy once again got just over 300 rushing attempts for 1,319 yards. Hyde will be heading into this third year while McCoy was in his fifth when Kelly took over. With a lot less mileage on his legs, Hyde will be fresher in his first year under Kelly.
Hyde will have the opportunity to be featured in the offense and has the talent to thrive. In his 198 career carries, he has forced 57 missed tackles. His rookie year he ranked second only behind Marshawn Lynch in elusive rating, causing 25 missed tackles in just 83 attempts. He will be given the ball early and often in this high-tempo, run-heavy offense where signs point to him exceeding. He also hopes to be under 220 pounds compared to his 235 last year to be more efficient in his new offense.
As great as this all sounds, there are some concerning factors in whether or not Hyde will actually be successful. As mentioned above, his health is in question. Hyde officially was shut down Week 8 cause of a stress fracture in his foot. He had late season surgery and reports are that he will be ready for OTAs.
It’ll be a rude awakening when he comes back from injury as the 49ers have one of the toughest schedules for running backs.
Week, Opponent, Def Rankings Against RB (2015)
Week 3 At Seattle – 1st
Week 5 Arizona – 8th
Week 10 At Arizona – 8th
Week 11 New England – 9th
Week 17 Seattle – 1st
Over a third of his games will come against defenses that ranked in the top 10 against the run last season. The team added a few tackles to their offensive line in the draft but both are young and unproven. The line will have to show a big improvement from last year if they want to help Hyde have a bounce back year.
With break out potential and a game plan that looks to make Hyde a true workhorse, he is in line for a big 2016 season.
Torrey Smith WR – After the departure of Anquan Boldin, Smith will be the number one receiver this coming season. As bad as the team was with the run, they were even worse with the pass. The former Raven finished with career lows (*) in almost every category.
Year, Games, Receptions, Yards, Touchdowns
2011: 16, 50, 841, 7
2012: 16, 49, 855, 8
2013: 16, 65, 1,128, 4
2014: 16, 49, 767, 11
2015: 16, 33*, 663*, 4*
Considered a boom or bust player, Smith fell into that role even further, finishing with three games over 75 yards, but five games under 25 yards. Clearly he had more busts than booms, but Smith will see an influx in targets. Boldin is leaving behind a team leading 110 targets last season and with little competition to pick them up, Smith should see most of them.
Although Kelly’s offense is mostly run first, he has had some receivers that have thrived. In 2014, Jeremy Maclin caught over 1,318 yards and ten scores while last season Jordan Matthews finished with a decent line of 85/997/8. Before dropping off the map last season, Smith was a productive fantasy player, finishing in the top 25 four years straight. Albeit those years were in Baltimore but the guy still has talent and speed.
Unlike Hyde, Smith is a guy that you can rely on being healthy. Since the 2011 season, Smith has played in all 16 games each year. Being durable and able to play every game means that he will get more opportunities. Kelly’s offense was second in the league in plays per game at 68.9 and he led the league in 2014 at 70. His offense also ran over 100 more plays than San Francisco.
The more time out there on the field, the more chances Smith has to get back into fantasy relevancy. His numbers won’t blow you out of the water this year, but he could provide some nice value given his low ADP (WR#48).
Vance McDonald TE – After the 49ers dealt Vernon Davis, McDonald took over the starting job for the final eight games. The third year tight end had a productive finish to his season, catching 24 of his 37 targets for 294 yards and three scores in that span. Although it’s a very small sample size, if you were to extend those numbers over a full season it would be a line of 56/700/8 which would have put him in the top ten. He is currently being undrafted and could be worth taking a flyer on late. Projected as the current starter, he will be utilized in Kelly’s offense.
Kelly may be married to his running backs, but has a love affair with his tight ends. During his tenure in Philadelphia, the Eagles ranked top 10 in tight end targets, peaking at fifth last season. Last year, Zach Ertz was second on the team with 75 catches for 853 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers will try to utilize the 6’4”McDonald as much as they can in that offense.
Just like Smith, McDonald will also benefit from the targets left by Boldin. Boldin, being a possession receiver, was involved in most of the team’s short routes as Smith was the deep man. With Boldin gone, McDonald should receive most of those short routes and be a big red zone target.
If you’re heading toward the back end of the draft and somehow forgot to draft a tight end (hey, it happens), give McDonald a serious consideration.
All in all, the 49ers offense should be much more successful than it was last season. Although they haven’t added many players on the offensive side of the ball, Kelly’s offensive mind will without a doubt bring more production. How do I know this? Because when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.