It’s no secret that the San Francisco 49ers’ 2023 success heavily depends on their quarterback situation. This is an especially sensitive situation after relying on Josh Johnson, their fourth-string quarterback, for the majority of the NFC Championship game last season. There’s plenty of reason to believe this team can return to the conference title game. In fact, in most sportsbooks, they’re inside the top-five in odds to win the Super Bowl. It all starts with getting a healthy player under center and relying on their many play makers on both sides of the ball. If they do lock in a confident starter at quarterback, this team is going to be a fantasy football goldmine.
San Francisco 49ers Fantasy Football Preview
Key Subtractions and Additions
Subtractions: Jimmy Garoppolo (QB), Mike McGlinchey (OT), Jimmy Ward (S), Samson Ebukam (DE), Emmanuel Moseley (CB), Jason Verrett (CB)
Additions: Sam Darnold (QB), Jonathan Hargrave (DT), Jake Brendel (C)
Even with a magnificent six-game winning streak from Brock “Mr. Irrelevant” Purdy to round out the 2022 regular season, he averaged just 18.1 fantasy points per game from Weeks 13 through 18 as the starter. Purdy averaged 218 yards per game during that stretch. He also threw for at least two touchdown passes in each of them. Behind a strong offensive line and with plenty of playmakers at his disposal, Purdy’s fantasy floor is extremely stable. While he offers nothing in regards to rushing upside, there’s no reason for him to with Christian McCaffrey lined up behind him at running back.
Purdy’s sample size is small, though successful. However, there’s obvious concern baked into his value that the recovery from his elbow injury could hinder his play. Nonetheless, Purdy should be the San Francisco 49ers starter when healthy. He has yet to lose a game he started and finished.
If he is unable to go, Trey Lance, the 2021 third-overall pick, would be in line to start. He offers a much higher ceiling than Purdy given his ability to score points running the ball. Lance himself is returning from a season-ending leg/ankle injury. Since 2018 at North Dakota State University, Lance has thrown just 420 in-game pass attempts combined in both college and at the pro level. For reference, 17 NFL quarterbacks threw more than 420 pass attempts during the 2022 regular season.
We will certainly have some clarity on this situation as the 2023 fantasy football season gets closer to kicking off. As of now, I’m operating as if Purdy is the Week 1 starter. He has low-end QB1 potential, but will most likely operate as a strong streaming option in 1QB leagues.
Trey Lance is a low-risk, high-reward pick. Don’t expect to start him this season until we see more consistency, specifically in starting games. Sam Darnold is the other quarterback on the roster worth mentioning, but he’s likely the backup plan to the backup plan. If he does take meaningful snaps, then things have gone terribly wrong with Purdy and Lance.
Christian McCaffrey remains my top-ranked player for the 2023 fantasy football season. He is one of just six running backs to finish inside the top-12 on a points-per-game basis in both 2021 and 2022. That’s after finishing as the highest-scoring player amongst all positions in 2019 and averaging 30.1 points per game, in just three games, in 2020. McCaffrey is one of the most dynamic players in the game and should continue his dominance in 2023.
With the San Francisco 49ers, from Week 8 onward, McCaffrey’s 23.7 points per game topped all running backs from last season. He scored 17.6 points or more in seven of nine applicable games including five games of 25.8 points or more. Given the scarcity of dominant players at the position, I’m using the top pick on McCaffrey in snake redraft leagues. His combination of volume in the ground game plus receiving upside is too good to pass up.
Behind McCaffrey are Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, and Tyrion Davis-Price. In the six games prior to acquiring McCaffrey, Jeff Wilson led the San Francisco 49ers in rush attempts in five of those games. Wilson was then traded and now plays for the Miami Dolphins.
