The 2018 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season and/or beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final 2018 NFL standings.
San Francisco 49ers (4-12)
After several years of scuffling at the quarterback position during the post-Colin Kaepernick era, the 49ers finally found a new golden boy by trading with New England mid-year during the 2017 season to acquire Garoppolo, and then promptly signing him to a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February. Garoppolo was merely adequate through the first three games of 2018 (all losses) before suffering an ACL tear at the end of a fourth quarter run in Week 3 against Kansas City. With its star quarterback done for the year, San Francisco was forced to turn back to second-year third-round pick C.J. Beathard, who himself was unable to lead the team to any wins in five starts. The turning point for the 49ers came in Week 9, as Beathard was nursing a wrist injury, which gave the team an opportunity to give undrafted rookie third-string quarterback Mullens an opportunity to start in a prime time Thursday night game against Oakland. Looking like a guy who had been playing in the NFL for years, Mullens went 16-of-22 passing for 262 yards with three touchdowns, leading San Francisco to its first win. While that contest ended up being Mullens’ best performance of the season, he was able to lead the 49ers to three additional wins, while finishing the year sixth in passing yards per game among quarterbacks with at least eight starts. Garoppolo’s injury occurred early enough in the season that he should be ready for the 2019 season opener barring any setbacks, and while Mullens won’t be a threat to take over the starting job, he’s shown enough to be trusted as a capable backup. The battle between Mullens and Beathard for backup duties this summer will be one to watch, particularly in the event Garoppolo’s rehab doesn’t progress as expected.
Free agency in 2018 yielded a major get for the 49ers, as they signed former Minnesota running back Jerick McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million contract. A longtime favorite of those who value athletic measurables, the freakish McKinnon was expected to have a big first season in San Francisco after finally being freed from Minnesota’s deep running back stable. Unfortunately, McKinnon suffered an ACL tear during one of San Francisco’s final training camp practices, and was thus unable to participate in the 2018 season. McKinnon’s injury resulted in second-year undrafted free agent Breida and journeyman Morris opening the year in a committee. Breida quickly established himself as the superior option, particularly in the passing game, though a recurring ankle injury (initially suffered in Week 5) resulted in Breida sitting out two games and parts of others, while spending the majority of the season on the 49ers’ weekly injury reports. Despite playing most the year banged up, the smallish Breida’s 5.3 yards per carry average was good enough for second best among running backs who carried the ball at least 150 times, though it seems clear he may not be up to the rigors of being a workhorse. Morris was primarily involved at the beginning of the season, logging at least 12 carries four times between Weeks 1 and 5 before losing playing time to Mostert, and later Wilson before sitting out several games as a healthy scratch. It is worth noting, however, that Morris did manage a 100-yard rushing effort in Week 17 as the last man standing in San Francisco’s backfield. Assuming McKinnon experiences no setbacks in recovery, early indications are that he and Breida will open 2019 in a two-man committee, likely capping the fantasy upside of the duo, and leaving little room for anyone else to contribute.