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NFL Splits Tool: The 49ers’ Offense Was a Tale of Two Halves

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With not much left in the way of big offseason events that will change teams’ futures, our eyes can truly turn toward the season to come, preparing for fantasy football drafts and looking forward to what we need to know for success in 2022.

 

With that in mind, all summer long, I’ll be using our FTN Fantasy Splits Tool to look at some of the key situations to know for the season. The Splits Tool allows you to experiment with situations with active/inactive players, spreads, locations, and more to help you get a picture of everything you need for your fantasy football season. Sign up for an FTN Fantasy subscription now to experiment with the tool as you prepare for your season.

The Wide Back Role

After bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2019, Deebo Samuel’s season was cut short in 2020 due to a multitude of injuries. He appeared in just seven games before undergoing season-ending foot surgery. This paved the way for a second-half breakout by-then rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. In Weeks 7-15, Aiyuk averaged 7.5 receptions on 11.7 targets for 94.7 yards. He also accounted for four touchdowns within the six-game stretch. Heading into the 2021 season, Aiyuk emerged as the favorite to lead the wide receiving core in San Francisco, while Samuel’s health remained a concern. Samuel put all the worry to rest, catching 77 passes for 1,405 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. He also became a significant part of the ground game, rushing 59 times for 365 yards and eight rushing scores. Samuel’s dual usage as a wide receiver and running back did not materialize until the second half of the season. In this article, I’ll be looking at how Samuel’s role as a “wide back” impacted the 49ers’ offense.

San Francisco 49ers Offense

San Francisco 49ers NFL Splits tool

The San Francisco 49ers offense was a tale of two seasons, directly correlating to Samuel’s change in usage. In Weeks 1-8, Samuel was used as a traditional wide receiver, never eclipsing more than two rush attempts in a game. The 49ers were more willing to air it out in the first half of the season, featuring Samuel as their No. 1 receiver. In Week 9, however, the 49ers decided to use Samuel as an extension of their run game. He missed one game due to injury but handled at least five carries in his last seven games. In the games, Samuel saw five or more carries; the 49ers’ offense saw a significant dropoff in pass attempts and yards. However, the offense took a considerable leap forward, averaging more yards, touchdowns and fantasy points.

Deebo Samuel, WR

Deebo Samuel San Francisco 49ers NFL Splits tool

Deebo Samuel hit the ground running in 2021, going over 100 receiving yards in four out of the first eight games (50%) of the season. He led the NFL in scrimmage yards, averaging 10.11 targets, 6.3 receptions and 115.67 receiving yards per game. That all changed in Week 9 when Samuel started losing snaps as a receiver and handled a portion of the backfield carries. In the seven games Samuel logged five or more carries, his receiving totals took a significant hit. Samuel counteracted the dip in receiving production with his game-breaking ability as a rusher. In Weeks 9-18, Samuel averaged 7.57 rushing attempts and 49 rushing yards per game. Samuel was better in full PPR formats as a fantasy option when he was primarily used as a receiver. However, in half PPR and standard scoring, Samuel’s fantasy output increased when he was utilized as a rusher. You can check out where we have Samuel ranked heading into 2022 using the FTN Fantasy rankings.

Brandon Aiyuk, WR

Brandon Aiyuk San Francisco 49ers NFL Splits tool

The expectations were high for Brandon Aiyuk after a solid finish to his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, Aiyuk found himself in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse to begin the 2021 season, struggling to see the field. He was primarily used as a part-time player and essentially useless for fantasy. Aiyuk was arguably the biggest winner of Samuel’s role change, allowing him to operate as the primary receiver. When Samuel saw five or more carries, Aiyuk’s yards-per-game average increased by more than 40 (40.21). Aiyuk’s late-season surge has him trending in the right direction, and he could be a breakout candidate in 2022. 

 

George Kittle, TE

George Kittle San Francisco 49ers NFL Splits tool

George Kittle has a legitimate case for being the league’s best real-life tight end, but he has had trouble staying on the field the last couple years. In 2021, Kittle appeared in 14 regular season games, catching 71 passes for 910 yards and six touchdowns. He was the TE4 in points per game but saw a drastic decline in production when Samuel became a function of the 49ers’ run game. This has less to do with Samuel himself but more about the schematic change in the 49ers’ offense. In Weeks 9-18, the 49ers averaged 5.74 fewer passing attempts, making it difficult for Kittle to produce as a receiver. He also had his lowest target share dating back to his rookie season (24.9%). Despite being in a run-first offense, our consensus FTN Fantasy rankings still have Kittle as a top-five TE option heading into 2022.

Elijah Mitchell, RB