When we look to draft a player to our fantasy team, we often seek the most talented players we can find. However, looking at the coaches offensive philosophy and which players best fit their system can be very telling in terms of which players could see the greatest opportunity to see valuable snaps during the season. Sometimes, the player who's the best fit isn't the guy you'd expect, which often leads to them being great value picks in the later rounds of your fantasy draft.
Take Justin Forsett, who back in 2014 finished as a Top 8 fantasy running back with the Baltimore Ravens, for example. A castaway from the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, Forsett wound up flourishing in Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking rushing attack, an offense that was tailor-made for Forsett's agility and quick decision making. Forsett finished that year with 1,267 yards and eight rushing touchdowns for a total of 201 fantasy points.
Certain coaches often produce great fantasy options at specific positions. For example, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid employs a west coast offense which emphasizes short, quick throws in addition to screen passes. The perfect match for this offense is a running back that's explosive and can create yards in space off short throws. It's no surprise Jamaal Charles, Brian Westbrook, and LeSean McCoy posted monster fantasy totals during their time playing under Reid. Even backup Spencer Ware was a top 20 fantasy back in Reid's offense last season after Charles couldn't stay healthy.
It's this type of evaluation that makes the 2017 San Francisco 49ers regime interesting. They have a new coach in Kyle Shanahan who's developing an impressive track record of his own when it comes to running back fantasy success. He's coming off a season where he led the Atlanta Falcons to a historically successful offensive season that helped Devonta Freeman finish with 248 fantasy points and his second straight RB1 finish. Backup Tevin Coleman also broke out and made for a very solid RB2 with 159 fantasy points.
Take a deeper look at Shanahan's results on the teams he coached before Atlanta and it's obvious you should look to draft at least one San Francisco running back to your fantasy team in 2017. As offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins from 2010-2013, Shanhan's offense helped Alfred Morris rush for over 1,000 yards for two straight seasons, including a monstrous 1,606 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012 which ranked him second to only Adrian Peterson that year.
Even when he joined the Cleveland Browns in 2014, Shanahan found success as his offense helped a trio of running backs Ben Tate, Terrance West and a young Isaiah Crowell rush for over 1,500 yards.
Who could be the next back to benefit from Shanahan's offense in San Francisco?
As of now, the 49ers running back depth chart consists of Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Kapri Bibbs and rookie Joe Williams, who new General Manager John Lynch traded up in the fourth round to draft at No. 121 overall.
Hyde is the clear starter and is now entering his fourth NFL season. The veteran back is coming off a 988-yard performance in 2016 despite playing in only 13 games but his injury issues are starting to pile up. In his first three seasons, Hyde played in just 34 of a possible 48 games. He's yet to play in all 16 games in a season so far in his career. Although he's still a young player at 26 years old, Hyde could easily be on the sidelines at some point in 2017 and the fact that the new regime in San Francisco is already looking at a possible replacement for him isn't a good sign for Hyde's future.
Hightower turns 31 in May and although he had a mini resurgence in New Orleans as a backup to Mark Ingram, it's unlikely he's poised to be the every-down back for an entire season should Hyde go down. Hightower hasn't started more than 5 games since 2011, which doesn't mean he couldn't still be a spot starter for a few games, but it's unlikely he becomes the week to week guy who's going to see 20+ carries a game for a large chunk of a season.
Bibbs is a scat back that had an opportunity in Denver last season when C.J. Anderson went down and rookie Devonate Booker was struggling, but he was inconsistent when getting more touches and suffered a high-ankle sprain which led to the end of his production in 2016. He's an explosive player but unlikely to be anything more than a change of pace back.
This leads us to rookie Joe Williams and why he's one of the better sleeper options this season especially if you're drafting a lot of running backs late. Coming into the NFL from Utah, Williams is the perfect running back for Shanahan's zone-blocking system. Williams has excellent agility and can make quick, decisive cuts in space.
Williams also has the burst which gives him a higher ceiling than the other backups. Per Mockdraftable, Williams tested in the 88th percentile at the NFL Combine with a 4.41 40 time, meaning he'll be able to outrun defenders once he gets into space and give your fantasy team a huge boost with the long touchdown play.
Help at fullback
Behind every great rusher there's usually a great fullback paving the way for him. The 49ers have one of the better fullbacks in Kyle Juszczyk, who they just signed to a record $21 million deal this past offseason. As a four-year player with the Baltimore Ravens, Juszczyk paved the way for several good rushing seasons including Forsett's 2014 season mentioned above. The fullback was a crucial part in Shanahan's Atlanta offense, as Pro Bowler Patrick DiMarco helped Freeman's stats tremendously, and Juszczyk should be a nice help to the starting running back in San Francisco as well.
If you draft Hyde, getting Williams as a handcuff is a must due to Hyde's injury history. Williams is also a great dynasty play and should find some type of role in San Francisco sooner rather than later. It's not out of the question he could start stringing together 20 carry, 100+ yard games late in the 2017 season.