2023 Fantasy Football San Francisco 49ers Preview

by Daniel Johnson
2023 Fantasy Football San Francisco 49ers Preview

I'm not sure I've ever whiffed as catastrophically as I did last year with the Los Angeles Rams. Just woof. In order to hopefully redeem myself, I've decided to set my sights elsewhere in the NFC West. This is how I ended up tagging myself in to pen the 2023 Fantasy Football San Francisco 49ers Preview.

Seems like, for years now, it's been the common refrain among any and all analysis of the 49ers beats the same drum: this is a roster that could win a Super Bowl. In years past, this hasn't necessarily translated to worthwhile Fantasy assets. Other than George Kittle (sort of) and the explosive 2021 season from Deebo Samuel, this offense couldn't support any sort of Fantasy star.

But then, of course, they traded for one of the NFL's most versatile players running the rock these days. Christian McCaffrey has completely changed how we think about this offense, even at the quarterback level; we saw Brock Purdy benefit from McCaffrey's penchant for being a YAC machine.

Speaking of Purdy: there are still plenty of questions at the quarterback position for this team, what with the addition of Sam Darnold and the assumption that they still give a damn about Trey Lance. We'll talk more about how that might shake out below.

As always, we're moving position-by-position through the depth chart for the 2023 season. Let's get to it.

2023 Fantasy Football San Francisco 49ers Preview

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What's a more useless piece of clothing: a muscle tank in Antarctica, or the Trey Lance jersey I bought in August of 2022?

I just don't want to believe they've given up on him yet. Though it's entirely possible. I hang my wish on all the draft capital they gave up to get him, but when you look at the way teams ship draft picks these days in the interest of a win-now mentality, it's tough to square. Especially with a team like the 49ers, for whom Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have done a fantastic job building a championship-caliber roster.

2022's Mr. Irrelevant, in that stuff-of-legend 6-0 run on which he led the 49ers to end the regular season, threw for 1,208 yards, 13 TDs, and 4 INTs; he completed 68% of his passes during that time. He's currently being drafted as QB26 on Sleeper's ADP, and I just think that's a great value buy, provided Purdy starts Week 1 healthy. I think he's a high-end QB2 at minimum, with a potential for low-end QB1 season-long numbers.

Unfortunately, we're in a bit of a holding pattern at this position for the 49ers until we get some news out of training camp. I expect Lance will beat out Sam Darnold for the backup position. But is it possible that Lance blows everyone away with his progress and performance in camp so as to usurp the starting role from Purdy? He didn't impress in last year's camp, so that's unlikely. But what a story that'd be.

Expecting Purdy or Lance to put up plenty of QB1 weeks is completely in play, here.

Running Back

You want immediate return on investment? Because that's what Christian McCaffrey provided for San Francisco last year: after his arrival, the Niners won twelve consecutive games.

He helped rocket their paltry points per game (20.8; 19th-overall in the NFL) before his arrival to a whopping 29.8, which was good for second-overall in the league by season's end. He averaged 22.2 PPR Fantasy points per game during that stretch.

Simple stuff, here. McCaffrey should be either the first or second running back off your boards, and that's only if you're unfazed by Austin Ekeler's vocal frustration with the Chargers organization. Otherwise, McCaffrey, despite his nagging durability issues in 2020-2021, is a lock for the first running back to go in drafts.

Which makes Elijah Mitchell one of the most important handcuffs in all of Fantasy. He's currently RB43 according to Sleeper's ADP, but I have him a bit higher at RB35, right around where I'd be taking Rashaad Penny.

Wide Receiver

Yes, there are plenty of mouths to feed on this passing offense, including McCaffrey and Kittle. But what's with the Deebo fade? He's currently going as WR19. I have him as my WR12.

Sure—was last years 632-yard campaign some unwelcome cold water on a player of Deebo's explosiveness? Undeniably. But volume is king. Even with all the mouths to feed in San Fran, Deebo commanded over a 20% target share; most notably is that he did this in every game in which Christian McCaffery was in the lineup. And though it simply didn't shake out as such last year, he's a dependable yards-per-touch/YAC monster.

Brandin Aiyuk is currently going at WR31, and I think I like, even love, him as a value at that price. I know he often contracts a case of the dropsies: he had eight total drops last year, good for seventh in the league in that statistic.

But if you've watched his tape, you know he's a fantastic route runner. He averaged 2.31 yards of separation on all his routes last year, which was third overall in the NFL. Third! A top-three separation specialist! That plus a 23.5% target share should give him plenty of potential to crack into WR2 territory.

Don't touch any other Niners receiver besides Deebo and Aiyuk.

Tight End

Maybe the most exciting thing about this tight end room in 2023 is that Cameron Latu, the stud rookie out of Alabama, is now under George Kittle's tutelage. It is, at least, thrilling from a future-facing perspective. But, barring injury to Kittle (very possible), he's likely only a Dynasty asset.

Kittle is going off the boards as the TE4, but finished as the TE2 in Fantasy points per game last season. I don't think that's unfair. Kittle's durability is a legitimate concern, and I obviously like Kelce and Mark Andrews over him. Whether or not you want to draft Kittle over T.J. Hockenson, Darren Waller, and Kyle Pitts is your prerogative.

We all know the tight end landscape is a dustbowl. I'm not going to scoff at anyone who wants to secure that position by taking Kittle off the board in the fourth round, which is just about where he's going now.

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Final Verdict

Rising tides raise all ships. I feel like that's most commonly the case with improvement at quarterback play for offenses. But for the Niners, it really was the advent of Christian McCaffrey that pivoted their offense to being versatile enough to support serviceable-or-better Fantasy starters at every skill position.

Expect a big comeback year from Deebo. Take McCaffrey early. Probably fade Kittle a little. And keep an eye on that quarterback situation as camp shakes out.

If you think I'm high on the Niners, check out my 2023 Fantasy Football Jacksonville Jaguars Preview. Who else feels like riding some jungle cats to the moon this year?

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