Update September 11: Mostert appears to have claimed the starting job, but notably for Week 1, Tevin Coleman’s status is in question due to poor air quality in Santa Clara. This could come down to a game-day decision.
Update September 1: It looks like Mostert has a good chance to win the starting job. He’s been getting first-team reps ahead of Coleman and McKinnon. A Week 1 start doesn’t mean he’ll last long though, as San Francisco’s rushing attack is often unpredictable. Mostert still seems like more of a RB2 than an RB1 because of the viable options behind him.
In this series we will look at the most important fantasy football position battles for each NFL team. Opportunity is king in fantasy, as you can’t produce fantasy statistics without getting on the field. So, the first step when looking for value plays is to project, correctly, which players will win training camp battles.
The San Francisco 49ers offense has taken off under head coach Kyle Shanahan, but it has also resulted in a familiar issue with Kyle (and Mike) Shanahan offenses — which running back to draft and when. And 2020 will be no different.
Last season, Tevin Coleman got the first snap of the season at running back, but sprained his ankle in the game and missed the next two weeks. Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert each got starter-type work at times, and Coleman did as well when he returned from his ankle sprain. Week 4 summed up the confusion we were bound to see with all three backs healthy. Coleman led the team with 16 carries in 25 offensive snaps, Breida had 11 carries and three receptions in 26 offensive snaps, and Mostert had seven carries in 24 offensive snaps.
By season’s end, Mostert had 137 carries for 772 yards (5.6 ypc) and eight touchdowns, as well as 14 receptions for 180 yards and two more touchdowns. Breida had 124 carries for 623 yards (5.1 ypc) and one touchdown, along with 19 receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown. Coleman had 137 carries for 544 yards (4.0 ypc) and six touchdowns, along with 21 receptions for 180 yards and one touchdown.
This offseason, the 49ers traded Matt Breida, but welcomed back Jerick McKinnon to the depth chart. McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million contract in 2018, but tore his ACL in training camp that year and then suffered a setback in 2019 that cost him a second straight season. He joins Mostert, Coleman, and Jeff Wilson as the primary competitors in the backfield.
This past month, Mostert requested a trade due to unproductive contract talks. He had signed a three-year contract before the 2019 season, when he was still primarily a high quality special teams player. He is due a $2,575,000 base salary in 2020 with $300,000 in bonus money. His agent said Mostert would like a deal more in line with Coleman, who is due $4,550,000 in base salary and $350,000 in bonus money. The two sides are reportedly clearing the air heading into camp.
And so, the question becomes who will win the camp competition and who holds what value in fantasy football? We can rule McKinnon and Wilson out of all but the deepest of leagues. Wilson can occasionally be a touchdown vulture, offering some value in TD-only leagues. McKinnon is likely to be primarily a pass catcher, so there is some PPR value. But again, it’s for only deeeeeeeep leagues.
That leaves Mostert vs. Coleman. Coleman has never exceeded 5.0 yards per carry, hitting a career high 4.8 in 2018 with the Falcons. Mostert cruised by that number last year, but it also marked his most significant opportunity at running back. He spent the first three years of his career almost exclusively on special teams. In october of 2018, he got his first opportunity and had three big games in which he exceeded 7.0 yards per carry. He broke his arm in the last of these on November 1, ending his season just as he was really getting going.
Mostert would appear to have greater upside than Coleman given the latter’s fairly consistent good but not great play over the years. Of course, even after a solid regular season for Mostert, it was Coelman who got the start in the divisional round of the playoffs. Mostert supplanted him in the NFC title game and the Super Bowl, but Kyle Shanahan still liked what Coleman brought to the table at one point in the playoffs.
Heading into the final week of July, average draft position has Mostert going mid-fifth round and Coleman going mid-eighth round. Mostert and Coleman had the same number of carries last season, but with Mostert’s development over the course of the year, he is the guy to own. That being said, you should view him as more of an RB2 than RB1.
Shanahan’s offense is a proven upgrade for running backs, but given the committee-style approach, it downgrades backs from a fantasy perspective. You’ll get some huge games with either back, but when all are healthy, it’s unpredictable which will get the biggest opportunity in a given week.