There are concerns with Elijah Mitchell’s knee and, at 25 years old, he’s missed 18 of a possible 34 regular season games over his first two seasons. That said, I don’t think there is a true handcuff for McCaffrey. If anything were to happen to him, I think head coach, Kyle Shanahan, takes a running-back-by-committee approach. That includes wide receiver, Deebo Samuel. He rushed 59 times for 365 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are the two San Francisco 49ers wide receivers worth targeting for your 2023 fantasy teams. Last season, Deebo and Aiyuk finished as WR24 and WR25 respectively on a points-per-game basis. They averaged 13.7 and 13.6 points per game for the entire fantasy football season including 13.4 points each during Brock Purdy’s stretch as the starter.
Brandon Aiyuk is coming off his best season yet. His receptions (78), receiving yards (1,015), and touchdowns (8) are all career-highs in three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Including playoffs, Aiyuk has led the Niners in targets twice since entering the league.
Deebo Samuel’s 2022 fantasy season is considered a disappointment after finishing the 2021 season as the WR3. He played in just 13 games last season. He still averaged 8.3 touches per game, just 0.2 touches per game less than his 2021 breakout season. The biggest difference between the two seasons is Deebo’s 14 total touchdowns in 2021 compared to his five in 2022.
Deebo is one of the best players in the game after the catch. He’s ranked inside the top six among all players in yards after the catch per reception in each of the last three seasons. Amongst wide receivers, Deebo ranks first in YAC in each of the last three seasons.
The San Francisco 49ers wide receivers are no strangers to changes at quarterback. There have been five different starting quarterbacks for the Niners over the last three regular seasons, mostly due to injury. I’m confident in head coach Kyle Shanahan to have his team put points on the board regardless of who is under center. That said, I think both Deebo and Aiyuk have a solid WR3 floor and WR2 ceiling, assuming both remain healthy all season. Deebo gets the edge over Aiyuk assuming he still averages about three rush attempts per game.
George Kittle remains a top option at the tight end position for fantasy football. He’s coming off of a year with a career-high 11 touchdown receptions. That’s nearly double his previous career-high of six that he caught just one season prior. Kittle ranks third in total points amongst tight ends, even after missing the first two games of the season. Hypothetically, if he had caught just six touchdowns instead of 11, Kittle would have still finished inside the top-six tight ends in total points.
What’s key about Kittle’s 2022 season is the stretch from Week 13 through 18. Those are the regular season games rookie quarterback Brock Purdy started. Kittle’s 16.3 points per game during that stretch ranks first at the position. His 22.3 points per game during the fantasy football playoffs in Weeks 15 through 17 are also the best at the position.
In 2023, Kittle figures to be the fourth option in the passing game behind Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. He’s still capable of big performances, but it will be hard to carve them out consistently with other talent lining up alongside of him. Even so, Kittle remains a strong candidate to finish inside the top 10 amongst tight ends in targets.
It has been three seasons since Kittle logged 100 or more targets. In fact, his targets per game average has declined ever so slightly in each of the past four seasons. That’s 7.6 targets per game in 2019, 7.9 in 2020, 6.7 in 2021, and just 5.7 per game last season. I’m still locking him in as a confident TE1 for fantasy football, but not using a top pick on him, as I would in years past.
San Francisco is one of three defensive units to average more than 9.0 fantasy points per game in 2022. They tied the Pittsburgh Steelers with a league-leading 20 interceptions. The 49ers also forced the fourth-most fumbles and tied for the sixth-most sacks. Most importantly, they allowed the least amount of points per game (17.2) to opponents last season, including seven games allowing 10 or fewer points.
The 49ers are now adding Javon Hargrave to their defensive front. He ranks 14th in the league in sacks (11.0) from the 2022 season. They already have Nick Bosa, the reigning sack leader (18.5) from last season on the edge. A combination of Bosa, Hargrave, and defensive tackle Arik Armstead will keep the 49ers inside the top 10, if not top five, of the league in sacks.
Most defenses are streaming options in fantasy football. San Francisco is different. They’re a team you can keep on your roster for the entire season as one of the best units in football. Over the first five games of the 2023 season, the 49ers open with two games on the road against the Steelers and Rams before returning home for three straight against the Giants, Cardinals, and Cowboys. You can comfortably start the 49ers defense for most of, if not the entirety, of that stretch.
For more great rankings and analysis, make sure to check out our 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!
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