Tevin Coleman: Making sense of a messy 49ers' backfield
Here’s an article as a life-long 49ers’ fan I’ve been itching to dig into and get out to you. As a self-proclaimed fantasy football “expert” I like to claim that I am an unbiased source of information but as such a die-hard fan, the homer in me tends to come out every-so-often.
Now, recently, there hasn’t been much of anything for me to hype up in terms of the 49ers’ relevance in fantasy football. I did get behind Jerick McKinnon a year ago after dreaming of what he could do in a Kyle Shanahan offense. McKinnon went down on the final play of OTAs and missed the entire season with a torn ACL.
So here we are, at the start of another NFL season, and I find myself falling in love with the likes of Tevin Coleman and his reuniting with Shanahan, who was the Offensive Coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons during Coleman’s first two seasons in the league. Before I officially put my stamp of approval on Coleman, let’s get into breaking down his potential 2019 season.
Let’s start off with the trends of running backs during Shanahan’s first two seasons at the helm in San Francisco. In 2017, the offensive snaps between rostered running backs favored lead-back Carlos Hyde majorly, who was in on 72% of offensive plays. This left the second-back, or complementary back, with 27% of the offensive work.
Skip forward to 2018 and there’s a different story. Although across the season, four different backs lead the team in offensive snaps for at least one game (Alfred Morris, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.), the snap splits saw the lead-back (whomever that were to be) get 57% of the work. The second back then got 25% of offensive snaps.
So, across Shanahan’s two seasons with the 49ers, only two backs across the seasons saw significant work on a week-to-week basis. So if we take a look at the 49ers’ current roster, we see that they have McKinnon coming back from his ACL tear as well as Breida and Mostert returning from last year.
The talk of the team however is Coleman, who joined the 49ers on a two-year deal worth $10 million during the off-season. Reports also suggest that he is favored to be the 49ers’ lead back come the start of the season. Let’s treat this breakdown as if Coleman is to be the Niners lead back, which I assume him to be.
Let’s take a look back at Coleman’s 2016 season, the final season of Shanahan being the Offensive Coordinator in Atlanta.
Coleman played in 13 games in 2016 where he had 118 carries, 520 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns with 4.4 yards-per-carry. What’s more important is his work in the passing game in 2016, where he recorded a career high i receiving yards at 421. He did so on 31 receptions and added 3 touchdowns. He posted these numbers while playing just 41% of offensive snaps for the team.
If we were to run those numbers for a projected 16 games, he would have had 145 carries, 640 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 38 receptions, 518 receiving yards and 4 receiving TDs.
Last year, Coleman had 167 carries, 800 yards, 4 rushing touchdowns, 32 receptions, 276 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Those numbers were on 55% of the offensive snaps.
I’ve gone on to run Coleman’s potential numbers during 42% of offensive snaps (10 carries) or 50% of offensive snaps (12 carries). Both of which would be on the lower end of his possible workload in the 49ers’ backfield.
Last season, the 49ers ran the ball 26.4 times per game and they ran it 25.5 times per game in 2017. In 2017, Jimmy Garappolo ran the ball 2.9 times per game and he ran in 2.5 times per game a season ago. Assuming he’s more timid this season, especially after tearing his ACL on a running play a year ago, I used 2.5 carries-per-game in my calculations.
This leaves approximately 24 carries left per game to be split between the backfield of the 49ers. With Coleman as the lead back, I predict he’ll carry the ball 10-12 times a game Leaving 12 more carries to be split between the rest of the options.
Using Coleman’s career average of 4.4 yards-per-carry, and the figure that the 49ers running backs of 2018 averaged as a whole, at 10 carries per game he would post 704 rushing yards. With 12 carries using the same measurables, he would have 845 rushing yards.
The 49ers only scored seven rushing touchdowns a year ago. That number will almost certainly rise. I feel like four rushing touchdowns on 10 carries per game, which is a figure Coleman has either equaled or amassed over his last three seasons, is fair. We’ll give him five if he is to get 12 carries per game.
Predicting receptions per game for this team will be a bit more difficult as they now roster three very talented and capable pass-catching backs. Last season, the Niners averaged 4.125 targets per game to its running backs.
At 42% of offensive snaps, that gives Coleman 28 targets. He has a career catch percentage of 73%. This would bring his receptions to 20. At 50% of offensive shares, he would receive 33 targets and 24 receptions. He too would record 190 and 228 receiving yards respectively. I also gave him two receiving touchdowns, which is more than fair.
If we are to run these numbers in terms of fantasy football, this would put him at 125.4 points in standard scoring, 135.4 points in half point PPR and 145.4 in full point PPR formats with 42% of offensive shares. This would have put him at RB28, RB29 and RB32 in 2018 across the three formats respectively.
With 50% of offensive shares, he would put up 149.3 standard points, 161.3 half point PPR points and 173.3 full point PPR points. These numbers would have been good enough for RB22 in every format last season.
His current Average Draft Position is 77th on Yahoo (RB31) and 71st (RB31) on ESPN. Either way you look at it, I project him to outplay his ADP. Coleman is currently being drafted in the same area as the likes of Miles Sanders (Philadelphia Eagles), Rashaad Penny (Seattle Seahawks) and Lamar Miller (Houston Texans.)
Remember, these projections are on the low end of what Coleman may do in the 49ers offense.
Now to go full circle, how did I get to this point? Where do I get half of the offensive shares for the Coleman.
As I previously mentioned, McKinnon is coming off a torn ACL. In a 2015 article produced by Fantasy Labs, running backs between 1999 and 2014 that came off a torn ACL played less games, scored significantly less touchdowns and had a drastic decrease in yards-per-carry.
These running backs too went from scoring approximately 15 fantasy points per week to just around 10.5. That’s a difference of 72 points across a full fantasy football season.
News about McKinnon's recovery too is very limited and very few updates have been given. He also has yet to be cleared for practice, despite him saying himself that his knee feels great and that he’s confident in himself. Let’s not also forget that McKinnon has never served as a bell-cow type back once in his career.
Breida is a more natural runner than McKinnon as well. I feel that with Coleman leading the way, Breida will get more carries as McKinnon will get more work in the passing game.
This backfield is one of the hardest to predict. But if there is one to own, make sure its Tevin Coleman, as I predict him to outplay his ADP in 2019.